A grip­ping ex­posé of the “rent- a- white- guy” in­dus­try 地产业的泡沫催生了“外国人租赁行业”,但甜梦总是无比短暂

The World of Chinese - - NEWS -


An award-win­ning doc­u­men­tary, Dreamem­pire lifts the lid not just on a lit­tle-un­der­stood in­dus­try—the hir­ing of for­eign­ers to pose as brand am­bas­sadors—but ex­poses a darker and deeper re­al­ity about the realestate boom that is at the heart of China's econ­omy

It’s Novem­ber 2012 and Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping is propos­ing his vi­sion for a “Chi­nese Dream” based on na­tional re­ju­ve­na­tion and in­di­vid­ual pros­per­ity. One of those pay­ing close at­ten­tion is Yana, a bright and am­bi­tious woman who we meet talk­ing of “fresh ideas” for the “stale, be­hind-the-times” busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment in Chongqing.

Yana’s spe­cial plan? Re­cruit for­eign­ers to act as front men and women (or “per­form­ers” as her firm’s ad­vert states) for re­mote de­vel­op­ments that could use an ex­tra dose of cos­mopoli­tanism and “class.” Some peo­ple, in­clud­ing di­rec­tor David Boren­stein, may deem her rent-a-white-guy agency “bril­liant mar­ket­ing,” oth­ers as slightly sleazy fraud. Per­haps it’s sim­ply an ac­cept­able part of do­ing busi­ness in China. Any way you cut it, there’s plenty to cringe at in Dream Em­pire, from hap­less for­eign­ers phon­ing in per­for­mances for quick cash, to Yana in­tro­duc­ing an African band as “prim­i­tive drum­ming and danc­ing.”

But Boren­stein’s il­lu­mi­nat­ing doc­u­men­tary, clock­ing in at just over an hour, delves be­yond the tragi-

comedic value of watch­ing ex­pats of­fer a Cau­casian face to the big­gest build­ing boom in Chi­nese his­tory, and soon be­comes a char­ac­ter study in am­bi­tion and the seeds it sows. Yana, a Xin­jiang mi­grant who comes to Chongqing with lit­tle more than dreams and pluck, proves an en­gag­ing sub­ject who opens up as the film pro­gresses; Boren­stein, who ar­rives with a grant to study ur­ban­iza­tion, then ends up drift­ing into Yana’s or­bit via a se­ries of for­eigner gigs, is a faith­ful con­fi­dante to her grow­ing con­cerns.

And those con­cerns are real. We learn how the urge to “in­ter­na­tion­al­ize” a city or busi­ness as a mea­sure of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment breeds the white-face in­dus­try, putting these lost souls near the heart of China’s fu­ture pros­per­ity. Real es­tate makes up 7.8 per­cent of China’s GDP, ac­cord­ing to state me­dia, or around 15 per­cent if you be­lieve overseas ex­perts; its size is a cri­sis in the making, even be­fore you add the ar­ti­fice.

It’s also a ruth­less busi­ness, in which ev­ery­one, from de­vel­oper to buyer, ends up a com­mod­ity (black peo­ple, one client is told, “grab at­ten­tion” but are also “re­ally cheap” at about 140 USD apiece; the client won­ders if hir­ing In­di­ans is cheaper still). The pace is fu­ri­ous, solutions tem­po­rary. As cities be­come sat­u­rated with con­struc­tion, new ones are built fur­ther to the pe­riph­ery, 10 hours’ drive from Chongqing, all of­fer­ing “the dream house, the perfect life.”

Yet re­sults come quickly—al­most too quickly. By 2013, a self-con­tained, pri­va­tized ur­ban com­mu­nity stands on what, only four years ago, was farm­land. There are roads, util­i­ties, a wa­ter-pu­rifi­ca­tion plant, and of course, a shop­ping cen­ter, Sea City, whose cen­ter­piece is a vast aquar­ium pur­port­ing to be the largest in the world.

One can’t help feel equal parts im­pressed and ap­pre­hen­sive: What is the world’s largest aquar­ium do­ing, a thou­sand miles in­land in this ob­scure cor­ner of Chongqing? As Boren­stein ob­serves, per­for­mance and re­al­ity has blurred be­yond dis­tinc­tion, and this rocket ride to the top of a real-es­tate em­pire has ac­quired a sick­en­ing sense of grav­ity. The fall­out may ap­pear in­evitable, and in­ter­change­able with any num­ber of sim­i­lar im­plo­sions around China, but the im­pres­sion of sym­pa­thetic Yana and her jour­ney linger long af­ter the dream has dis­persed. - HAN RUBO (韩儒博)

A rag­tag group of cos­tumed for­eign­ers as­sem­ble for a real es­tate pro­mo­tion on the out­skirt of Chongqing, in late 2013

Dis­ney's fa­mous daily pa­rades in­clude cel­e­brated Chi­nese leg­endary fig­ures such as Mu­lan

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