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Apr 15

Letter: How should foreigners feel about being called “鬼子,” “鬼佬,” “老外,” etc.?

Written by Joel on Wednesday, April 15th, 2009 at 8:06 pm
Filed under:-mini-posts, culture, language, q&a | Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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I’m on an extended visit back to my hometown, Vancouver, a Canadian city full of Chinese. Chinese is the second-most commonly used language after English. My wife and I were running around a Chinese mall for fun to practice Mandarin and buy some Chinese DVDs when we overheard Chinese people talking about us in Mandarin saying, “Those foreigners are speaking Chinese!” I thought it was funny that even in Canada, Chinese people would call white people “foreigner” (in this case: “外国人”).

I blogged about it and got some interesting responses from both Chinese and non-Chinese about the terms they often used for North Americans in North America and in China. Here’s some of what they said:

Yup, we still refer to non-Asians as 老外 (“old-foreigner”) or sometimes, even, 鬼子 (something along the lines of “foreign devil”). Nowadays, though, the term simply refers to those who aren’t Chinese… [click here for a dictionary list of all the Chinese used in this quote]

It’s definitely a widespread thing to call locals [in Canada] 老外 or 外国人 . . . [dictionary list]

Old habits die hard. You are right, it would be good that some of these problematic phrases that offend the uninitiated and make the rest of us laugh do get phased out. But judging from the example of Hong Kong where the Cantonese for White people is still 鬼佬 after a century and a half of British rule, I am not sure things will change anytime soon. Although it is being discouraged for PC reasons, there are usually no malice intended with the use of the term. It does not equate or is deemed as derogatory, unlike say, calling a Chinese a Chink in English-speaking countries. 外国人 or 外国朋友 or 加拿大朋友 etc., are the polite alternatives.

Many of my good 外国朋友 who’d lived in Hong Kong for at least 15years and up with PR status are addressed by their local friends, colleagues, Church associates as 鬼佬 John, 鬼佬Peter, or 鬼妹Mary, and their children 鬼仔 Junior and 鬼妹仔Jane. I know it sounds wierd, but that’s how it is in Hong Kong. [dictionary list]

I have a group of Chinese and local friends who all speak Mandarin when we get together. So far, we’ve come across other words that aroused laughter. We made a list including 老外,外国人,当地人,本地人, 国语,国内 and 国外。 We established the following rules of usage: In China, 老外and外国人 hold their original meaning, 国语 means Mandarin, while 国内 means China and 国外 means everywhere else. However, in Canada, we get to call my Chinese friends 老外 and 外国人, to the exception of when we find ourselves in an authentic Chinese restaurant or a Chinese supermarket, where they receive 老外 immunity. At all other times, we locals are referred to as 当地人. 国语 can either mean French or English, 国内 means in Canada, and 国外 is outside of Canada.

Laughter and fun is had by all. [dictionary list]

I’ve long joked about the use of 外国人。 I will sometimes say “你们外国人……” when referring to Chinese here in the U.S. and it never fails to bring them up short.

I also once (in jest… we were kidding around) called a girl “zhong guo guizi” [中国鬼子] after she jokingly referred to me as “mei guo guizi” [美国鬼子]. It was astonishing how she pulled up short and in all seriousness said, “Oh, you can’t say that.” [dictionary list]

I personally am not usually offended when I hear these terms; they make me laugh more than anything. But I’m not totally clear on what these terms really mean; perhaps there are some derogatory or racist undertones sometimes? Should I be offended sometimes? I don’t know. It’s suspicious to me that my Mandarin teachers seem to get a little uncomfortable if I use the term “老外” too much, and that Chinese people apparently don’t like it when these terms get applied to them (“中国鬼子”; “Chinese devil”).

I want to hear from Fool’s Mountain’s Chinese and non-Chinese folks about several related questions:

  • How should foreigners “hear” these terms? How are these terms meant by Chinese speakers? How should they be understood by foreign hearers?
  • Are any of these terms derogatory or racist? (Always? Sometimes? Never? How to tell?)
  • Do you think it’s appropriate for Chinese people to use these terms, or would it be better if these terms were phased out?
  • What if foreigners started regularly referring to themselves and other foreigners as 鬼子, 鬼佬, (etc.)? How would that sound to Chinese folks? Would it make them uncomfortable (Sometimes? Always? In certain situations?)?
  • Do you agree or disagree with the quoted comments? How would you explain them?
  • If a Chinese person wanted to be derogatory against foreigners, what terms would they be likely to use? Are these terms commonly used?

Much thanks!
– Joel (http://ChinaHopeLive.net)


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235 Responses to “Letter: How should foreigners feel about being called “鬼子,” “鬼佬,” “老外,” etc.?”

  1. Shane9219 Says:

    Joel:

    “外国鬼子” is an out-dated political term, not used by people in China. If it does come up, that is used for fun. “鬼佬” is still actively used among Cantonese in Guangdong and Hongkong, unfortunately. However, people from UK seems to have get used to it for years. This kind of residue from history is like calling American Yonkee by European.

    老外 is not as bad as it sounds, really 🙂

  2. Allen Says:

    Joel asked “If a Chinese person wanted to be derogatory against foreigners, what terms would they be likely to use?”

    I can’t think of any. Really! But that’s probably because I’m from an immigrant family.

    By the way – 小鬼子 is also a form of endearment I use for all my nieces and nephews. Maybe it’s just a Taiwanese thing, I don’t know…

  3. Nimrod Says:

    After learning the Chinese language a while, it should be obvious that in common discourse 国 always stands for 中国, and therefore 国内 and 国外 refer to “in China” and “outside of China” respectively, 国人 refers to Chinese, and 外国人 refers to non-Chinese. There is no confusion, actually.

    老外 is clearly a term of endearment, just as 老张 老王 老李. 鬼佬 and 鬼子 are harder to say, and which way it goes depends on what kind of 鬼子 you are. As Allen said, if you are a 小鬼, then you’re just a mischievious kid, a little devil, but if you are an 日本鬼子 or 洋鬼子 or 黑鬼, then it’s more serious. And 美国鬼子 is to 中国鬼子 as Yanks are to Chinamen. I think that about gives the right weight.

    If you really want to be unambiguously derogatory, you’d have to be more creative. A variety of words at your disposal, like bandit, barbarian, dog, pig, bastard, etc.

  4. K Says:

    I have often heard Chinese here in Australia refer to Australians as 外国人, which I find a bit strange. Actually, I am also an immigrant to Australia, so I feel like when I talk to Chinese friends they should say “我们外国人” (referring to both of us as foreign) rather than “你们外国人” (presumably referring to all non-Chinese).

    I guess a related question I have is whether Chinese overseas see themselves as having enough in common with other non-Chinese immigrants or visitors to the country they are currently residing in to see themselves as sharing a collective identity. When I am in China I have some sense of solidarity with other 外国人, whether they are from Indonesia, France, or Togo, and I have no problem referring to myself as a 外国人. Do Chinese have the sense of sharing “foreignness” in, for example, the United States, with other immigrant groups or do they just see themselves as different from all the other non-Chinese “外国人” around them?

  5. Don Tai Says:

    I agree that “外国鬼子” is not used by people in China, or here in Toronto by people from Mainland China. It is, no matter what others say, a derogatory term. I almost exclusively hear this term from HKers only. Not Taiwanese nor Singaporeans. If you call someone a Chinese devil in return and they get offended, then they should stop using the term on you. The term, though it might be in common usage in some parts of the world, in my opinion should never be used as it is insulting.

    If you didn’t know, China is the centre of the universe. Because of this, 国内 and 国外 are always with respect to China, no matter where you are physically located.

  6. Wukailong Says:

    Sigh… What these terms “mean” isn’t just some thing you can read from the words themselves, it’s the way they are _used_ by people. “Laowai” isn’t endearing or condescending, it depends on who says it. I’ve heard this several times and I honestly don’t bother much, but the knowledge of my experience is firm in this case. You can hear it used either as a “matter-of-fact”, or in a sarcastic way, or as an insult, or whatever, depending on context. I’ve heard all kinds.

    These days it seems to depend very much on how cosmopolitan you are. If you’ve never been abroad or haven’t interacted much with foreigners, you tend to say “laowai”. It’s not an offense in my book, just shows your level of experience.

  7. Chris Hearne Says:

    I take 老外 with a grain of salt. It really depends on the tone of voice / situation. If it is grumbled in a disgruntled tone, it is probably meant to offend me. If it is said lightly by a charming country grandpa, it’s probably meant as a term of endearment. Anyway, when people want to offend me they just call me a 傻屄 anyway!

  8. Nick Says:

    My wife worked for a Western company who hired an African American guy who could speak a little Chinese. All the Chinese staff would call him 黑鬼 behind his back,none would admit that they were acting inappropriately nor would they use the term in his presence let alone to his face. This should be a good guide. The question you should be asking here isn’t how foreigners “should” feel, but how and why people use the word and why they need it, this will tell you a lot more about what is appropriate usage and what isn’t.

    In today’s globalised society and open China, the “you don’t understand Chinese thinking” argument is redundant, so is telling people how they should feel when confronted with a traditionally negative term. Other countries have accepted Chinese communities in their midst for centuries and have gradually (yes, gradually) adjusted their language and behaviour to avoid marginalising them, I’m sure in time China in it’s rise will do the same, if not already.

    But you know, to address your original question, how I feel as a foreigner when I’m labelled “foriegn devil” depends on the situation, who used it, whether it was used in spite or jest, which raises the question: why not just use 老外?

  9. Shane9219 Says:

    @Nick

    In US or Europea, merely calling 老黑 or 黑娃 is very offensive and politically incorrect. But not in China, you know it does not rob a senstive nerve. Xinhua news just had an aricle calling Din Lei a 黑娃.

    I agree with you that many old terms in Chinese language/dialects have to be “modernized” to suit for the age of globalization.

  10. Joel Says:

    just fyi – all those questions were supposed to be bolded. oops.

    Wukailong #6 – raises a point that I hope we’re all assuming as a given: the meaning of a word depends on several things (context, delivery, speaker, hearer, etc.) that collectively determine the meaning. I tried to show that assumption in the way I phrased the questions.

    If we accept the point above, then what a word is meant to mean by the speaker, what it’s taken to mean by the hearer, and what it really does actually mean in the moment can sometimes be slightly different. No one person (or dictionary) has full control over the meaning.

    None of these terms by themselves get under my skin. But I am very curious to try and understand more what they can mean from a Chinese people’s perspectives, and what they are intended to mean in popular usage.

  11. Nimrod Says:

    Wukailong wrote:

    “Sigh… What these terms “mean” isn’t just some thing you can read from the words themselves, it’s the way they are _used_ by people. “Laowai” isn’t endearing or condescending, it depends on who says it.”

    +++++
    Everything depends on who says it. But there is something in the words, too. Trust me on this, “laowai” is definitely endearing. If it’s 死老外 or 臭老外, then it’s another matter.

  12. Wukailong Says:

    @Nimrod: Well, then we basically agree. 🙂 I don’t think the word itself, etymologically speaking, is offensive.

  13. HongKonger Says:

    Ah, terms, definitions, intentions, tone-of-voice, nuances..problematic words, words that changes with time, locations, and situations. So much -isms, divisions, anger, hatred, condescensions, labeling, categorising, generalizing, patronizing, agree, disagree… How to say it, put it, phrase it, PC it, un-PC it, round and round we go….tell me what to do, don’t tell me how to feel. Can’t tell nobody how to think; scold somebody for reacting; encourage coolheaded responses, ignore, avert, deny, admit…..blah blah blah. What to do? What not to do? Laugh, huff, whine and oh, so tired.

    Oh, wait look, check this out:
    “Or are today’s urban society just being ignorant and socially blinded by the hardships of our ancestors as they continue to use a word that held such great racial tension when used in the 1800’s? Two answers for this one- yes and no. Yes the definition has changed, but not totally to where it’s precedent has been forgotten. In fact, urban youth are so socially powerful that they can take a word and totally flip it and use it within themselves but when one of another race uses it, they return it back to the old definition and the racial remarks commence. The definitions of the word n*****”

    http://www.megaessays.com/viewpaper/50123.html

    Fear / love / hate / accept the black man, the White man, the Yellow and the Brown man — How do you really feel?

    ” I was afraid to let my child go to school this morning because we are afraid. Yesterday, Hall Monitors (black), made the students wearing McCain Tshirts (white students) to wear them inside out, but did not make the sudents wearing OBama Tshirts (black students) change theirs.”

    http://my.barackobama.com/page/community/tag/NIGGERS

    “Darkness within darkness; the gateway to all understanding.”
    Laozi

  14. Chops Says:

    @Joel
    This seems to be a rehash of an old topic, as Allen has provided this thread http://blog.foolsmountain.com/2008/10/14/are-chinese-racist-or-simply-politically-incorrect/

    @Chris Hearne
    “If it is said lightly by a charming country grandpa, it’s probably meant as a term of endearment.”
    Actually, it is the grandpa u should be wary about, since his generation is more anti-foreigner 🙂

  15. Lao Zhong Says:

    老X is a neutral word, as in 老李, 老师, 老毛, 老蒋, 老鼠, …

  16. Lao Wu Says:

    “老X is a neutral word, as in 老李, 老师, 老毛, 老蒋, 老鼠, …”

    Erm, can we settle this thing with words and meanings now? I think one of Wittgenstein’s greatest contributions in general was to relate words to how they are used, rather than what they are believed to mean in some abstract sense. Here’s a link to a simple description of it, and a quote from that page:

    http://www.dotrob.com/essays/essay5.html

    “Wittgenstein claimed that words derive meaning from their use in ‘language games’, words by themselves have no intrinsic meaning – ‘the meaning of a word is its use in the language.'[f7 ibid., remark 43. ] Each word has meaning in as much as it has a use in a particular language game, outside of the language game there is no meaning. It would be a mistake to search for meaning outside language because to go outside language is to go outside meaning. We can analyse a sentence in an attempt to find some essential meaning in it but all we do is translate into another ‘language game’, we do not derive some essence of meaning -because there is no essence of meaning.”

  17. HongKonger Says:

    Lao Zhong Says: “老X is a neutral word, as in 老李, 老师, 老毛, 老蒋, 老鼠, …”

    I have a genuine question: The chinese character : 鬼 Does it actually mean Devil? I’ve always thought the translation as “Foreign devil” is a bit off.

    The Devil is specifically 魔鬼(evil ghost or Satan)

    魔 means evil

    Are 鬼 always bad in Chinese thinking? 鬼 is not necessarily a demon either.

    When we Compliment (or joke , even flirt with) fellow Chinese or Cantonese – speakers, we use terms like

    Compliments: 精灵鬼马,你好鬼马,演艺 鬼才,鬼魅, 鬼咁有型, 鬼火咁 靓, 好鬼好吃, 鬼死咁正,

    Joke / Flirt: 死鬼, 冤鬼,我的老鬼 / 我只死老鬼 (husband),, 咸湿鬼,你只死坏鬼, 死咸湿鬼, 做鬼也风流,你是不是鬼遮眼 etc….

    I am sure there are more such phrases, any takers?

  18. Wukong Says:

    @HongKonger:

    You are absolutely right. I here a few more examples here.

    鬼点子: an devilishly clever idea.

    红小鬼:literally mean “little red devil”, here “devil” means the type of kids that are smart, naughty and always get into trouble, “red” here means “communist”. It’s a term almost exclusively reserved for those old revolutionaries who as young kids participated CCP’s Liberation War against then KMT regime (yay, I get to use “regime” ), it’s the ultimate badge of honor in ideologically charged era. For example, the disgraced former CCP Secretary General Hu Yaobang was referred to as “little red devil” 红小鬼 by his much older colleagues like Deng and Mao.

  19. HongKonger Says:

    Wukong,

    Yeah, 红小鬼.

    红小鬼 seems to connote 机灵,活泼,大胆 –
    i.e. precociously(人小鬼大) Quick thinking, agile, and daring (courageous)

  20. Chops Says:

    “It would be in Ming Dynasty’s history book that we found descriptions of Europe and modern Europeans, namely, ‘cat-eyed’, ‘eagle-mouthed’, and ‘red-haired’. Interestingly, Ming Chinese did not talk too much about the Portuguese who were known as ‘Fulangji’ (a word mutated from ‘Frank’ and also meant for cannons that Arabs mimicked on basis of European inventions), while the Dutch was nicknamed ‘Hongmaogui’, namely, red-haired devils.”

    http://www.imperialchina.org/Ming_Dynasty.html

    ‘Hongmaogui’ is still used in some places today.

  21. warped0ne Says:

    My wife has told me that the term 鬼子 (guizi) comes to how the Chinese referred to the Japanese during their occupation (日本鬼子). So, if I think of it in those terms, it is kind of offensive. Most of the time, when people call me laowai or whatever in the street, I just attribute it to cultural differences and/or a lack of education.

