The story of Lou Jing is one of the many stories that captured my attention in 2009. I have been following this story closely for reasons I could not quite articulate until now. Lou Jing is a young Chinese girl from Shanghai who caused some controversy earlier this year when she dared to appear on Oriental Angel, a singing competition. The controversy regarding Lou Jing started when it became obvious the girl was not “ethnically” Chinese. But, as it turned out, this is not entirely true. She is ethnically Chinese, half of her is anyway. It’s the other half that caused a backlash on the Internet that exposed racism, and particularly, racism against darker skinned people in China. Lou, it turned out, is the product of an extra-marital affair between her ethnically Chinese mother and African-American father.
China, and Asia in general, has been a place of fascination and mystery for me and many non-Chinese people. The Chinese have always been a closed-off people who’ve been unwelcoming to foreigners, but since the end of the twentieth century, we’ve been hearing repeatedly that the twenty first century belongs to China. In the summer of 2008, China officially opened its doors to foreigners with the Summer Olympics, and many non-Chinese people excitedly explored its treasures. Others of us simply admired the magic of the Middle Kingdom from afar, with aspirations of one day traveling there. I am one of those people.
Sadly, I have been hearing things about China that have been rubbing me the wrong way. Long before the controversy over Lou Jing’s skin color and legitimacy, I have been forced to re-examine my fascination with the country. It’s been no secret that the Chinese have a high preference for white skin. Whether this is the consequence of European hegemonic influence or archaic notions linking skin color to class/beauty or both is open to debate, but not here.
Earlier this year, I began considering teaching ESL in China, an easy and inexpensive way for me to travel. Researching the market for this proved to be disappointing and enlightening. It seems China won’t even hire a western born or bred Asian to teach English, much less a dark-skin person. The country has a high preference for white-European people from the Big 5 countries (Canada, U.S., U.K. Australia and New Zealand, in that order). But even worse than this, they are more likely to hire a white non-native tongue English speaker (eg: Scandinavian/Russian) than a black native tongue English speaker, on the premise that a white person is more presentable in the society (due to their skin color).
I don’t think the Chinese are more racist than other groups, nor did I expect them to be perfect, but part of me felt gravely disappointed to find out that I don’t have the same privilege that a white person has in China, a non-European country. Naturally, when I heard of Lou Jing, I instantly became attached to her story. I worry about this girl, perhaps too personally. I can’t imagine her life struggles in China, and only hope her self-esteem remains intact.