    As far as if I think it’s appropriate for Chinese people to use these terms, I would have to say no, not because I find it offensive, but because I think it’s wrong to label any person.

    Foreigners calling other foreigners 老外 and such is just creepy.

    As far as derogatory, I generally know when someone’s being derogatory when I hear a ‘grass mud horse’ pointed in my general direction. Other than that, all people ever talk about around me are my big feet and the constantly grungy state of my shoes … it’s pretty damn hard to find China size 46 (US size 12) shoes here.

  22. Sophie Says:

    ‘老外’ means foreigner or non-Chinese. So, when conversation is among Chinese, no matter in China or outside China, they use this word to refer to non-Chinese. It’s a neutral word to me. ‘老外‘ has another meaning ‘wai hang’ 外行, meaning lack of knowledge and experience in certain area.

    ‘鬼子’ has some sort of negative tone to me. According to Xinhua dictionary, it means 对侵略我国的外国人的憎称.It usually refers to invaders, specially Japanese during WWII. but, it depends on context, the situation… In 1990’s, Disco clubs were popular in China. Once in a big club, DJ played the famous WWII song ‘大刀向鬼子的头上砍去’ , Chinese started singing together loudly. There were many foreigners in the club. But, I don’t think Chinese thought much about the song’s meaning at that moment.

    “If a Chinese person wanted to be derogatory against foreigners, what terms would they be likely to use?”

    I can’t think of any words except ’黑鬼‘, but I don’t hear people using this word. They say ‘黑人‘.

    Back to 1990s, a foreign colleague of mine showed me a little book he had bought abroad explaining Chinese dirty sayings to foreigners. Funnily, I found those sayings in the book were so strange that I had never heard anybody use them in China. I was wondering where this author got these sayings.

  23. Raj Says:

    Although a person may well not take offence if they know another doesn’t mean harm, it’s impossible to always be sure that’s the case. Some people will mean offence regardless of what word is being used. Of course if someone referred to me as a “BLANK devil” I would never find it acceptable.

    Apart from that what’s the context? Are we being called “X” by someone, or overhearing people referring to us that way? If the former then I probably would be offended – being addressed as an “other” is rude. If the latter I wouldn’t mind, though again I wouldn’t understand the need to identity me as an other to someone else.

    Out of curiosity, who here wouldn’t mind/wouldn’t take offence being called a “Chinaman”? I don’t use the word, but I have noticed people taking automatic offence when being addressed in such a way.

  24. Jed Says:

    my favourite is “你们外国人“ when talking to the outlaws : like every white person in the world comes from a homogeneous stock and all Canadians, Americans, Peruvians, Italians, Lithuaninans, Welsh, and Texans can be lumped into the same socio-cultural mix (all of you 外国朋友 can appreciate and laugh at this).

    And I say “white” person as when I ask my inlaws about what they mean about “外国人“ they further qualify it by saying N. Americans and Western Europeans.

    I put it down to a lack of education and the Chinese tendency to generalize and category everything as us and them. Mind you when I’m in line at the Vancouver airport customs I have no qualms telling my Chinese “外国朋友“ to “排队“ !

  25. yo Says:

    What are the pc ways to call a white or black person in manadrin or cantonese?

  26. Charles Liu Says:

    Comparatively it’s definitely more like Hawaiians say Haole, rather than o’masas saying the N word.

  27. Hek Says:

    well. As a foreigner living in china for the past 6 years, its easy to walk out onto the street and be called a variety of names. Heck, I don’t even have to be in china to be ridiculed or mocked! But, to answer the topic, my response it “no”. If I had to walk up to every person who called me a laowai or such, i would spend my day confronting them with little or no change. That would be a waste of time. If South Park has taught us anything, its don’t be so easily offended.

    hek

  28. Mikhail Says:

    When Chinese people here in Australia give me the standard “Oh you speak such good Chinese” I like to reply by continually addressing them as waiguoren. It drives them nuts.

  29. cephaloless Says:

    Throwing another curve ball here by starting out with the phrase, “yo homie, wat up”

    Here’s my question: since when is “老外” and other such terms proper chinese? Most of these terms are normally neutral (with no insult intended) but they seem to be used in inappropriate circumstances, at least from polite western eyes. One may call a chinese friend “chinaman” in jest but some chinese speakers seem to used this sort of unofficial vocabulary routinely on strangers.

  30. Nimrod Says:

    Honestly, I’ve only heard 老外 used between Chinese people in informal contexts, or in jest.

  31. colin Says:

    Also consider in chinese culture that being “lao” or old is often be a compliment, in that old people are considered wise. For example, a company boss can be called “lao zhong”, meaning old boss.

    I agree with most here that laowai is neutral without any inherent racial or ethnic biases.

  32. Allen Says:

    We overseas Chinese often refer to other oversea Chinese intimately as 老中. I still don’t understand how people have come to consider 老外 as derogatory… The derogatory part comes not from the term 老外 per se – but from perhaps the general negative connotations that have been associated with foreigners (esp. Westerners) over the last couple of centuries in general…

  33. colin Says:

    @Allen,

    It may be a cultural thing too. I remember an expat in china blog saying he was pissed at being called called laowai all the time. In the west, if you use the translation to mean foreigner, yes, it can have exclusionary overtones. So if the “intimate” characteristic of “lao” is not apparent to the expat, then the superficial translation of foreigner (with its exclusionary connotations) might have been perceived by the expat. Dunno if this is the real reason. Just trying at a potential rationalization.

  34. Charles Liu Says:

    I’ll tell you what’s derogatory – TaiBao used to be a term of respect, but lately it’s morphed to DaiBao, a total put-down.

    LaoWai ain’t that bad.

  35. HongKonger Says:

    People are strange when you’re a stranger
    Faces look ugly when you’re alone
    Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
    Streets are uneven when you’re down

    When you’re strange
    Faces come out of the rain
    When you’re strange
    No one remembers your name
    When you’re strange, When you’re strange, When you’re strange

    People are strange when you’re a stranger
    Faces look ugly when you’re alone
    Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
    Streets are uneven when you’re down

    When you’re strange
    Faces come out of the rain
    When you’re strange
    No one remembers your name
    When you’re strange, When you’re strange, When you’re strange

    When you’re strange
    Faces come out of the rain
    When you’re strange
    No one remembers your name
    When you’re strange, When you’re strange, When you’re strange

    Jim Morrison was depressed. He went to Robbie Krieger’s house, they went to a canyon to watch a sunset, at which time Jim realized he was depressed because “if you’re strange, people are strange.” He then wrote the rest of the lyrics.
    Krieger, The Doors’ guitarist, wrote the music.
    Krieger did his guitar solo in one take.
    About alienation in an unfamiliar world.

  36. Wukailong Says:

    @Allen: “I still don’t understand how people have come to consider 老外 as derogatory…”

    (1, 2, 3…) As I’ve said before, it’s not the word at all, it’s the way it used. Usually it’s not derogatory, but it depends on the way the person says it. I’ve met people who definitely think I’m some sort of clown, and the way they say “laowai” is full of sarcasm.

    Now, do I care? No. Do some white people who are called “laowai” like that care too much? Yes. But it can be derogatory said by the right person. Think about it yourself, how many different ways can you imagine this conversation being said:
    – He’s from China.
    – Oh, Chinese.

    To answer the question above though, how should you feel about being called something? Well, I’ve been called much worse things when I was a kid, so I encourage people to not have any special feelings about it at all. 🙂

  37. Luke Says:

    I’ve lived in a small town in Hubei for a year. I here 外国人 almost daily (people assume I can’t understand), but never have I heard 鬼子. That said, it’s a new term for me, so maybe I just haven’t been listening out for it.

  38. Shane9219 Says:

    @Luke

    The political term “鬼子” was first used during times of foreign invasion (especially during Japanese invasion), and later again when China was in the shadow of Cold War. It is no longer in active use.

  39. Wukailong Says:

    @Shane: Isn’t 鬼子 used mainly for Japanese these days? That’s the way I’ve seen it used, and it’s usually in an historical context.

  40. Mike Says:

    I’ve lived in China for a long time. I’m not the most obvious foreigner. I’m not super tall, not too fat, or too white and I have dark hair. Only people who see my face recognize I’m a foreigner and depending on where I am, I may or may not get any reaction. When I came to China, I got used to laowai quickly and only occassionally thought it was being used in a rude way. Then I heard my Japanese friends being called 日本鬼子 and such and started to feel the negativity. I started to reassess 老外. I found that my friends, colleagues, and other people who wanted to be polite would never use the phrase 老外. Not from me asking, but based on their own sense of its meaning.

    I recently heard 美国鬼子used for the first time up north. I laughed and undertsood since it was by survivors of the Korean War. However, I did as the poster above mentioned and turned it around. I asked them what people would think if I started calling people on the street 中国老 or 中国鬼子 and they all agreed it would piss people off and likely start a few fights.

    I had always heard that 洋鬼子 was the mother of all the “foreigner” curses and one day was called that by some old lady in the country. I wasn’t offended because she seemed to have no ill intent, but suddenly all the Chinese around me gasped and scolded her, telling her how rude it is to say that. Then the other day, after nearly a decade without hearing it, while running in the park, a young guy, yelled 洋鬼子 to his friends as the rode by me on their mopeds. I was enraged for a sec and imagined myself close-lining the bastard. Then I cooled down and forgot about it till lunch. I ate lunch with a group of educated, open, friendly people who know and work with many foreigners. I told them them about the 洋鬼子 incident. One of them said, “洋鬼子” isn’t a bad word, even “日本鬼子” is not bad. Some of the others agreed. I’m still confused.

    In the past, in the US, colored or negro were not considered bad words by the speakers and for along time were acceptable even to the black community. Is it really about the perception by the reciever of the word, or the intent of the speaker, or both? If you won’t call your friends, colleagues, or other people you care about a certain word, doesn’t that reveal it’s negativeness. If you can’t turn the phrase around on yourself or your own people without getting offended doesn’t the prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it’s negative?

    I think in any language, indentifying people in this way is rude and the sign of simpleness.

  41. cephaloless Says:

    “I think in any language, identifying people in this way is rude and the sign of simpleness.”

    Totally agree there.

  42. Shane9219 Says:

    @Wukailong

    “Isn’t 鬼子 used mainly for Japanese these days? That’s the way I’ve seen it used, and it’s usually in an historical context”

    If it does come up, it refers to Japanese invaders under that specific historical context.

  43. Mike Says:

    @Shane9219… so 美国鬼子 and 洋鬼子 don’t count as 鬼子? Also, what does “specific historical context” mean exactly? They are only refered to by that because of their invasion? So explain 洋鬼子. It refers to any white European even though there are numerous white European countries that have never had any conflict with China.

  44. HongKonger Says:

    美国鬼子 is definitely a no-no.

    As for 洋鬼子 well, first of all 洋 means the sea, often used to mean overseas,
    i.e. Imported, not local.

    E.g.:

    洋货 – Imported goods

    洋人 – Foreigners, people from overseas

    洋房 – Western style homes

    “In the past, in the US, colored or negro were not considered bad words by the speakers and for along time were acceptable even to the black community.”

    Pardon my ignorance. I’ve never understood why Negro is an un-PC word while colored or black is ok.

    “Colored” refers to all non-White, right? But isn’t white a color too???? So, to call someone White, is strictly speaking, derogatory too, isn’t it?

    But if calling someone black, white, yellow or brown is not a PC or racist issue anymore , well for one, since they teach this song to sunday school children:”Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world, Black and yellow, red and white”……..than in most Chinese mind of today, (I can only guess here) using some of the problematic phrases in question, may really have nothing in common with what many Chinese of the previous generations felt, and should be accepted as such, but for when they are used to offend, of course.

    Kind of like it depends on the mood, situation, context and tone-of-voice when you say, a phrase such as” Get out of here, or F***K you,” etc. Oh, I remember some of my non-American friends were taken aback with the rhetorical question used in American, “Do you wanna help me move this table?” Their immediate reaction were like, what? Was that a command or a request? Where’s the magic word, please? Ah, one language that divides (and unites) two, and now more and more cultures. Such is life.

  45. Mike Says:

    Hongkonger… just cause 日本 isn’t a negative word that doesn’t make 日本鬼子 not one. Same could be said for 洋鬼子 don’t you think. I wasn’t so much looking for a breakdown of 洋’s meaning as 洋鬼子’s position as a curse word for foreigners.

    Here’s how I go through life. If a race related word will truely offend, insult, or piss off someone, I won’t say it. So, since I know that calling an American black person negro, colored, or “the N word” will piss that person off, why say it? Does it really matter so much why it pisses them off?

    Always calling something “PC” seesm to be an easy way out… an easy way to say someone else is too sensitive, too reactionary without recognizing that sometimes what is PC is also 100% right.

  46. HongKonger Says:

    Mike: I was breaking it up for anyone here who might care to know, I dunno.

    “Here’s how I go through life.”

    Thank god, we are all different.

    “Does it really matter so much why it pisses them off?”

    It depends. Someone sets up a rule, and since rules are meant or bound to be broken, we all learn to roll with the punches and learn to be either a gentleman, blend in or be a jerk, depending on the situation and context.

    Of course you are right, trhe easy way out is follow conventional wisedom: When in doubt, ask or find out and use a more neutral term. There is a learning curve for everyone.

    Alright, moving along. Something else just came to mind: Has anyone heard of or felt the following, or
    was I the only one?

    (1) In my youth, the innocent question I got in North America, “Do you speak English?” or “Oh, your English is very good,” were just that, a fair question and a compliment to me at the time. But I was later influenced or educated to react to that by my Anglo & Asian American friends. It was then that I learned of the cultural nuances, the accompanying condescension, and racial prejudices that resulted in such reactions. I was flabbergasted at first. But I did learn, even reacted a few times, but then I don’t anymore now that I am older. I still get them in Asia from foreigners, though less and less these days.

    (2) A long long time ago, in a different life, I felt genuine sadnes when my very kind Canadian host told me I needed to leave their near empty big house because I’d stayed long enough. I was invited to “stay as long as I like,” I recalled then. This was while I was awaiting arrangements to be made ready for my return to HK. Later I learned the saying in the west, ” fish and guests stink after three days,” and felt better about it. In restrospect, I should have asked for the specific duration of the “as long as you like,” and put away some money for a hotel room after that.

    (3) Finally, I know many young Asians harbor certain bad feelings, being deeply hurt as a result of misunderstanding throw-away phrases such as, “I love you.” Something which is not so freely used in this part of the world. But when it came time to show love, the speaker(s) turned frigid and left them out in the cold. Some stopped trusting foreigner’s words, others like me learn from such experiences and appreciate the reasons that created the cultural quirks in the first place. Learn to say thank you and then forget about it. Actions speak louder than words in any culture.

  47. Nimrod Says:

    In my youth, the innocent question I got in North America, “Do you speak English?” or “Oh, your English is very good,” were just that, a fair question and a compliment to me at the time. But I was later influenced or educated to react to that by my Anglo & Asian American friends. It was then that I learned of the cultural nuances, the accompanying condescension, and racial prejudices that resulted in such reactions.

    +++++
    This is the kind of PC sensitivity that I don’t subscribe to. Maybe I can see this for people whose families stayed many generations in an English-speaking country. But still, who cares if it’s condescension or not? If one truly defies expecations, condescension will end soon enough because it will be self-defeating.

  48. Thomas Says:

    It’s the same with Chinese people living in Germany: They are a tiny minority, yet when they talk about a non-Chinese person in any context (such as: gossiping about a German coworker in the German company in Germany which they work for), they tend to refer to him as a “wai guo ren”.

    The first few times I heard it, I was puzzled and asked about the reasons for that usage. Reply was always the same: But he/she is a wai guo ren, no? (One person who replied that way actually was a German citizen, who had given up Chinese citizenship years ago -> She was a German in Germany refering to another German as a wai guo ren…)

  49. miaka9383 Says:

    @Nimrod
    I am sure no one called you “chink” out loud? or point at you and go “Look there goes a chink!” or “Wow Asian people!”
    There needs to be some PC Sensitivity, not a whole lot but just a tad bit.
    Be aware of where you are when you say things and who you are with when you speak your mind. Words like above is just not allowed at work, schools. You can do it within the comfort of your own home, or with friends, but you don’t have to point out someone different publicly. It just humiliates and embarrass them all at the same time. If it is a foreigner in your country, you do not want them to get the bad impression and never come back. That is just bad for business especially the tourism business.

    I have had many things said to me and about me in public and in private and in some cases are just embarrassing. I have had an older person who has never been out of New Mexico a day in his life, asked me “Do your country have Christians?” All I can say is “Yes” because he is old and it is disrespectful to smart mouth him. When I was working at Sears, I had people came up to me and asked me directly where I was from, even though I spoke perfect english. (I wanted to say to them “Why is it any of their business?”) And Yes I have been asked if I spoke English or not. You asked who cares? I do. It is hard to do your job, when someone is constantly asking you questions like that and being a sales person at the time you can’t walk away.
    I have been called a Chink to my face and behind my back at school. But, these kids don’t know what they are saying, they are learning it from their parents. We can’t teach our future children that categorizing people by names and terms are correct because in some way we humiliates them.
    This is how racism starts, with simple innocent comments. I have another example from my boyfriend’s mom. She is a librarian that works with a Native American Lady. This Native American lady took her 6 years old sons with her husband to the mall. They saw a Muslim standing in the same elevator, one of the little boys says out loud “Look mom its a terrorist!”. The lady later takes her son out to the car and says to her son “Yes they are terrorist!”. If this lady has any PC Sensitivity, she would have taken her son and said it was wrong and apologized to man, but they didn’t. What kind of society is this that we live in????

  50. Nimrod Says:

    miaka9383,

    And here I thought I was talking about some ambiguous statements that may or may not be condescension. There is a difference between that and some of your examples of naked insults and slander. You know you have a lot of baggage and probably you’re not as sensitive as you come across, but just want to make a point to convince me. I get it. I wasn’t talking about agreeing to be insulted. The kind of sensitivity I was talking about stems from interpreting something in the worst way and annoying yourself unnecessarily.

    Now, getting asked if you speak English at Sears may be annoying, but is it more annoying than getting asked if you know where something is, if you aren’t feeling rejected? And what’s wrong with “does your country have Christians?” Both questions are simple yes/no questions. Just accept it. It will only change when there are more American-born Asians in that community and the questions become redundant. If that’s what you want to see, then contribute to the process by answering those questions. Before that, no amount of PC training or self pity will do anything.

  51. HongKonger Says:

    Miaka & Nimrod,

    “Look, mom a terrorist.”

    That’s funny, if it isn’t so pathetic. The grownups are to be blamed of course.

    Please Correct me if I am wrong. I

    Is Social Color coding a PC taboo except when it’s a police / News description, e.g. “5’10, 180 pounds, Black, Asian, White/Caucasian, last seen wearing blue jeans, baseball cap…” ?
    Chinese people refer to ourselves as the yellow race, obviously not in reference to our pigmentation but rather the origin of our civilization – Big difference. Not racism as experienced outside of China and remains a great social issue.
    So in China, the term for a non-Chinese, i.e.Wai guo Ren – is not transliterally “foreigner,” hence is purely a cultural adjective, with no geographical pertinence.For example, it took me awhile to understand the need to confirm that I am a Chinese when I say I am from Hong Kong. The response I get is often “So you are a Chinese, right?”

    So even in in America or Germany or wherever, anyone who is not a Caucasian seems to instantly trigger something in the mind of the observer a Q&A response regarding the cultural Origin of the observed. And it is only thru much trials and tribulations that PC came about. It is a learned process, a new culture which as Miaka pointed out, in her own experience, apparently some North Americans aren’t even able or care to practice what they preach to the world either.

    OMG, the daily encounter with the horrible sound that preceeds spitting is goddamn annoying. Thank goodness most (like 90%) of my Mainland Chinese friends don’t do that, but I can’t say the same about their driving habits 🙂

  52. wei Says:

    Interesting article. Personally before I moved from mainland China to Canada, I never heard of 鬼佬 or 鬼妹,etc. But here in Canada they are quite often used. I guess that’s because HongKongers are earlier arriver and some mainlanders just follow their convention. 99% when I hear these words from some of my acquaintance, they are not related to racism or something. But here more often, we refer to native people as 老外, 洋人(ocean people?),or 西人 (western people). E.g. when my wife wants to go to Loblaw, she usually says I would go to 西人超市.

    About 美国鬼子, the term is a long gone history and it would be odd if some one says that without joking. I guess the lady be called 中国鬼子 and got mad just lack of that sense of humor.

    Personally I think all these terms are no harm, though I still haven’t get used to use 鬼佬,鬼妹,etc.

  53. HongKonger Says:

    Yes, 西人 (western people). is in reference to so-called westerners, but (I think) specifically to caucasians.

    Chinese people with high noses and deep round eyes are often complimented as 西西地 in Cantonese. Example, she is so pretty, 西西地 , like a 鬼妹. Rhino plasty and blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) are the most popular cometic surgery here.

    Often times, whenever someone is said to be 西化,it is a compliment.

    Because I like Rock N Roll, steak, wine and brandy, my relatives call me 半个鬼佬. My late father was called the same,even refered to him as your “鬼佬.老豆“ is very cool. This was because he was a fan of Sinatra, Como, Bing Cosby, smoked a pipe, read Ian Flemming & Nick Carter detective novels etc., played golf and loved sportscars and western food. Like me, my Dad never lived outside of S E Asia.

  54. James Says:

    I find being called a “devil” offensive. I am a human, not a “devil”.

  55. miaka9383 Says:

    Hongkonger
    It is not the terms of wai guo ren that bothers me but when refering someone as a white/black ghost/devil? that is just mean. And if the person that is saying it doesn’t know that it is mean, they are ignorant.
    I see the terms 美國鬼子 日本鬼子 黑鬼 (these specific terms are just inherently insulting) gets tossed around all the time. When refer to it in person by a stranger, it is humiliating and annoying.
    I know how annoying it is, that is why I say we shouldn’t do it, whether or not the experiences is within China or not. I experience worse in Taiwan, by my own people. It should be interesting this time that my tall red haired bf is going with me.. I would love to see how many girls throw themselves at him in front of me. Just to prove a point.
    Is it too much to ask for people to be more aware of what they are saying? I mean its bad that kids pick it up and think it is ok to say those f ing things.

  56. chorasmian Says:

    @Joel

    I believe that whether feel offended depends on very personal perception, and heavily related to the tone and gesture. Personally, I will only use these word after check the audience’s understanding.

    The reason why Caucasian is called “鬼” all over China isn’t coincident. Because your face look just as the ghost described in Chinese myth, which has white skin, red hair and green eyes (面无血色,红毛绿眼). Not much different to calling an overweight person “fat boy”, whcih is acceptable in Chinese tradition. However, calling a Chinese looking people 鬼 can be very offensive, as his/her looking obviosly doesn’t comply with this description, then he/she may take it as a curse of death.

    In Cantonese, 鬼 is not necessary to be a name as bad as in Mandarin. It is generally neutral with slightly negative meaning. It can be used to describe something or someone with super-human power. Hence it can be a adjective, means “bloody”/”holly”. Anyway, many culture sensitive Cantonese try to avoid such unnecessary conflict and choose to call Caucasian 西人(westerner). Eventually, it push the word 鬼佬 further to the bad side.

    I think you euqal 鬼 to devil is not right. It should be translated as “ghost” or “spirit”. The word “devil” should be reserved to “魔”.

    Mmm, I can partially answer your last question. In Macau, the real bad name for Caucasian, particularly Portuguese, is “牛佬”. When someone in Mcau call you “牛佬”, you should be really angry.

  57. HongKonger Says:

    chorasmian Says:

    “can be used to describe something or someone with super-human power. Hence it can be a adjective, means “bloody”/”holly”.

    Yes indeed. Like I said in # 17 : 鬼马: Damn mischievious, 鬼才: a genius,
    鬼魅 extremely charming, 鬼咁有型:super cool 好鬼好吃 Bloody delicious; 鬼火咁 靓 , Knock me dead gorgeous!

    In # 18, Wukong says: ” former CCP Secretary General Hu Yaobang was referred to as “little red devil” 红小鬼 by his much older colleagues like Deng and Mao.”

    “牛佬”….Never hear that one. Do you know how it came about? Was it because the Portuguese colonists were perceived as stubborn and couldn’t be reasoned with?

  58. little Alex Says:

    Hm, 老外 is pretty neutral, afaik. 鬼佬 might be considered derogatory, but most HKers don’t use it as such. From what I’ve observed, it’s more just a slang term for white people, in most HKers’ minds. But neither of those is as bad as 番鬼佬 (barbaric ghost man), which I’ve seen/heard a lot more than 鬼子.

    (That actually reminds me: the Chinese name of Jackie Chan’s movie “Rumble in the Bronx”, 紅番區, is a lot more offensive than anything anyone here has come up so far.)

  59. chorasmian Says:

    @HonKonger

    The meaning behind “牛佬”is way more than just stubborn, including low class, sutpid, dumb and fat. The acceptance of Portuguese in Macau is far less than British in HK.

    @little Alex

    I agree, 番 (barbaric) is worse than 鬼 (ghost).

  60. Mike Says:

    @chorasmian

    Maybe 鬼 is devil and 魔 is THE Devil.

  61. little Alex Says:

    @chorasmian #59
    Hm, from what little I’ve seen, I’d have thought that the Portuguese were actually pretty good at mutual assimilation, as I’ve seen a lot of Chinese people in Macao adopting Portuguese names, mixed marriages, and Portuguese children speaking perfect Cantonese…

    @Mike #60
    鬼 is very rarely the devil. Mostly it’s translated as “ghost”. And the Devil, i.e., Satan/Lucifer/whatever, is most often translated as 魔鬼. 魔, by itself, usually means “magical”, “demonic”, etc. It can be sinister, but it can be neutral as well.

  62. S.K. Cheung Says:

    Little late to the party.

    I agree with HKer. Might be nicer to say “west”-person or “ocean”-person; that’s what I use. And at one time, “ghost”-man might have had derogatory connotations. But in contemporary usage, I think it’s relatively benign, if not ideal. Certainly much different from the N-word for black people or the C-word for us folk. I think “laowai” must be a Mandarin thing; never heard it before in Cantonese.

    I must say I’m guilty of the same thing Joel’s mall-hikers committed…I kinda gawk when Caucasians speak CHinese; whereas it goes without saying that Chinese people can speak English. I wonder if similar gawking occurs in China when a Caucasian person speaks Chinese.

  63. Wukailong Says:

    @SKC: “I wonder if similar gawking occurs in China when a Caucasian person speaks Chinese.”

    I can assure you it does. 😉 Though lately it seems to have worn off a little. I guess it depends on how common it is that a group of people speaks a particular language. I’ve heard comments lately that “a lot of foreigners speak good Chinese” so the times are changing, I guess…

    Back in the early 90s, when I met black people, I would speak to them in English because I assumed they had just arrived in the country.

  64. little Alex Says:

    @ #62
    “I kinda gawk when Caucasians speak CHinese; whereas it goes without saying that Chinese people can speak English.”

    I think as long as English is still perceived as the lingua franca of the world, even by the Chinese, most people will be eager to learn and speak English, and gawking is still somewhat excusable. Of course, all bets are off when Chinese, as everyone predicts, becomes the dominant language. (Then we’ll have a world like that of Firefly, in which everyone swears in Chinese, but no one Asian ever shows up.)

    @ #63
    “Back in the early 90s, when I met black people, I would speak to them in English because I assumed they had just arrived in the country.”

    Wow, there are black people in China during the early 90s? (Kidding.)

  65. Zhou Says:

    @SKC:“I wonder if similar gawking occurs in China when a Caucasian person speaks Chinese.”
    It sure does happen a lot. At first I used to feel good that I would cause feelings of 目瞪口呆 and would lather myself in the ensuing words of praise, however it all changed one day when I visited my friend at the hospital and a women visiting another patient beside had this “不会吧“ look on her face. Every sentence I spoke, she would repeat it while trying to imitate my deep voice and would then laugh out loud. I gave her a stern look and said “够了,你真的很难听.” Her mocking stopped immediately and we were cool.

    In response to the topic of this post: While the following isn’t based on statistics, rather a mental gathering of past instances where the term laowai or waiguoren was used, in social, blog posts and newspaper articles, I would guesstimate that 60% of the time laowai is used in a neutral manner, whereas 40% of the time it’s used in a negative context. 40% is a big enough number.

    The term laowai is equivalent to the term “oriental”. While the term by itself shouldn’t be offensive, I have many Chinese-Canadian friends that cringe upon hearing the word used to describe them or their language. As the word “orient’ encompasses all of Asia and the Middle East, they do not self-identify with the “orient”.

  66. HongKonger Says:

    @SKC:“I wonder if similar gawking occurs in China when a Caucasian person speaks Chinese.”

    Nevermind China, my Canadian buddy who has been in the Hong Kong Canto-pop music scene for 25 years, who appears on HK cantonese TV and Canto-pop concerts alongside HK celebrities a lot still gets, “Wow, you speak good Cantonese,” mostly from older people, and then turns to me or whoever is Chinese with him at the time , would add something along the line, “哗, 你个 鬼佬朋友讲中文都讲得唔错喔。” Sometimes I would just say with a smile but matter of factly, “He understands every word you are saying, yunno,” which would often cause them to suddenly realize what they were doing. And at which point they would apologize profusely to my buddy. Having been through this often enough, he thinks nothing of it anymore.

  67. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I think the terms are neutral in meaning, except some choose to impart a negative connotation through the English translations.

    My analogy as follows: In US, racial slurs are gauged according to context, especial historical and how it is used. For example, while often African American men may exchange the “N” word with each other as almost a label of kinship, it is not appropriate for a member of another ethnicity to use that word. While the same word is used, between African Americans, the usage denotes a bond of shared history of slavery, but between African Americans and another ethnic group, it denotes a reminder of the power disparity during slavery days.

    On the 2nd point, a word is only “racial slur” if it has a historical context of racial oppression or inequality. Thus, words like “N—“, or “colored person”, or “oriental” are considered offensive, because historically, those terms were used in derogatory manners during periods of racial/ethnic inequality.

    *But when a Chinese person uses a term like 鬼佬, it is not really derogatory in any sense to denote any ethnic/racial inequality in history. 佬 is commonly used in personal labels in many Chinese dialects, can be an insult or sometimes a friendly insult.

    It’s no different than when terms like “dick” or “wanker” are used in US or Britain.

    3rd point, the labels are sometimes imparted a connotation of derogatoriness when translated. “Foreign devil”, etc. But that’s purely reading meaning that doesn’t exist. Again, this has to do with Historical context, the Chinese words/phrases for those labels were not used to denote any kind of racial inequality. It would be the same as if one translated the phrase “colored person” into Chinese, (… anyone care to try to translate), and imparted a connotation of derogatoriness into the Chinese phrase. It’s unfair to suggest that the Chinese translation of “colored person” would have the same racial connotation as the English phrase.

  68. Zhou Says:

    @raventhorn4000: “But when a Chinese person uses a term like 鬼佬, it is not really derogatory in any sense to denote any ethnic/racial inequality in history.”

    鬼佬 was used by the Chinese to describe the British forces that took over Hong Kong as their opium trading base. It was used in a negative and derogatory manner. Who’s to blame them, the British did in fact invade their country. The people living through the opium wars did not use this word as a term of endearment, as present day people do. Thus there is clear historical context to 鬼佬.

    Racial slurs are not only created by the oppressors, it’s also created by those who are oppressed or suffering from inequality. They use racial slurs as a response to the unfair treatment.

  69. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I don’t know about the Oppressed creating a “racial slur”.

    Though perhaps I can understand the “racial slur” in a term like “Honky”, or “red neck”.

    But I don’t think either “honky” or “red neck” are really that “racial”.

    There are some terms that can DESCRIBE or are BASED upon “racial characteristics”, but lacking in derogatory meaning.

    I would argue that “Derogatoriness” in the word/phrase must be based upon some demeaning connotation in insult.

    For example, if I call someone a “dog”, then I’m obviously insulting his/her worth as a human being by a comparison to a dog.

    Or similar, if I called someone a “whore”, I’m suggesting that person lacks morality because he/she prostitutes him/herself.

    Or, if I called someone a “dumbass”, I’m suggesting that he/she lacked intelligence, like an animal.

    *But there is nothing in 鬼佬, other than the meaning that “person of foreign origin or British origin”.

    *Again, it’s about historical context of oppression in the usage of the terms.

    Both phrases “Ni*****” and “Blacks” were used describe African Americans back in the slavery and segregation days, but “N****” is more “racist”, where as “blacks” is almost neutral (some consider it minorly offensive). That’s because of historical context of oppression during the Historical use of the terms. “N*****” was primarily used by slave owners and racists in times of oppression, the other term “black” was more an academic neutral term.

    One doesn’t simply call a term “racial slur” because it was used in a time of oppression, or created in a time of oppression.

    It matters who used it, how was it used and for what meaning.

  70. raventhorn4000 Says:

    If any thing, 鬼佬 could connotate a person who behaves like an “oppressor” because he/she is a foreigner?

    Well, I think being called “foreign stuck up” is not really much of a “racial slur”.

  71. Zhou Says:

    @raventhorn4000:

    I think that you’d be hard pressed to find a group of non-Chinese that enjoy being referred to as 鬼佬, 老外,or 外国人. In the years that I’ve lived in China, I met many non-Chinese and there were three main groups of opinions. Group 1 had been in China a short period of time and couldn’t speak Mandarin, they didn’t seem to mind the label. Group 2 spoke Mandarin and hated the terms, as they had been associated with MANY negative stereotypes (i.e. any sentence beginning with 老外都是。。。). Group 3 spoke Mandarin and hated the terms, and knew very well all the associated stereotypes, however chose to accept that they will always be labeled in this fashion.

    I’ll give you another example, I have a Uighur friend who’s from a good family, with a stable job, speaks good Mandarin and English. We were meeting a group of friends and I introduced him as 我的新疆朋友. He was visibly upset and gave me a dirty look. Later he told me that he was really offended that I referred to him as that. He said that there were so many negative stereotypes associated with the word 新疆人 that he hated hearing it. He did not feel that this was a positive word that described him and asked me to stop. I apologized and accepted that he did not like this name, we moved on and everything is ok. Should I have lectured him that he should accept the term and not feel badly when he hears it? I cannot because I’m not a Uighur and I don’t know how it feels to have been associated with all of those negative 新疆人 stereotypes.

    It’s simply respecting others feelings, even though we might not understand them, in order to build a harmonious society.

  72. Wukailong Says:

    @Zhou: Thanks for this description! I’ve tried hard to describe for a long time that the importance is not on what abstract meaning people have of a term, but rather on how it’s used and how people feel about it (both the users and the ones being addressed).

    Actually, I would say I belong to group 3 but I don’t really hate the term so much… I used to be more concerned about this but believe it will go away as Chinese society changes. Actually, this phenomenon happens in most countries with mostly mono-racial populations. In parts of Latin America, white people are referred to as “gringo”, and in Thailand as “farang.”

  73. Wukailong Says:

    Btw, if this “abstract term” thing comes up again, then I want to know what people think about the word “chinaman”. It consists of “China” and “man” which is hardly offensive, right? 😉

  74. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Well, I would argue that “Chinaman” has a racist historical reference. Ie. “Not a Chinaman’s chance”, reference used during the railroad construction days in US.

    But it is also about a choice of words.

    There are many words to describe a Chinese person.

    But if I can’t use the words 新疆人, what else am I supposed to use?!

    Of course, I would love it if we just refer to each other as simply “人”, or “Man”, but I think 新疆人 is as neutral as someone described as “Chinese person”, or “Beijing person”, or “Shanghai person”.

    I mean, for heaven sakes, I understand sensitivity, but come on.

    If we really want to be picky about it, Why are we happy about “Chinese person” as a label?! The word “China” is a foreign label.

    Hell, we should all insist that from now on, we should be referred to as “Zhong Guo Ren”, or “Zhong Guo Person”, by all Westerners.

    *That is, if I really want to be picky about it, ONLY I should be able to determine what label I’m OK with all the time.

    *
    To @Zhou: I understand why your Uighur friend would be offended. I mean, I don’t go around pointing out my African American friends as “my African American friends”. I would just call them my “friends”, simply. But frankly, it has nothing to do with the label 新疆人, it has to do with you pointing out your friend’s ethnicity in public.

  75. Zhou Says:

    @WuKaiLong: I would say that I belonged to Group 3, however recently more towards Group 2, as I keep being referred to said terms in my home country. I’m not enjoying it. 🙂 I have also thought of the word Chinaman, and one could use raventhorn4000’s arguments to defend it’s use.

    @raventhorn4000: I should of been clearer in my earlier post. My Uighur friend is very proud of his ethnicity and often talks about it. He has brings it up immediately after meeting new people, as to show them that there are Uighurs do not all fall under the Han stereotypes that they are thieves, drug dealers, etc. In his native tongue, he prefers to be called Uighur, in Mandarin he prefers to be called 维吾尔族. He encouraged me to introduce him as a 维吾尔族, and prior to that incident, I always thought that 新疆人 and 维吾尔族 were interchangeable. I was wrong, I didn’t know better. He finds 维吾尔族 to be more representative in his own culture. 新疆人 as per what he said, is insulting as his home is not a “新疆”, or “new frontier”. It’s a very demeaning term to many Uighurs.

    The word China is based on the Kingdom of Qin, it was translated from French to English. In French, being Chine (pronounced closely to the word Qin. It is an old translation, and if you feel offended by it, I support your quest to have it changed to something more suitable. If the government feels that the English translation was insufficient and yours is better, they can communicate it with the world, as many other world governments have done in the past.

    To quote what you said “That is, if I really want to be picky about it, ONLY I should be able to determine what label I’m OK with all the time.” That’s what society does, that’s why the words “Chink” and “Chinaman” are not acceptable terms to describe Chinese people. The Chinese people, as a group has decided that those terms were offensive and others listened to them. They asked English speaking countries to refer to them as “Chinese” with the respect that they deserve. The terms 鬼佬, 老外,or 外国人 do not represent me, my culture or my country. They are stereotypical words that group me with everyone that is non-Chinese. That is why we do not like to be called that. Is there a country named 外国? No.

  76. Wukailong Says:

    @raventhorn4000: My point is not what word you can use, simply that the feel or use of a word isn’t limited to its constituents. That is, people might find laowai offensive even though it just consists of “lao” and “wai”, just as they might find “Chinaman” offensive. History, as you say.

  77. HongKonger Says:

    ” they can communicate it with the world, as many other world governments have done in the past. ”

    Yes, China has indeed done so:

    A few examples such as::

    Peking: Beijing
    Canton: GuangDong
    Formosa: Taiwan
    Amoi: Xia Men

    Chomolungma, (the west calls it Mount Everest) has long been revered by local peoples. Its most common Tibetan name, Chomolungma, means “Goddess Mother of the World” or “Goddess of the Valley.” The Sanskrit name Sagarmatha means literally “Ocean Mother.” Its identity as the highest point on the Earth’s surface was not recognized, however, until 1852, when the governmental Survey of India established that fact.

    “They are stereotypical words that group me with everyone that is non-Chinese. That is why we do not like to be called that. Is there a country named 外国? No.”

    I am not here to argue, just to offer a different perspective.

    I think 外国 is an adjective.
    Stereotype? Calling someone a 美国人, 英国人 or whatever 人 can be construed as typecasting to the over sensitive….Hence, there are Americans who would pretend to be Canadians when they are traveling abroad. To say someone is a foreigner 外国 人 is favorably to not disclosing ones specific nationality.
    On the other hand, sometimes when an Asia or Black 外国 人 wants to impress whatever upon the locals would then say they are in fact 美国人, 英国人 etc. or ….”Hell, no, I am a 加拿大人“

    I am like most who’d expressed here that this is kinda like, I think it’s Shakespeare who said, “There is neither right or wrong but thinking makes them so.”

  78. HongKonger Says:

    “consists of “lao” and “wai”, just as they might find “Chinaman” offensive. History, as you say.”

    Restrospective history as some have pointed out here, is trying to redeem past ills, atrocities and make corrections., i.e paying for the sins of the forefathers, executed for centuries by Colonists, slavemasters and their ilks. On top of all that, they taunted the subjugated people of the world with the “N- word,” “Chinaman,” “diaper heads,” etc., horribilias too enormous for the libraries of mankind.
    Meanwhile as Bush, Rummy and Blair are spared the Hague, any redemptive rituals are at the grace of the wronged including the families who gave up their’s and their children’s life for lies. But, as life has to go on, and while tyranny reins as has always in it’s myriad forms and manifestsations – the gracious will not be spared the little peoples’ taunts — thus maintaining their need to remain in the mature state – of grace.
    Well, each to their own. There will always be whinners and winners. I’d like to join the ranks of the latter. And just to name a few, I see the winner’s traits in people like Admin, WKL, Steve, Oli, Allen, Shane, Tony, Nimrod, Raven, and so on. But that’s just me, and lord knows, I am often wrong.

  79. Zhou Says:

    @HongKonger:

    A few examples such as::

    Peking: Beijing
    Canton: GuangDong
    Formosa: Taiwan
    Amoi: Xia Men

    Perfect! My point exactly! Great examples. I wish I had thought of that. Although, in France, they still call Beijing “Pékin”… I guess they didn’t get the memo. 🙂

    You must of heard and know all the stereotypes associated with the words 鬼佬,老外 and 外国人, right?

    Here’s a story about when I was in primary school: our class consisted of mainly Ojibway students, except for a few boys who were from mixed parents between Aboriginal and White. Children would call them”Zhaagnaash”, which is Ojibway for “Outsider” or “White person”. The word came into existence when European settlers came to Canada. The boys denied that they were a Zhaagnaash and insisted that they were a pure-blooded Ojibway. As time progressed, my classmates started attaching stereotypes to these poor boys. Such as, Zhaagnaash are all stupid, Zhaagnaash are all lazy, Zhaagnaash aren’t good people, Zhaagnaash are cheaters, etc. While the term Zhaagnaash was not originally a negative one, those boys learned to hate it. They hated it to the point that it would cause fist-fights in the school yard. The boys that fell in the Zhaagnaash category had low self-worth as no matter what they did, they were always treated as outsiders. Labeled by others against their choice.

    This story also reminds me of an old idiom “You cannot know a man until you walk a mile in his moccasins.”

  80. Wukailong Says:

    I like the example Hongkonger gave above. On a personal note though, when I speak my mother tongue (Swedish) I still tend to use old names like “Peking”, “Kanton”, and “Hongkong”. Since there’s no equivalent of “sh” I pronounce Shanghai as “Hanghai” (though the first h is slightly thicker) and the tones are standard Swedish fare: Hānghài, Pèkìng, Hòngkòng. Other Chinese names are basically pronounced “as is” without the tones (because Swedish has its own tonal qualities making combination tricky).

    If people would take offense at these names I would change my mind, but I don’t really belong to the camp that believe you should pronounce names in the “native” way. Considering that there are numerous pronunciations for Hongkong in Hongkong, I guess it would be hard to accept one that everybody could agree upon.

    It’s natural to come up with distorted names for places in different tongues, and it happens most frequently with neighboring states. A funny example is Copenhagen, which has a slightly different name in most Scandinavian languages:

    Danish: København
    Swedish: Köpenhamn
    Icelandic: Kaupmannahöfn
    Finnish: Kööpenhamina

    I guess Chinese names are more sensitive in English because they used to be a colonial power. Also, I wouldn’t call Taiwan “Formosa” for several reasons… But I separate the cases where it’s just a transliteration people got wrong (like Peking) and names with a clear colonial history.

    Btw, are some people in the West still referring to Chang Jiang as “Yang-tze-kiang”? Where did the latter name come from in the first place?

  81. Wukailong Says:

    I guess I should point out that I love the way Chinese translates names like 剑桥 and 牛津, to name a few, or even makes up its own ones like 旧金山 and 檀香山. One day back in the late 90s, when I was still a student of Chinese walking around in the Zhongguancun area in Beijing, I saw a sign saying “苹果电脑”. My first reaction, because I was reading word by word, was: “what is an apple computer?” It’s the same way when English memes like “the big apple” is translated into 大苹果 – it takes time to connect. Still, this feels much better than the wholesale importing of foreign words that Japanese or Korean does.

  82. HongKonger Says:

    Zhou,

    Yeah, I hear ya. Your story sounds all too familiar. Boys will be boys. Some grow up to be men some – what’s the (loaded)word now….? lumpenprole, was it? Or simply A- holes, jerks and low lives…

    LOL. Perhaps in our case, “You cannot know a man until you walk a mile in his grass shoes .”

    WKL:

    Yang-tze-kiang is probably Hakka pronunciation for 扬子江 just las HongKong & Peking are Hakka sounds.
    Back during the Dynasties I think it was refered as the stretch between Yangzhou (扬州) and Zhenjiang (镇江). During the Ming Dynasty, this name however was applied in English to the whole river – sometimes written as 洋子江, as in the river on which foreigners or the overseas people missionaries and traders…traversed. Well, something like that.

  83. Nimrod Says:

    “or even makes up its own ones like 旧金山 and 檀香山”

    These weren’t made up. That’s what they were called by early Chinese immigrants: Old Gold Mountain for San Francisco because of the gold rush, and Sandalwood Scent Mountain for Honolulu because of the sandalwood trade.

  84. Wukailong Says:

    @Nimrod: I meant “made up” in the sense that they didn’t stick by one of the local names but created a new Chinese one. Of course then, in a sense, it becomes a local name…

  85. vam Says:

    i dont like the 老 but have to accept it in the context of calling a rat a lao shu, a tiger a lao hu, calling some old geezer lao chen, calling zhao benshan lao zhao.

    waiguoren, i guess is cool cos we’re foreigners… BUT where i’m from, you just say, ‘that guy’ and it’s polite to drop anything that distinguishes you, like different ethnicities or whatever. so i wouldnt say “my xinjiang friend here…” so, i hate the way people pipe up about the waiguoren in public. ALSO where i’m from black people are quite rare, so when i see one on the street i just walk past with eyes averted, consciously not staring. cos i want to help teh geezer feel like he fits in…. but chinese are different… pretty friggin in your face, alot of them. i’m personally running free education courses for people who shout “hello, ha ha ha” at me in public. they generally come away from my tailored, snappy lessons well enlightened about foreigners’ distate for such unwelcome greetings.

    as far as 鬼 stuff goes… lets knock it out of them? make life a bit comfier for ourselves? when in rome, do the romans… ?

  86. monk Says:

    I agree that“鬼子” is a derogatory term to be used on anyone. Interestingly, there seems to have a hidden historical meaning that expressed a reluctant fear and/or hate associated with that term. That hidden historical meaning is: Generally speaking, only those foreigners who were stronger than China
    or had defeated China in a significant way at one time or another were eligible for the title of “鬼子”. This is just a little observation of mine. Again, I am absolutely against the use of the term on anyone.

  87. 雅各 Says:

    Lao Zhong (15) says: 老X is a neutral word, as in 老李, 老师, 老毛, 老蒋, 老鼠, …

    It’s not the 老 that gets to me, it’s the 外. I’m in China, but from Melbourne, Australia, and in both places I’m called a 老外 by the Chinese. Chinese people are welcomed to Melbourne and treated like locals pretty much as soon as they arrive. If I was to live in China for 20 years, however, I’ll still be referred to as 老外 in totally irrelevant situations, such as buying something to eat.

    It’s not up to the person using the term to distinguish whether a term is 贬义词 or 褒义词, it’s the audience.

    Some Chinese have recently expressed shock at my objection to the term 老外 saying that, if they don’t say it, they’ll have no way to actually refer to me. It’s almost as if 老外 is one of the pronouns of the Chinese language. With such thinking it is difficult to argue.

    Instead of parents in China telling their children “看,那边有老外,说’hello’“, they should teach them that outside China there are a wide range of nationalities, of many different languages and colours. Otherwise, it’s akin to Westerners in Western countries saying “Look, there’s an Asian, say こんにちは”. The latter is actually less ignorant than 老外, because at least some attempt has been made at identifying the person. 老外 simply means “outside China”, which inherently carries no meaning whatsoever.

    I applaud Nick’s (8) comments, but feel that 老外 is also a term that should be phased out (i.e. given a wide berth) if China is to truly develop, not only in technology, but also in mindset.

  88. Wukailong Says:

    “看,那边有老外,说’hello’“

    LOL. I’ve heard almost exactly the same thing said. I was going to make a sarcastic joke about the great inclusiveness of the Chinese nation, but I’ll be nice.

  89. FF74 Says:

    I think we Chinese should change it, as so many Americans don’t like it. It’s not polite after all. Before I didn’t realize until one of my colleagues felt offended when she was reading a fiction that referred all the Americans 鬼佬。During the class discussion time, she asked me if it is true, so I had to explain the background and at the end appologized.
    I grow up in China. I called Americans 老外,美国鬼子 because that’s how the grown ups and people in the movies refer Americans. I don’t know and I didn’t even think why do we use those words and if it is appropriate. I believe most people are in the same case. Let’s stop using those words if they make other people uncomfortable.

  90. James Forsyth Says:

    @FF74 I agree with you totally when you said “I think we Chinese should change it, as so many Americans don’t like it.” I’d just add that I have German and Russian friends living in China who also don’t like being singled out as a foreigner with the term 老外, and neither do I, an Australian.

  91. violet Says:

    well i do understand your foreigners doubts and uncertainty.
    and to a tremendous dgree , your expounding is reasonable, which I , a chinese native agree to.
    but you have neglect a slight but the crucialest point , the origin of the phrases 洋鬼子.

    actually not until the westerners invaded into Chinese territory on a large acale, of which the “milestone” is ” the issue of Eight Power Allied Force “(1900), did the term 洋鬼子 begins to prevail among the whole country. Before that it was mainly used by the locals in some certain coastal cities like Guang zhou , fu zhou , ning bo ,etc,since the Opium War I in 1848 .

    yeah surely the phrase 日本鬼子 is a morph of 洋鬼子 。
    seperately, the subtle meaning for the word 洋 cannot be fittingly expressed out merely through this get-by corresponding word “foreign”. commonly it particularly points to the” western foreigners ” , not those from east world

  92. s Says:

    Joel,
    im just here wondering , do u really know Chinese?!
    chinese including cantoness and mandarin…have different meaning in using one word. even we may use these bunch of words which u n ur wife may seem as bad words,to call each other! it makes us feels even familiar wid each other! if u really konw much bout chinese. u may stop writting dis kinda of blogs! ur here asking chinese to learn how to be respectful, but have u ever learn da history?! who can forget da cruelness from the other eight foreign countries in the eary years of last century?! including u guys here! north american!
    china is a country which can forgive others and bear others’ bad behavior, chinese r not mean! hop u can remember , pls know more bout china n chinese then make the blog here! this is my best advice to u!
    good for u, u know some chinese, but ur just learnt the very few part of great madarin or cantoness. u cant read wen chinese r jkin when they r calling u by ur nickname!
    well,hp everythings gud wid u n ur madarin!
    s

  93. Hongkonger Says:

    “看,那边有老外,说’hello'”

    LOL, I hear that all the time and it always made me think of idol worshipping idiots going: “Look it’s Andy Lau or xxxxx celebrity, here’s a piece of scrap paper, let’s go get an autograph.”

    ” The latter is actually less ignorant than 老外, because at least some attempt has been made at identifying the person. ”

    This is true.

    老外 simply means “outside China”, which inherently carries no meaning whatsoever.

    Disagree….it means “the old familiar foreigner” or “old friend(s) from overseas.” The derrogatory intentions are dependent on the relevance of the user. I personally never use it to address my expat friends for diplomacy reasons — except to bug them — or in reference (mostly when frustrated and angry) to foreign imports such as ideas, philosophy, religion, people, goods, technology etc when talking to Chinese people.
    It is true that, “You can get a farmer out of the farm but you can’t get the farm outta the farmer.” Foreigners may live in China / Aisa for years even decades, have Asian spouses and even learn Mandarin —the fact remains that few — I repeat — very few, will ever get the nuances.This is also true with most (not all) west bound immigrants from Asian countries.

    “if China is to truly develop, not only in technology, but also in mindset.”

    Truly develop? And, to develop to whose bloody mindset? I see some haughty overseas Chinese and non Asian English speaking posters here making fun of our poor English — It will take perhaps take generations before our English is up to par and then for China at large (30% of the population at best???) to fully appreciate Western cultures.

    I must add that some (foreigners) people, though far and few in between are most successfully in integrating by serving in humility and loving charity in Asia or anywhere in the world— but I trust even fewer do so with no religious or political agender. Meanwhile a lot of people with Western mindset keep pushing their precepts worldwide by hooks, by crooks and by force — in synchrony with the cacophony of media misrepresention of China. How about first learning to adapt or adopt ? How about try making friends before trying to influence people for a change? You consider yourselves the “developed first worlders,” how about try leading by examples instead of bad judgemental attitides and mouthing off at every damn thing y’all don’t bloody understand or disagree with? Who made your race and culture the primacy of the universe?

    Finally, if I have offended anyone or done a horrible job of generalization, I do sincerely apologize.

  94. James Forsyth Says:

    “This is true.”
    “Disagree….it means”

    Thanks for your critique of other people’s ideas and justification for regarding all but Chinese people as foreigners (as you yourself do in your penultimate paragraph) regardless of whether in China or on the internet or wherever. Thanks also for your continued assertion that it is the victim’s responsibility to adjust to whatever name the Chinese choose to use on them, hence your “derrogatory intentions are dependent on the relevance of the user.”

    I’d just like to comment on your last objection, which is to my term developed (a term often used in China, and as far as I know it is used in the same way as I use it – 发达,发展). I think we can agree that the centres of “development” by any definition in most countries are the universities. Take Western universities, for example. I experienced going to a few of those. They are centres of learning and improvement. Multiculturalism and mutual learning is encouraged. This is very different to my experiences at Chinese “universities”. Here, white people are, like most other places in China, subjected to laughing, pointing, “老外” and other manifestations of cultural alterity. I remember one of many examples when I was at the canteen getting myself something to eat. A bunch of people came in (all Chinese), and a fully grown man – not a child – announced to his whole group “老外!” I don’t think he or any of his friends noticed that he was scratching himself on the balls at the same time. Not unlike a more recent time in another city, I was minding my own business in a busy marketplace, and one of the stallholders called out from about 15 metres away “老外!” (As an amusing aside, a *masters* student at a Chinese university recently quizzed me as to why there is anything wrong with plagiarism).

    Look. I can see that these types of scenarios are what constitutes in your own bloody mindset development. You stick to your definition, and I’ll stick to mine OK? Agree to disagree?

    [James – AKA 雅各 – couldn’t edit name after posting]

  95. hongkonger Says:

    James Forsyth AKA 雅各

    Thanks for your critiquing the local critic of the visiting critics.

    Nice examples. I see you have learned a great deal in these centers of “Multiculturalism and mutual learning” worldwide.

    “You stick to your definition, and I’ll stick to mine OK? Agree to disagree?”

    Look. As long as a preferred bloody euro-centric mindset and definition doesn’t get thrown around to mislead others so as to fan the flame of prejudices and cross cultural discords, I am perfectly happy to be agreeable. But seriously, Who really cares anyway? The moment one makes a statement one is subject to criticism / disagreement. Get use to it.
    I was, as my good Georgian friend’s grandfather (God rest his soul) liked to say, “Just stating the fact.” So you can bet your Aussie dollar that I am sticking to my definition: 老外means “the old familiar foreigner” or “old friend(s) from overseas.”

    Speaking of my good friend from Georgia, here’s a link he’d sent me recently: It’s a nice read. Hope you and all FM readers enjoy it as much as I did:

    http://chinahopelive.net/2007/10/01/%E5%85%B3%E5%BF%83-talk-so-offensive-its-funny

  96. JJ Says:

    Like others have mentioned the term 鬼子 often applied to foreign colonists that tried to subjugate the Chinese. This is why that term is more often used in HK as there are still remnants of the old colonial system.

    * * *

    RE: Being Politically Correct

    In America, there were racist laws against the Chinese and other minorities. So equality laws were required to help fight against the institutional racism that existed (and still exists).

    While in post-modern China, it was still the “foreigners” that were the conquerors. They were the ones that tried to colonize China and impose their laws on the Chinese. And like I mentioned about HK, the colonial mentality still exists today.

    Now I’m not saying the Chinese don’t need to be more PC, but to say that “老外” or even “鬼子” has as much of an impact as “Chinaman” or “Chink” is disingenuous.

    Because in both cases it was the “老外” that had the power.

  97. Shane9219 Says:

    How Chinese call foreigners/westerners is an indicator of tension with them.

    Initially, Chinese just called them 洋人 or people of oversea. It was kind of neutral.

    During times of foreign invasion and occupation, westerners were then generally called 洋鬼子, while Japanese invaders were called 东洋鬼子 and later 日本鬼子.

    Now, the calling becomes neutral again. Foreigners are generally referred as 老外, while Chinese can call themselves 老中, and Cantonese can be called 老广.

    However, the twisted term “鬼佬” was originated from HongKong due to its colonial history, and still used in Cantonese dialect. That did not sound quite neutral.

  98. Chris Hearne Says:

    The other day while eating dinner with a large group of Chinese people, my girlfriend’s friend, who is very nice, asked me a question in which she referred to 老外, with the explicit implication that I was a member of that group. She then laughed nervously and said, “I mean, 外国人” as if she had caught herself saying something she shouldn’t.

    I usually don’t take offense at the term 老外 because usually I don’t sense any hostility coming along with it. But this isn’t the first time someone has implicitly or openly admitted that they feel uncomfortable calling me 老外 (at least to my face). Why would this phenomenon exist if there weren’t some serious baggage that goes along with the term? And why is it that usually Chinese people will call you a 外国人 or even 外国朋友 when making active attempts to be polite, rather than say 老外?

  99. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I think 外国人 is a very formal term of addressing someone, and typically used with strangers.

    Whereas 老外 is more an informal term.

    Your girlfriend’s friend was probably more conscious about how she sounded, than anything else.

  100. James Forsyth Says:

    @raventhorn4000 – haha! That’s really funny!

    [at a business meeting]
    A “How may I address you?”
    B “Just call me 外国人”

    [at a relaxed luncheon – ties loosened]
    A “So, what’s ya name again?”
    B “老外”

    You’ve obviously confused the ideas of “address” and “refer”. Which brings up an important point. Why should we refer to anybody in any way that is different to the way we would address them?

  101. hongkonger Says:

    Chris Hearne,

    Good point.

    There just aren’t any serious present day racial prejudices with the term 老外 (or even “鬼佬”) — Period.

    Other than this much ado about nothing by visitors, and regardless of the fact that the onus is on those to be Roman / Chinese when in Rome/China, white-collar working Chinese would nevertheless do well to not willfully defy these imported arbitrary faux Pas– despite the fact they are in their own country and in their own fine culture.

    I admire the french. With their “My country, my customs” good sense, the French don’t give a damn about having to cater to the every whims and whines of their visitors — hence they are given the thumbs down all the time by some self righteous birds of a feather adjudicators.

  102. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “This 外国人”, or “this 老外”, are not much different from each other, other than the formality of the words used.

  103. James Forsyth Says:

    I detect a certain irony here. “when in rome do as the romans do”/ruxiangsuisu (no chinese on this computer)…. but we’re going to refer to you as a “foreigner” regardless whether you’re wondering which queue to join at the airport or whether you’re ordering food in a restaurant.

    Simply put: You can’t expect someone to blend in if you keep reminding them they’re a foreigner.

    Hongkonger… if you’re actually an asian, you don’t really have the perogative to say whether a name used for white people is offensive or not. And if you’re a westerner you still don’t have the right to speak on behalf of all westerners on the subject.

    hongkonger… are you actually in Hong Kong? Or are you in USA or somewhere – a visitor yourself – giving your opinions about what Westerners should put up with and what they shouldn’t? If it was Australia you were in you’d find that to label someone according to their skin colour or country of origin is regarded as simplistic, backward and potentially discriminatory. Sure, we come from different backgrounds with different expectations – as I’ve already alluded to, you remind me of one or two of the people I’ve already mentioned that I have come across in Chinese universities.

    Remember, some people who go to China are actually invited.

  104. hongkonger Says:

    James Forsyth Says: “if you’re actually an asian, you don’t really have the perogative to say whether a name used for white people is offensive or not.”

    You are right, I don’t.
    BTW, this is not only true exclusively to Westerners, many foreigners including many Asians have had to adjust, adapt and some, the fittest I’d suspect, learn, to quote the well known Pauline advice: “to be all things to all men.”
    So, don’t assume the said perogative which you have none here either and presume to tell the Asians what they should or should not do, and then proceed to re-interpret the said terminology to suit your own cultural prejudices and projections, especially not on someone else’s turf and homeland.

    “Simply put: You can’t expect someone to blend in if you keep reminding them they’re a foreigner.”

    Touche. So don’t blend in, if that is how you want it. Like I said, I was just stating the fact on the term 老外 . And if you are one of the invited privileged guests, my guess is people in your circle would and have tried everything to make you feel welcome. Just don’t expect everyone to be at your beck and call. But enough of them will & have, I’m sure.

    You got it right with your assumptions: “to label someone according to their skin color or country of origin is regarded as simplistic, backward and potentially discriminatory.” So, don’t pull the race card, you’ll only embarrass yourself.

    All I know is that I am more often at the receiving end of the racial and country of origin in their myriad forms of discrimination, be it from visitors or locals. As a matter of fact, you remind me of too many people I’ve had to put up with over the years here in my own culture whether be at work, and at times — even at play. Suffice to say that I am grateful for the freedom I’ve had in whom I choose to be my friends — and I’ve always had no problem with most expats and locals alike even while the reverse maybe true between expats and between expats and the locals.

  105. JJ Says:

    > If it was Australia you were in you’d find that to label someone
    > according to their skin colour or country of origin is regarded
    > as simplistic, backward and potentially discriminatory.

    And yet isn’t there a political party that’s doing just that? Australia also has a history of racism towards its indigenous people and other minorities.

    Now China may also have had racist policies, but when it came to Western foreigners, it was the Westerners that held the power.

    However, that being said, I do agree that we shouldn’t call people what they don’t want to be called.

    For example, I have a friend who’s a bit overweight and I’m sure he would be upset if I called him fat. Likewise, if a non-native-Chinese person is uncomfortable with me calling them a 老外 then I’ll stop.

    But the fact remains that 老外 isn’t even close to the racist epitaphs used on minorities because of who had the power.

  106. James Forsyth Says:

    @hongkonger:

    You’re giving the appearance of answering my comments. However, it seems to me like a string of non sequiturs. Thus, it’s pointless continuing. Please consider your comments as being the last word and that you have won, and in your own section of the world – and I still don’t know where that is – feel free to keep referring to westerners and blacks or whoever comes your way as whatever you want and reap whatever benefits or consequences apply.

    Speaking of which… how do I unsubscribe? I don’t usually stick around with people who label people in such a way and then seek ways to justify it with such incoherent responses as “don’t play the race card”. It just doesn’t make sense. There are not enough people on this forum who disagree with hongkonger (i.e. his thesis that the Chinese can refer to Westerners as laowai and waiguoren if they choose to) for me to stick around.

    And to bring the apostle Paul into it as if his reason for saying what he said had anything to do with hongkonger’s ideas…. you need to reread the New Testament.

    JJ – I don’t endorse Australia’s past, nor westerner’s past in China. Nor am I referring to the relative weight of sins of various civilisations at different stages of history. I’m referring to what you’re talking about in the second part of your post….. and agree….. don’t call people what they don’t want to be called. I regard this as very simple decency. Sure, valid point, laowai might not be on the same level as “nigger” – a word nobody is accusing each other of using here. But, again, the common sense idea that you bring up of not referring to people in ways they object to is paramount.

    The idea of “turf” that hongkonger has brought up…. heck, I’m called laowai by Chinese people living in Australia! But I was born here! I don’t object to the lao I object to the wai! If “turf” is such an issue, then it has to apply in my own hometown too.

  107. hongkonger Says:

    Once again, agreed. It was pointless from the beginning with your mis-interpretation of the term and misrepresentation of a people at large. Therefore I am glad I don’t have to content anymore with you. You may consider your comment #106 as your final word or entrance as you so wish, but unlike you, I am not here to tell anyone what to do nor put words into others mouths.

    “feel free to keep referring to westerners and blacks or whoever comes your way as whatever you want and reap whatever benefits or consequences apply.”

    Your words , not mine. Put them back in your mouth, I have no use for any of your racist mindset.

    “turf” is such an issue, then it has to apply in my own hometown too.”

    Perhaps it should apply in your own hometown, Australia, I don’t know. But we are not talking about Aussies being called “Laowai” in Australia here. Note: This very article links to a good article by a Canadian blogger on the particular issue of being called a “LaoWai” in Canada.

    The Bible, like any religious and moral writings can be interpreted many ways — just count the few religions and each their many denominations and sects this one book has produced — I am not a believer, but I like Jesus. I love how he called the privileged scholarly moralists of his days, ” You hypocrites, you broods of vipers.” Perhaps you’ll do well to take your own advice with regard to revisiting the pages of the New Testament.

    “There are not enough people on this forum who disagree with hongkonger (i.e. his thesis that the Chinese can refer to Westerners as laowai and waiguoren if they choose to) for me to stick around.”

    Again, your words, not mine.

    Good bye James Forsyth. Check with Admin on how to unsubscribe. Sorry, I don’t know how to either.

    Here’s a response from someone currently residing in Japan:

    “These people are good at taking the high moral ground. You’re damn right to say plenty locals must’ve tried their utmost to please & please, but pretty soon got tired of their high and mighty “expat” arrogance. Too common a case of the more you try to please ’em the more they demand. There’s just no effing end to their demands! Give ’em what they deserve — straight talk.”

    A reminder of what Nimrod wrote a few months ago …

    Nimrod Says:
    April 15th, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    After learning the Chinese language a while, it should be obvious that in common discourse 国 always stands for 中国, and therefore 国内 and 国外 refer to “in China” and “outside of China” respectively, 国人 refers to Chinese, and 外国人 refers to non-Chinese. There is no confusion, actually.

    老外 is clearly a term of endearment, just as 老张 老王 老李. 鬼佬 and 鬼子 are harder to say, and which way it goes depends on what kind of 鬼子 you are. As Allen said, if you are a 小鬼, then you’re just a mischievious kid, a little devil, but if you are an 日本鬼子 or 洋鬼子 or 黑鬼, then it’s more serious. And 美国鬼子 is to 中国鬼子 as Yanks are to Chinamen. I think that about gives the right weight.

    If you really want to be unambiguously derogatory, you’d have to be more creative. A variety of words at your disposal, like bandit, barbarian, dog, pig, bastard, etc.

  108. Zhou Says:

    @James Forsyth: I’m back in Canada and i and I keep calling Chinese people 老外 and 外国人, as well as “foreigner”. Some have accepted it and laugh when I call them that. Others get really offended and ask me to stop calling them that. I simply explain to them that, 我应该叫你什么?你在国外的时候就是一个老外!你不是本地人,对吧? It’s fun and it’s not discriminatory because it’s true. Embrace these words and use it when you’re on your own turf. Only through experiencing what we experience can people understand that it’s not fun being called one. 🙂

  109. James Forsyth Says:

    @hongkonger: you said “Your words , not mine. Put them back in your mouth, I have no use for any of your racist mindset.” racist mindset? I only have one thesis on here: don’t call me a foreigner unless it’s totally relevant, for example, as previously alluded to, when deciding which line to queue in at a Chinese airport.

    I can’t believe that you are saying I’ve got a rascist mindset when you’re the one who is justifying using labels for races and I’m not! A total twist of logic that I’m surprised not more people in this forum are recognising.

    A – You repeatedly make implications about the coloniser status of all Westerners, and ignore my point about my being called 老外 in my hometown. Who’s got the coloniser mentality?

    B – You accuse me of political correctness and tell me not to pull the race card, then you say you “have no use for any of your racist mindset”. Peculiar.

    @zhou: “Others get really offended and ask me to stop calling them that. I simply explain to them…” Ok, keep offending people, no problem. “我应该叫你什么” – you seem to think that 老外 is one of the pronouns of the Chinese language, as if you haven’t got any choice. With regard to these other things you said about Westerners not being 本地人, I guess an investigation as to whether the Chinese refer to white people in England or Scandinavian countries, for example, as 老外 is yet to be conducted, but I’ve got my suspicions. White people are certainly locals in those countries. I hope you won’t object to that.

    @JJ: You actually reminded me of an overweight colleague who visited China not long before a visit of my own. She inadvertently learnt the Chinese word for fat (胖)very very quickly! I recently met a morbidly obese person not long ago, and befriended the guy. Of course, there was no way I was going to mention anything to do with his weight or anything else irrelevant of the sort. If there’s anything we can be thankful for with regard to hongkonger and seemingly zhou who agrees with him, is the reminder that Western values and Chinese values are definitely differerent.

    hongkonger says he’s met colleagues or whoever who have been equally annoying as me. Yes, I’ll continue to be the annoying sort of person that I am who says: Please refer to me in a way that I choose and I’ll accord you with the same respect. Go ahead, give me a -1 unhelpful forum comment again for this one (pattern emerging there, not just against me, but generally against people advocating mutual respect), but I’m just that sort of person.

  110. hongkonger Says:

    # 96 “Just stating the fact.” So you can bet your Aussie dollar that I am sticking to my definition: 老外means “the old familiar foreigner” or “old friend(s) from overseas.”

    “hongkonger says he’s met colleagues or whoever who have been equally annoying as me. ”

    Putting words in my mouth again, huh. (pattern emerging there) Tsk, tsk, tsk. This was what i wrote: “Suffice to say that I am grateful for the freedom I’ve had in whom I choose to be my friends — and I’ve always had no problem with most expats and locals alike …”

    JJ says: “And yet isn’t there a political party that’s doing just that? Australia also has a history of racism towards its indigenous people and other minorities.”

    “A – You repeatedly make implications about the coloniser status of all Westerners, and ignore my point about my being called 老外 in my hometown. Who’s got the coloniser mentality?”

    I think you are confusing me with someone else…I don’t remember using the word “Coloniser” — AND re: being called LaoWei in your hometown, I did comment in # 107 that ” perhaps you should do something about it in your hometown, Australia…” In addition, I do recommend taking Zhou’s advice:
    Zhou says: July 16th, 2009 at 7:39 am @James Forsyth: ” I’m back in Canada and i and I keep calling Chinese people 老外 and 外国人, as well as “foreigner”. Some have accepted it and laugh when I call them that. ”

    Re; Colonisers…Um, AGAIN, you must be thinking of JJ….????

    JJ Says:
    July 15th, 2009 at 3:02 am: “Like others have mentioned the term 鬼子 often applied to foreign colonists that tried to subjugate the Chinese. This is why that term is more often used in HK as there are still remnants of the old colonial system. RE: Being Politically Correct

    “Please refer to me in a way that I choose and I’ll accord you with the same respect. ”

    I have NOT addressed you as any other than by your Full English Name and Chinese Moniker….If we were to meet, you will never hear me call you anything else ….Unlike some people, I have worked for decades in cities all over the world with people of all level of intelligence, EQ and cultural sophistry — I understand multi-cultural & cross cultural interactions. Oh well, there is really no point in continuing when you can’t tell one Chinese from the next….

    Reminder: Chris Hearne Says:April 16th, 2009 at 2:20 am

    “I take 老外 with a grain of salt. It really depends on the tone of voice / situation. If it is grumbled in a disgruntled tone, it is probably meant to offend me. If it is said lightly by a charming country grandpa, it’s probably meant as a term of endearment. Anyway, when people want to offend me they just call me a 傻屄 anyway! ”

    :- )

  111. James Forsyth Says:

    @hongkonger:

    You said (message 104):
    “As a matter of fact, you remind me of too many people I’ve had to put up with over the years here in my own culture whether be at work, and at times — even at play.”

    I said (message 109):
    “hongkonger says he’s met colleagues or whoever who have been equally annoying as me.”

    You said (message 110)
    “Putting words in my mouth again, huh. (pattern emerging there) Tsk, tsk, tsk.”

    This, like all your other accusations, don’t hold any water whatsoever. Generally speaking, putting words in someone’s mouth means to claim that someone has said something that they haven’t said. You seem to be confusing reported speech and direct quotes. Furthermore, if someone reports someone elses speech it doesn’t necessarily mean they are putting words in the other person’s mouth.

    You said you didn’t use the word coloniser… OK, but you implied something very much like it in the following paragraphs:

    “”Other than this much ado about nothing by visitors, and regardless of the fact that the onus is on those to be Roman / Chinese when in Rome/China, white-collar working Chinese would nevertheless do well to not willfully defy these imported arbitrary faux Pas– despite the fact they are in their own country and in their own fine culture.

    You consider yourselves the “developed first worlders,” how about try leading by examples instead of bad judgemental attitides and mouthing off at every damn thing y’all don’t bloody understand or disagree with? Who made your race and culture the primacy of the universe?””

    You didn’t answer my question about where you are, but a quick search confirms – you’re a Chinese hongkonger living in USA (“In my youth, the innocent question I got in North America”) who is justifying the use of the term laowai to refer to people you regard as foreign. Not exactly someone in my books who, once again, has the perogative to decide what Westerners are called. I hope you’re enjoying life in America. The few times I was living in China I heard the term laowai virtually every day.

    You mention that you have been the recipient of racist talk yourself (I’ll quote if you’re worried about the words/foot/mouth problem again). I certainly wouldn’t condone such talk whether you or anyone else is the recipient. But how often are you referred to using a term you don’t want to be referred to by? Every day?

    Granted – you haven’t called me a laowai yourself. That isn’t the issue. It’s whether you’re justifying it or not, and you are. For this to be productive at all, by the way, it’d be helpful if you stop being so selective and concede a point if you think I’ve made a reasonable one here or there?

  112. hongkonger Says:

    @James Forsyth:

    To sum it all up: My main thesis, as you like to call it, is that my definition of 老外 is “the old familiar foreigner” or “old friend(s) from overseas.”

    Implied??? Suit yourself, but I was talking about privileged guests. BTW, post # 101 was in response to Chris Hearne….”white-collar working Chinese would nevertheless do well to not willfully defy these imported arbitrary faux Pas– despite the fact they are in their own country and in their own fine culture.”

    @James Forsyth: “Westerners & Blacks”

    Where did I ever mention blacks?

    “You didn’t answer my question about where you are, but a quick search confirms – you’re a Chinese hongkonger living in USA “………..?”

    Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that question was important. Well, I have lived in China on and off since 1997, and worked in China for many years now. I’ve traveled extensively, but NO, I have never had to live in the West nor grew up in Hong Kong. I’ve always worked with people from all over the world. So, I’ve heard all the complains – from Westerners and Easterners alike. I think China is great, that’s all.

  113. James Forsyth Says:

    @hongkonger:

    You said (message 104):
    “As a matter of fact, you remind me of too many people I’ve had to put up with over the years here in my own culture whether be at work, and at times — even at play.”

    I said (message 109):
    “hongkonger says he’s met colleagues or whoever who have been equally annoying as me.”

    You said (message 110)
    “Putting words in my mouth again, huh. (pattern emerging there) Tsk, tsk, tsk.”

    Response?

  114. hongkonger Says:

    James Forsyth Says: “For this to be productive at all, by the way, it’d be helpful if you stop being so selective and concede a point if you think I’ve made a reasonable one here or there?”

    Ok, ” If there’s anything we can be thankful for with regard to hongkonger and seemingly zhou who agrees with him, is the reminder that Western values and Chinese values are definitely differerent.”

    Agreed to a point. It’s not so cut and dried which I am sure you will agree. But with regard to calling someone “fat” , like I was explaining to my African-American associate only yesterday, which to my surprise, him having worked in China for quite a few years now — that he seemed to have no idea that it has always meant to be a compliment.

  115. JJ Says:

    @ Zhou

    > Only through experiencing what we experience
    > can people understand that it’s not fun being
    > called one.

    Ok…so when should China implement a Head Tax on foreigners?

    When should China start using manifest destiny and colonize Canada?

    And after doing that when should China impose its cultural values on the locals and treat them like second class citizens?

    You’re right, once China does those things perhaps other people can understand what we’re going through.

    * * *

    @ James Forsyth

    > She inadvertently learnt the Chinese word
    > for fat (胖)very very quickly!

    I think that’s a very important issue here.

    People in China have no qualms about calling a person fat. We also like to ask people’s salaries and other personal questions.

    But this is a cultural issue. It’s how Chinese people bond.

    Just like in America, it’s not polite to ask an acquaintance to help you move or drive you to the airport (yes, Seinfeld reference).

    But in China, as long as that acquaintance is a “friend of a friend” then it’s no problem. In fact, it’s almost expected.

    Chinese people see friends as extended families and that’s where the informality comes from. Whereas in Western culture, you’re supposed to be polite, but in most cases are rather distant.

    That’s why when a Chinese person uses 老外, it’s not out of malice. Just like a Chinese person commenting that someone if fat.

    Sure I can understand when people are offended since they’re not familiar with the culture. Just like how frats like to haze the rushes—it’s a way that Chinese people bond.

    * * *

    Let me also add this.

    During the Olympics do you remember that racist photo of the Spanish basketball team?

    Is it racist?

    Interestingly, most of the native Chinese did not consider it racist. To them it was nothing.

    But the Chinese who grew up in Western countries did.

  116. Sonia Says:

    So many people have been going back and forth about the definitions/intentions of these terms, but I think we’re forgetting here that there are massive differences between the different regions and cultures of the World Chinese people that will influence the way words are used. Words also change meaning over time. For example, terms like ‘xiao jie’ have changed from a neutral/polite term to one offensive in parts of China, but since I, as an overseas Chinese, have not been part of that changing culture, I sometimes forget that it’s no longer polite to use. Another example is “ya tou”, which some use as “wrench” and historically sometimes used for maids. However, in some areas, it merely means “girl”, and does not have negative connotations. So I think that these meanings and intentions change from place to place, time to time, and mood to mood. Thus, regardless of being the speaker or the spoken to, it’s important to discuss these things frequently and with an open-mind, and learn to adapt to the environment.

    And I’d also like to note that we can’t expect others to change, and can only require change from ourselves. So for those feuding above, I encourage that regardless of your positions and how strongly you feel about them, to take a step back and chill. If you have been offended before by insensitive remarks, I’m sorry, but please understand that sometimes curiosity is not sensitive but is also not intentionally malicious. If you feel wrongly accused of being offensive, “yuan wang”, please concede that as communicators, what we actually convey is as meaningful, if not more meaningful, than what we intend to convey.

  117. Zhou Says:

    @JJ: I’m very familiar with being treated as a second class citizen in my own country, being First Nation. However, Canadians are decent enough not to call us Indians anymore, as we requested that they no longer use the term. There are still some people who insist on using it, but others will remind them that it’s a term which we do not like. It’s about mutual respect. Sure we’re not happy that they colonized our country, but we’re moving forward together.

    The head tax on the Chinese and the treatment of Japanese during the war was horrible. Much more horrible that being called Indian or 老外, therefore you’re comparing apples with dragons.

  118. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I would suggest that all Westerners get together and vote on what they would like Chinese people to use as label for them.

    Incidentally, the word “Caucasian” is rather a misnomer, like referring to Asians as “Orientals”, and I don’t know why White people still accept that term.

    If one wants get super-technical, what Chinese word for “foreigner” would be “politically correct” enough?

    I’ll wait for the poll on that.

  119. James Forsyth Says:

    @raventhorn

    “If one wants get super-technical, what Chinese word for “foreigner” would be “politically correct” enough?”

    No term would be “politically correct” enough – except (in English) “foreigner” and (in Chinese) “外国人” – when totally necessary [see my below expansion i.e. immigration control situations etc].

    To me it’s not which language is used or particularities of translation. My only concern is when a group of people is referred to as “foreigner” to such an extent, as it is in China… and it’s so habit-forming, that they even refer to Westerners as “foreigners”, when they go to Western countries. That’s when it becomes insulting.

    So, I really don’t mind the terms “foreigner” or “外国人“, if we’re talking about some immigration control issue or such whereby the intended meaning simply can’t be conveyed without the word.

    But if I’m with a group of friends in a Chinese restaurant, in China, but even more so in my hometown, I dislike it when the service staff confirm with their boss which table the food needs to be served to and he replies something like “the laowai table”. Zhou, at comment 108, seems to think there’s no other option, as if laowai is a pronoun in Chinese (and almost dies laughing in the process). But wouldn’t it be better for the boss in the restaurant to say “table 7” like he would for any other Chinese people in the restaurant?

    If I’m being called a foreigner in my own country, Australia, it’s time for a rethink on the term. It’s untrue – I’m not a foreigner. It’s insulting – it implies the speaker has more right to be there than I do (regardless of supposed etymologies of the word). It’s uneducated – can’t people be more specific about other people-groups than to simply say what basically means “unchinese”?

  120. raventhorn4000 Says:

    James,

    No doubt if you have “Australian” visible on your shirt, in English or in Chinese, People could be more specific.

  121. James Forsyth Says:

    @raventhorn:

    You’ve selected a very small portion of my post addressed to you and provided an answer which you know doesn’t follow from my intention.

    I take it you mean it’s not necessary to specify the nationality of a person. Agreed. In some circumstances it’s not necessary. But in the light of people’s justification for using a term at all, why not choose one that informs, rather than simply alienates?

    Perhaps we could agree on some guidelines:

    If you don’t know a person at all there’s not much use addressing them, nor referring to them, and laowai isn’t useful should the case arise in this instance.

    If you need to refer to someone but don’t know their nationality, just refer to them in the second or third person by saying “he” or “she”.

    By way of example, I live in a block of apartments in Melbourne, Australia. It’s populated my 90% asian people – you’d think I’d have MORE reason to use the word “foreigner”, but I scarcely ever use it. Let’s say one of them comes to my door and wants a cup of sugar. Should I yell out to my partner “Hey honey, there’s a foreigner at the door wanting sugar, do we have any left?” (given that he’s not wearing a tshirt as you specify, this would probably be your chosen option). Should I say “Hey honey, there’s a Chinese guy at the door wanting sugar, do we have any left?”, I think no, because our decision to help a neighbor shouldn’t be based on their origin. How about “Hey honey, there’s someone at the door wanting sugar, do we have any left?” What do you think Raventhorn? Can you think of something sensible to say this time?

  122. raventhorn4000 Says:

    OK, James,

    if you are sitting in a Chinese restaurant, and the waiter tells the boss, “HE at table #7”. The boss asks, “which HE?”

    Do you want the waiter just POINT at you?

    (I ask, because I have always been told in China and in US, pointing at people in public is very insulting.)

    If not pointing, then what?

    *

    Incidentally, I have been referred to as “the Chinese guy with curly hair and glasses”, I have never felt insulted.

  123. hongkonger Says:

    # 118: & 122
    LOL, right on, good one, raventhorn4000…

    Common Misnomers: So called White people are actually not white — I’ve seen Chinese people fairer than say, fair skin (at times pinkish ) Caucasians. Yellow people are not at all yellow by any stretch of the imagination, and blacks are in fact mostly like many an Asian have wonderful skin tone in their myriad shades of tan.

    # 116, Sonia: “we’re forgetting here that there are massive differences between the different regions and cultures of the World Chinese people that will influence the way words are used. Words also change meaning over time.”

    Ah, a breath of fresh air. Thank you .

    JJ Says:July 16th, 2009 at 5:22 pm : “Just like in America, it’s not polite to ask an acquaintance to help you move or drive you to the airport. But in China, as long as that acquaintance is a “friend of a friend” then it’s no problem. In fact, it’s almost expected. Chinese people see friends as extended families and that’s where the informality comes from. Whereas in Western culture, you’re supposed to be polite, but in most cases are rather distant.”

    Well said JJ. You’ve, in my opinion, accurately alluded to a commonly observable case of certain glaring aspects of western monotheistic self – importance, expansionist mindset, bourgeois intellectual egotism cum idiocy, individualistic superficiality and legalistic hypocrisy etc…all of which becomes all too antagonistic particularly when introduced into and in contrast against any society which adhere to the norm of extended familial relationship, and no less with a huge society profoundly influenced by the non-abrasive time tested non-interfering paradigm of Lao Zi and Kong Zi’s “仁” mindset.
      中国古代一种含义极广的道德范畴。本指人与人之间相互亲爱。孔子把“仁”作为最高的道德原则、道德标准和道德境界。他第一个把整体的道德规范集于一体,形成了以“仁”为核心的伦理思想结构,它包括孝、弟(悌)、忠、恕、礼、知、勇、恭、宽、信、敏、惠等内容。其中孝悌是仁的基础,是仁学思想体系的基本支柱之一。他提出要为“仁”的实现而献身,即“杀身以成仁”的观点,对后世产生很大的影响。《论语.颜渊》:“樊迟问仁。子曰:‘爱人’。”又“克己复礼为仁。一日克己复礼,天下归仁焉。”又《卫灵公》:“子曰:‘志士仁人,无求生以害仁,有杀身以成仁。”《庄子.在宥》:“亲而不可不广者,仁也。”清谭嗣同《仁学.界说》:“仁为天地万物之源,故虚心,故虚识。”

  124. Sonia Says:

    @hongkonger

    Thanks for the compliment. But is it possible to not tie this to a discussion of Chinese v. Western philosophy? I think we’re all getting a little over-excited and personal here about cultural arrogance, ethnocentrism, and it’s making me a bit nervous. If we drag philosophy into this…well I should just stop and say that I’m particularly biased against Confucianism.

    I think that what we can conclude is that many of us are very possessive of our own habits and cultures, of our languages and how we use them, of our own “correctness”. I have always used “Laowai” frequently, though I have never really thought about its irony. I too am a little peeved that James is so against this term, but ok, I can understand that it may get agitating, and I’ll be careful not to use it to him if I happen to ever have to fortune to meet him.

    I think that the Chinese state and the Chinese culture including its language has not developed the PC-sensitivity that certain other nations enjoy (or suffer, depending on which side of the issue you stand on). But as the Chinese community become more and more integrated with the global world, and regions become more integrated with each other, this will change, and a more PC standard will emerge…This may take form in new, more PC words and attitudes, or it will just dis-associate non-PC words with their non-PC meanings and be accepted by the world. I’m not saying that this is how it SHOULD change (after all, is there a “should” to the way language is formed and evolved?), I’m just saying that it WILL happen like this, and it is the way it has always happened.

    @James. You appear to feel really strongly about this term. Then, I’m sorry that you have been offended so many times by it. I’m not sure what the best solution to this is, because if I were to travel to a place where they call girls “yatou”, I would think it’s silly to ask people not to call me that simply because I come from a place where it’s offensive. On the other hand, if all the girls united together to request that “yatou” not be used to describe girls, it seems reasonable that it should no longer be used. So I guess what you’re missing is not vehemence but allies? I don’t buy your argument that the term implies this and that, because that’s stressing etymology, where we have many words that have evolved from one meaning to another in all languages. But I suppose that if I meet more non-Chinese who all feel as strongly as you do, then I will naturally stop using the term.

    @raventhorn. It appears that what James is complaining about is less about the term itself and more about the need to identify Chinese v. non-Chinese in settings where that identification is completely unnecessary. I would agree that sometimes we make this identification in situations that don’t require it, such as at a restaurant. Other times, we use “Lao wai” to mean “white people”, and other times to mean those from “developed” Western nations (and Australia), and in those instances, it is essentially a misnomer. So perhaps we can concede that the term is not the most efficient…or I should say that it is overly-efficient in categorizing people.

    There is a necessity to talk about stuff like this, especially as China and the World co-mingle. But perhaps, we should all take things a little less personally, and swallow some chill-pills? Sometimes a little self-river-crabiness is a good way to go ( 😛 not advocating anything politically…but just saying).

  125. Zhou Says:

    @raventhorn4000: If you’re Chinese and you associate yourself as being Chinese, then being referred to “the Chinese guy with curly hair and glasses” would definitely not be insulting. You nailed it on the head here, this is what we’re trying to explain. Non-Chinese don’t view ourselves as being from the magical kingdom of 外, therefore that’s why we don’t like it. If someone was kind enough to refer to me as “the Canadian guy with glasses” I wouldn’t be insulted either.

  126. FF704 Says:

    As a Chinese who has lived in the U.S. for 3 years, I want to share some of my experience. Hopfully, it will help us understand each other better.
    I came to a city that doesn’t have many Chinese people, so I wanted to meet more people and make some American friends. After all these years, I found out that different from Chinese, Americans DON’T label me as a foreigner at all. If I want to join them, they accept me and never treated me differently. It’s a good thing to get start. BUT, they also DON’T make any exception or give me any accommodation. When I have hard time to use English to express myself, they lose their interests listening. My jokes are not funny for them, and I don’t understand their jokes. We don’t have a lot in common. After a while, they don’t think I’m a fun person and don’t invite me to join them anymore. I was lonely and eager to have some friends, so I sometimes invite myself over… It’s kinda embarrased, but things are getting better now. When I was in China, people think I’m a fun and cute girl. Now they just think I look sort of cute but not fun at all.

    Here is something about Chinese: When I met some foreigners in China, I labelled them “foreigners,老外”. I also treated them differently, which generally included:1. I didn’t expect them to speak good Chinese. When they did, I was thrilled. 2. I liked to see the differences on them, and learn new things from them. I helped them alot and enjoyed those experience. 3. I didn’t view them as a true friend. I viewed them as an outsider. Even though we hang out together, go shopping together and going to the doctor’s appointments together. I knew I didn’t and wouldn’t treat them the same way I treat my Chinese friends.

    Here comes my conclusion: Americans don’t like to be labled as “foreigners”, because they don’t do that to other people. It’s rude in their culture. When I was treated like an American, I was also expected to possess certain qualities that an American usually has. Unfortunately, I failed their expectations and was left alone.

    However, I have to say, I don’t encourage Chinese people to continue seeing foreigners as an outsiders. That has caused some problems in our society, but not many people are aware of that. I’m too tired to explain more. Now I have an American boyfriend who lived in China for a few years. What he said the other day reminded me about this article. When he makes mistake in his Chinese, I think its normal and somehow cute. When I make mistakes in my English, he thinks it’s a little annoying. He said: In China, people think your Chinese is good even if you are able to say only a few sentences. But they don’t accept you as part of them. Americans are willing to accept you, but I’m sorry, we also expect you to speak perfect English.

  127. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Zhou,

    You are right, except, how did they guess that I am a “Chinese”? Obviously I didn’t tell them.

    Do I look “Chinese”? Or was that supposed to be “stereotyping”?

    Of course, I could have a US citizenship as well.

    Should I feel insulted if I have US or Canadian citizenship?

    * Well, let’s just be personally responsible, if you want to be called something other than what MOST people would call you in that place (absent derogatory stereotypical intent), just write it down on your shirt, and let people see it clearly.

    Otherwise, I’m just going to start pointing at people, and say “THAT GUY there!” Because I don’t know what anyone would want to be called, if they don’t tell me.

    Better yet, I’ll just point a laser pointer on you across the room. 🙂

  128. raventhorn4000 Says:

    FF704,

    I have been in US for almost 30 years. 10X of your time in the states.

    I can pretty much say that my English is better than yours, for sure, and I joke with my American friends all the time.

    Maybe you haven’t felt the “foreigner experience” yet, lucky for you.

    Maybe it’s easier to blend in in US, because there are so many different kinds of people.

    I have no doubt that most non-Chinese would feel “stand out” in China, far more than if they go to Europe, US, or Canada. But that has nothing to do with what we call people.

    Labels are imperfect. But we still have to use them, with the least amount of annoyance to others. (but we still have to use them!)

    *As for non-Chinese learning to speak Chinese. You can look at it either way.

    I would feel much more as a “foreigner”, when People around me insist that I learn their language, while taking no interest in my language or my culture.

  129. FF704 Says:

    I would feel much more as a “foreigner”, when People around me insist that I learn their language, while taking no interest in my language or my culture.

    That’s how I feel almost everyday. All they have noticed are my imperfect English and “gross” food people in my country eat.

  130. JJ Says:

    @ James Forsyth

    > It’s populated my 90% asian people –
    > you’d think I’d have MORE reason to
    > use the word “foreigner”,

    First let me say that I’m not trying to be purposely antagonistic,
    but unless your an aborigine, then all Australians are foreigners.

    * * *

    > Should I say “Hey honey, there’s a
    > Chinese guy at the door wanting sugar,
    > do we have any left?”

    See, I wouldn’t be offended by that. I’m Chinese and I don’t mind people calling me that.

    But I can see someone being sensitive to that.

    Now if you were to say, “…there’s a slightly overweight guy at the dooor…” then yeah, I might be a little upset. Even though I could afford to lose a few pounds.

    However again, there are probably some people who wouldn’t be offended by that either.

    So it’s very subjective.

    There’s no history of oppression attached to those words.

    And similarly, 老外 is a very neutral term in Chinese.

    Now of course there are people who will be offended by it and in that case I simply wouldn’t use it around them.

    * * *

    @ Sonia

    I agree with all of your points but I feel the need to address this issue,

    > I think that the Chinese state and the Chinese culture
    > including its language has not developed the PC-sensitivity
    > that certain other nations enjoy (or suffer, depending on
    > which side of the issue you stand on).

    The main reason is because those “other nations” were often forced to do so. It’s a by-product of colonial and cultural imperialism.

    You can see the similarities in how China tries to be more PC towards the Tibetans and Uyghurs.

  131. raventhorn4000 Says:

    FF704,

    “That’s how I feel almost everyday. All they have noticed are my imperfect English and “gross” food people in my country eat.”

    See, they don’t need to label you as a “foreigner” to make you feel like one.

  132. James Forsyth Says:

    @raventhorn: “See, they don’t need to label you as a “foreigner” to make you feel like one.” – so here are you saying that it’s bad to be made to feel like a foreigner? OK, to be doubly sure we don’t do that, let’s drop “laowai”. Unless in your words to FF704 your underlying meaning was that it’s great to be made to feel like a foreigner, in which case please ignore this point.

    @JJ:

    “@ James Forsyth

    > It’s populated my 90% asian people –
    > you’d think I’d have MORE reason to
    > use the word “foreigner”,

    First let me say that I’m not trying to be purposely antagonistic,
    but unless your an aborigine, then all Australians are foreigners.”

    When someone says “you’d think”, it’s a counter-factual situation. You appear to miss this. I didn’t say “I have more reason to use the foreigner” I said “You would think…” So I don’t believe in calling people foreigners at all…. didn’t you pick that up at least from my post?

    Regarding aboriginals, I totally agree with you, and as far as I’m concerned the aboriginals are #1 in Australia. However, the difference in standing between aboriginal Australians and white Australians has nothing to do with terms that Chinese inside and especially outside China should refer to Australians as. I was not claiming in my post that white people have more right to Australia than the aboriginals, but I was saying that due to the relative difference in number of Chinese in Melbourne, Australia, compared with the number of Westerners in, say, Wuhan, who would have more reason to say “foreigner”. Honestly, I can’t believe I’m typing this… you completely missed the point of my post.

    If you think it worthless the fact that generally speaking Westerners have been in Australia for many more generations than the Chinese then we can change the whole topic of this thread to the rights of Australian aborigines if you want to. But I’d rather talk about people speaking to each other with respectfulness in the here and now and discuss history.

    @FF704: I personally think your English is very good and you shouldn’t let any wouldbe socialite who likes to make lots of jokes with his friends (and then tell others about his popularity in blogs) get you down.

  133. hongkonger Says:

    124 Sonia Says:
    July 17th, 2009 at 1:20 am
    ” …..philosophy? … about cultural arrogance, ethnocentrism”

    Your point accepted. Thanks

  134. Sonia Says:

    Due to the popularity of this thread, I shared it with my mother. Then we mused that in my house we generally don’t use the term “laowai” except in the context of ex-pats in China. Since we live in the U.S., we generally refer to non-Chinese around us as “laomei” 老美 (meiguo, 美国 = (United States of A) ME (rica). My mom amusedly wondered what we’d call Australians or Canadians or the British. “Lao Ao” 老澳?”Lao Jia” 老加? “Lao Ying” 老英?Nah…too awkward sounding, or maybe we’re just not used to them.

    @James, I think we’re wandering off topic here. To be made to feel foreign or not is I think not too relevant, at least in my world, to the topic at hand. And it can spawn books and volumes, and many red sweaty faces and smoke fuming out of ears, which I think are perhaps unnecessary in a blog discussion about word choice. I agree that there are many many instances where we need not differentiate between the race and origins of people, but when instances that require such identification do occur, we need proper terminology right? You don’t seem to contend that. My mother seems to think that perhaps “lao ao” is too awkward, and perhaps that’s why people use “lao wai” in your neck of the woods. I don’t know if I’d agree, but I thought it would be amusing to share.

    In general, I feel, although I may be wrong, that you’re of the sentiment that to differentiate and to categorize people inherently alienates different demographic groups. But I think it’s quite natural for human beings to identify patterns, categorize, and create rules. It’s in fact a very important part of how we come to learn. But of course, when it comes to categorizing human beings, blindly stereotyping and categorizing people can be very dangerous and detrimental. But I think that the solution is not to cover it up and imagine it away. I think it’s more important to talk openly about our curiosities and differences, to understand which of there categorical rules are important and relevant cultural phenomena, and which ones are bogus and silly. And I think this may be relevant to your “feel foreign” discussions above. You James say that the term “foreigner” makes you feel foreign, and others contend that even without the term, they are still made to feel foreign. The fallacy is of course to conclude that the term has nothing to do with being made to feel foreign, but I think that’s a much more complex relationship than I have the expertise to explore. Anyway, my point was that just because there are categories doesn’t necessarily mean that there is discrimination, and that there may very well be discrimination without stated categories.

    Bah…I’m not being very clear.

    At any rate, I refer you to the philosophy behind alllooksame.com, which is sort of like my adopted manifesto, and which the author has written much more coherently than I can ever hope to write:
    http://alllooksame.com/?page_id=16

  135. James Forsyth Says:

    @sonia: Hi! please let your mum know that, in my opinion laoao, laomei, etc, are all ok if said with good intention because they don’t imply “foreign”.

    I agree categories are useful and necessary in the area of education. However, see my post #87. Do you think the parent is correctly educating the child in this instance? Or are the categories too simplistic?

  136. Sonia Says:

    @James. I completely agree with you that there is a lot of naivete out there that can range from hilarity to offense. But I think that it calls for a little more subtlety. Now I have also been approached by a variety people who have said a variety of Asian greetings/thanks to me. It’s usually in friendliness, so I try not to react negatively. Instead, I’d smile and say something like “oh actually, for me it’s nihao”, which usually leads to a nice discussion about being Chinese-American, and may even lead to me teaching them how to say hello in Korean because I just happen to know that too. I get to talk to nice strangers; they get to learn two new words and recognize more Asian cultures.

    Of course, not all events are so easily and happily solved like this. But still, and this may just be the young idealistic 20-yr old in me talking, but I think a more constructive discussion would be “what are some alternatives to what we are doing now, and how will they improve the current situation” instead of “let’s stop what we are doing now because there is so much wrong with the current situation”.

  137. JJ Says:

    @ James Forsyth

    I guess my sarcasm didn’t really translate over very well.

    I understood your point, but I think Australia, Canada, and US are a little unique because they are immigrant societies.

    But most countries are not.

    Like Asia, this “foreigner” concept is quite translatable to Europe.

    I’m pretty sure that no matter how long a Chinese person lives in say, France or Italy, there is no way the general populace would acknowledge them as French or Italian.

    Heck, I’ve known white Americans that have lived there 20+ years and they’re still regarded as American.

  138. BF in Japan Says:

    I would venture to guess the geographical term for the country China is really a Euro-centric name for what modern-day “Chinese” would call “Zhong-guo” meaning “middle country” which again gets the Euro-centric treatment of being reinterpreted as the “middle kingdom”.

    I reckon “China” most probably was derived from the Chin Emperor. However, Chin Emperor Ying Zhen’s anti-儒家 streak made him extremely unpopular among vast majority of 儒家 intellectuals who’d rather identify themselves with the more Confucianistically user-friendly Han Emperors. They had rather called themselves “Han ren”.

    Perhaps “China” should’ve been called “Hana” instead but Sun Yatsen decided to stick with the euro-centric China terminology because over the centuries the Middle Country has come to include other non-Han nationalities such as the Man aka Manchu, Meng aka Mongolians, Hui aka Muslims and Zhang aka Tibetans.

    So, if “laowais” insist on knit-picking over how Chinese should refer to foreigners, then let me start with the term “Chinese,” when we should be calling ourselves “Qin ren ” from the country of “Qin guo.”. So, gimme a break!

    My point is that language is always used in socio-historically contexts. Once the socio-historical context in which a word in use is set into motion, no amount of knit-picking can stop it from being used widely unless the socio-historical context is changed. Take for example, the popular use of “negro or nigger” in USA. It took an arduous social struggle involving millions of people during the 1960s to change that. Then we won’t be just knit-picking, we’d be in the thick of an arduous social struggle, wouldn’t we be?

  139. Zhou Says:

    @Raventhorn4000 (127):

    In regards to the citizenship issue, that would depend on how you feel about your background. For example, I’m a proud First Nation, but I’m also a proud Canadian. Canadian-born Italians are immensly proud of their Italian heritage, during the World Cup, they will put Italian flags on their cars in support. You will often see people hyphenating their identity Chinese-Canadian, Iranian-Canadian, etc. Others would rather just say that they’re Canadian. Strangely, I’ve yet to meet anyone who states that they are foreign-Canadian or 外-Canadian. 🙂

    “I would feel much more as a “foreigner”, when People around me insist that I learn their language, while taking no interest in my language or my culture.”

    When I was in China, people were not interested in speaking my language and neither had any interest in my culture. They were interested in speaking English (which is not my mother tongue) and were interested in American culture (which is not my culture). This is due to the incorrect label of 老外 and the concept of 老外都一样的。。。

    @FF704: “That’s how I feel almost everyday. All they have noticed are my imperfect English and “gross” food people in my country eat.”

    I know how you feel, we eat every part of an animal, as to not waste anything. So you can imagine that our food seems strange to others. Americans often notice my imperfect English as well. The French notice my imperfect French and the Chinese notice my imperfect Mandarin and switch to English when speaking to me. 🙂

    @JJ: “Heck, I’ve known white Americans that have lived there 20+ years and they’re still regarded as American.”

    That’s exactly what I’m trying to explain. He’s regarded as an American, not a foreigner. That’s the big difference. The French, in your example made an effort to label him correctly and not to call him an “étranger”.

  140. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Zhou,

    That’s odd, if you call yourself a Canadian, wouldn’t people expect you to have “Canadian culture”?

    But if you want to be specific about yourself, by all means, print whatever hyphenated identity you want for yourself on your body, (multiple flags even).

    Then, others can identify you according to what you want.

  141. Zhou Says:

    Raventhorn4000,

    that’s the beauty of Canadian culture. It’s anything and everything that people want it to be. Therefore, it’s impossible to describe. You’ll find patriotism, but not nationalism. 🙂 Nationalism=calling others 老外.

  142. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Zhou,

    How about we will just call you “nonspecific”, since you don’t want to describe yourselves clearly.

    Nationalism = thinking that you are more unique than others.

  143. Zhou Says:

    You nailed it on the head yet again. That’s exactly what we’re saying. We want to describe ourselves clearly; not grouping ourselves with hundreds of other nations under the moniker of 老外.

    I just happened to read an article in the paper which has given me hope for future generations:

    http://www.thebeijingnews.com/news/guonei/2009/07-17/047@025255.htm

    “小学要在三、四年级开设《中华大家庭》课程,五、六年级开设《民族常识》课程” I’m curious to see what this 民族常识 class will be teaching.

  144. JJ Says:

    @ BF in Japan

    Excellent comment.

    * * *

    @ Zhou

    > That’s exactly what I’m trying to explain.
    > He’s regarded as an American,
    > not a foreigner.

    Actually his exact words to me were that even though he lived there for 20+ years, they still consider him “Not French.”

    He didn’t tell me if they called him an American, a foreigner, or just that guy who’s not French.

    * * *

    Also, it’s been my experience that the Chinese don’t call all non-Chinese people 老外.

    If someone is from Korea, they will call them Korean.

    Or if someone is from India, they’ll call them Indian.

  145. hongkonger Says:

    I had a very nice chat with a quiet Englishman whom I’ve worked with for a few years now. Yesterday, he said to me, (My paraphrase): “Why should the Chinese gov’t bend over backwards to accommodate outsiders???? They shouldn’t have to cater to the ungrateful English speaking West: Example: Bi lingual bus stop announcements on public transportation, among other things, are just unnecessary, and frankly downright annoying. I can’t imagine the English government doing any of that. Bloody hell, if these damn big mouth foreign residents here care not to learn the local culture & language properly, then they can shut the eff up, learn to adjust, adapt or just fxxk off.” he said.

    Naturally I agreed.

  146. hongkonger Says:

    An Interesting story:

    Midwesterner in the Middle Kingdom is a relatively new blog I’ve been following for a while, described by China Blog List as “A Jewish guy from Kansas City provides his anthropological, and sometimes humorous insight on life away from China’s megacities.”. Aside from being an Israeli and having once lived in the Kansas City area, I find that I have a lot in common with how Ben looks at life. I like his reason for coming to China :

    My reasons for coming to China were that I wanted to experience a lifestyle completely different from my cushy life in the ‘burbs…I wanted to be shocked and isolated.

    I was quite overwhelmed a week ago to read that Ben has decided the unimaginable – he took a job as a very low salary Chinese barbershop trainee. Why?

    As an American living in China, I have spent the last three years of my life enjoying the benefits of being a citizen of a country which is far wealthier than the one in which I reside. I travel around town by taxi. I drink at expensive bars. I eat sushi. I take trips across the country, and when my apartment is dirty, I call a maid to clean it up. My life is not that different from the other several hundred Westerners who call Fuzhou home. We all come to China for the “China experience,” but we still live our lives with the advantages of being Westerners. […]

    What I hope to gain from this experience is an understanding of what Chinese workers go through on a daily basis. What is it like to work a job 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a salary of less than $100 a month? How will this put into perspective my life in China as a foreigner, or my life in America as an American? How does the other half (or in this case 99.9%) live, and how do the respond to a foreigner trying to do the same? I hope to find the answers to these questions, and hopefully have a little fun doing it.

    So, what’s the plan?

    Tomorrow I will begin a one-month stint as a 学徒 (trainee) at a local barber shop/salon. The manager will be treating me just like any other beginning employee his first days on the job. I will be starting at the very bottom of the barbershop food chain, and my duties will include sweeping hair, cleaning bathrooms, assisting barbers, and entertaining customers as they have their hair cut. Throughout the month I will have only three days off, and work the rest from 9 am to 8 pm. I will essentially be a slave to my job which for one month pays what I would make in one day of teaching English.

    And so he did. First day included some interesting reactions from the Chinese staff :

    I showed at the barbershop at 9 am, to somewhat surprised looks from the other employees. I am guessing they probably figured there was a 50/50 chance as to whether or not I would show up for my first day. I had gone in to the barbershop with Melody last night, and talked with the boss in person. The boss, was dumbfounded, to say the least, when I told him I wanted to be a xue tu (trainee). After Melody explained to him how Americans sometimes like to do crazy things like this, and that I was simply doing it for the experience, he got the vibe, and agreed. […]

    My work so far is quite simple. I am starting at the lowest possible position, so my responsibilities include collecting used towels, sweeping hair, and bringing cups of hot water to customers.

    Second day so far, has been far more difficult :

    It’s been two days on the job now and it already feels like months. I have worked 2 eleven hour days in a row, and because of personal circumstances which you probably do not want to read about in this blog, done it on 2 hours sleep (no I wasn’t drinking). Although the work itself is not so tiring, I have never been on the clock for such a long shift in my life, and it is mentally exhausting. I still can’t imagine my colleagues do this 27 days a month all year long.

    Although nothing as extreme, this brings back memories from my time in Hoi-An/Vietnam, where I spent weeks with my Vietnamese friends at their small shops selling shoes and tailor clothing (Xin Chao, Hay Ban) as well as just trying to understand what it’s like to be a local (MBA – Introduction to Marketing : basics).

    Ben, what you’re doing is extraordinary. I’ll keep following…

  147. Zhou Says:

    @Hongkonger:

    I agree with this comment as well and I’ve argued for it many times. I think that each region should have bilingual announcements based on regional dialects, NOT English. For example, in Shanghai, the bus stops announcements should be in Shanghainese and Mandarin. The same in Guangdong, it should be in Cantonese and Mandarin, etc. There’s absolutely no need for English, it’s ridiculous. I was angered when I saw that the pinyin on street signs was changed to English. That is so wrong. I believe that most tourists would quickly learn that the pinyin for “lu” means road.

    What kind of barbershop was able to sponsor him for a visa? that’s too awesome!

  148. hongkonger Says:

    @Zhou,
    Bilingual Bus stop announcements on Chengdu buses:
    The first time I took a bus in Chengdu city in Sichuan, it took me a couple of stops to realize what the “English” annoucement was…it was hilarious! Same thing happened on every bus I’d taken the 3 months I was there: ” Blah blah bus stop in Mandarin (pause), “NOW” ” ……. That was it: “Now”
    LOL. I thought that was ingenious! I pointed that out to my Sichuan host. He shook his head and said to me that he’d actually never even noticed that an English word had been spoken until then.

  149. CK Says:

    OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
    Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
    But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
    When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!
    Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936)

    老外 is an Eastern holistic term – it is therefore true to the eastern holistic mind that a 老外 is a 老外 is a 老外 – in essence, in fact, in status, in “never the twain shall meet” concept REGARDLESS of time, space and certainly regardless of geography. We understand it and use it without malice. As it takes a crook to catch a thief; a racist to see racism in a convival embracing term such as 老外. So let the racists, the two faced hiprocrites vehemently protest while we make friends with the better open minded people of the world.

  150. hongkonger Says:

    Raventhorn4000: Nationalism = thinking that you are more unique than others. Hm… who’d these wide-eyed people be????? 🙂

    Adj. 1. wide-eyed – exhibiting childlike simplicity and credulity; listened in round-eyed wonder”
    dewy-eyed, round-eyed, childlike, simple
    naif, naive – marked by or showing unaffected simplicity and lack of guile or worldly experience; “the naive assumption that things can only get better”; “this naive simple creature with wide friendly eyes so eager to believe appearances”

  151. raventhorn4000 Says:

    HKer,

    I will just start to get offended by the general reference of “Chinese”.

    I OBJECT! I’m a “15th generation Shanghai Yangpu District Han Chinese”!

    Now, let the hyphenated foreigners guess which one each of 1.3 billion Chinese are.

    Afterall, why should they be allowed to call us “collectively” as “Chinese”, if we have to be more “specific”?

  152. hongkonger Says:

    raventhorn4000 Says: “why should they be allowed to call us “collectively” as “Chinese”, if we have to be more “specific”?”

    Every now and then English speakers would tell me that I am either “too Chinese,” or “Not Chinese.”
    I wonder what they really, really, really mean?

  153. TonyP4 Says:

    #146 HKer, what is the link to the blog. It surely sounds interesting. It seems to be a modern Peace Corp job in China. The valuable experience could last for life and sth Ben can proudly tell his grandchildren.

  154. raventhorn4000 Says:

    hmmm… Lumping 1.3 billion human beings into 1 giant category. Sounds pretty politically incorrect to me.

  155. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I can tell my grandkids, that I worked in a US Burger King for 1 month, and waited tables in my college years, and worked in several university labs.

    The dirtiest job I had, probably beats a lot of people’s worst.

    I was a $0.25 above minimum wage lab assistant for US Department of Agriculture lab that studied “Tobacco Moths”, an insect that has a wing span of over 3 inches, and a body with the size of a man’s thumb.

    They don’t bite, but they are the nastiest bug I have ever seen. When they get agitated, their wings flutter off clouds of dusty insect scales, their bodies are hairy, and they piss on you with a foul smelling brown liquid.

    My job, was to take cages of these bugs, and 1 at a time, grab hold, clip off their antennas, collect the antennas (for experiment), and then kill the bugs in a vat of alcohol.

    All the while, I know that the experiments they were doing, were going to save many many tobacco plants and put a lot of people more into addiction.

    *Talk about glamor. 🙂

  156. Zhou Says:

    @raventhorn: You’re getting closer to understanding.

    “Afterall, why should they be allowed to call us “collectively” as “Chinese”, if we have to be more “specific”?”

    China is a country, isn’t it? 外国 is not a country. If you called me Canadian, I would be quite content. We call you “Chinese” collectively in order to respect the sovereignty of China. Tibetans and Uighurs are also Chinese. They all belong to a country named 中国.

  157. hongkonger Says:

    TonyP4 Says:#146 HKer, what is the link to the blog.

    http://benross.net/wordpress/barbershop-project/

  158. James Forsyth Says:

    @Zhou – you’d better stop defending the right not to be referred to as a laowai, or CK might call you a racist – message 149.

  159. hongkonger Says:

    RV4K,

    From now on, anyone using “Chinese” or “支拿人” on me will be labeled as ignorant, racist or a nationalist.
    I insist on being addressed /called a Kejia ren / hakka ngin from Xiang Gang or Heong Gong- not ” this grossly bastardized term know as “Hong Kong” which is neither Cantonese, Hakka, Mandarin or any Chinese dialect I know. Could it be Manchurian?

    外国 is not a country just as “Foreign” is not a country — Duh.

  160. Wukailong Says:

    I like the discussion of using English in China. This morning, on local news (新闻60分钟, CCTV4) I saw that one of Taiwan’s most prestigious universities have begun offering courses and programs in English, in order to “be in line with the international community” (与国际社会接轨). I think it’s sad that people still put so much belief into English as being some sort of magic that will resolve all problems… In due time, the impetus for other countries to learn Chinese should be strengthened instead, and hopefully more respect will be shown for the indigenous language. Then also people might stop having this love-hate relationship with the US, simple because it isn’t as important anymore.

    I also like CK’s joke in #149 about the “holistic” Eastern concept of 老外. Indeed, we should stop using categories and generalizations completely because they don’t hold in our postmodern world, unless they’re of a higher, refined type.

    It’s frustrating trying to fit into a new society, and regardless what people say here you’ll need to work hard in China (and probably many other countries). I would say it’s worth it, because people are slowly changing and the world gets more and more interconnected. Last week I was in the US, and got talked to in Chinese because I used a Chinese credit card! So definitely, even though you’re white (or some other color) you can fit in better these days.

  161. Wukailong Says:

    @raventhorn4000 (#155): Ouch, yucky. At least be happy you weren’t handling big cockroaches. I can’t imagine anything more disgusting than those creatures.

  162. Zhou Says:

    @xianggang’er “I insist on being addressed /called a Kejia ren / hakka ngin from Xiang Gang or Heong Gong- not ” this grossly bastardized term know as “Hong Kong” which is neither Cantonese, Hakka, Mandarin or any Chinese dialect I know.”

    We’re not asking to be recognized by our city of origin, simply the country of origin would suffice. Unless you’re a separatist and view 香港 as being a country. Same goes for Shanghai, it’s part of China, not a separate state.

    As for stating that you dislike the name “Chinese”, like I stated in a previous post, the government could make an appeal to have the name changed if they felt that it wasn’t representative of the Middle Kingdom. You could also let the Iranians know that you didn’t like them telling the rest of the world your country name was چین. As for 支拿人, I would definitely label that term as being racist.

  163. Zhou Says:

    @Wukailong: I agree that people are putting too much importance in English, it’s really unnecessary. One of my friends had studied International Business in Shanghai and many of his courses were solely in English. After graduating, all of his business is done in Mandarin.

    Another thing that bothers me is that it seems there are certain words that people just say in English, where it’s not necessary. 我今天要做一个presentation. or 下午有meeting. Why are people bastardizing Mandarin by inserting English words? messed up! Music now a days, so many English words, it makes it sound so impure. 🙁

    It’s a phenomenon hitting so many languages in addition to Mandarin, it happens in French, Farsi, Korean, Japanese,etc.

  164. barny chan Says:

    James Forsyth Says: “how do I unsubscribe? I don’t usually stick around with people who label people in such a way and then seek ways to justify it with such incoherent responses as “don’t play the race card”…There are not enough people on this forum who disagree with hongkonger (i.e. his thesis that the Chinese can refer to Westerners as laowai and waiguoren if they choose to) for me to stick around.”

    James, you’re not alone in concluding that there’s no reason to engage in debate with people who are so utterly and one-dimensionally bigoted when it comes to notions of identity. You’ll have no more success in making a plea for decency and courtesy here than you would at an Arian Nations rally or any other race hate forum. Just leave them to pathetically rant amongst themselves as they wait in vain for Chinese racial supremacy to sweep the world…

  165. James Forsyth Says:

    Barny, you’re a breath of fresh air.

    Your analogy of the Arian Nations rally is particularly appropriate, as it’s a reminder that decency and courtesy is needed from all quarters, not just those we consider to be other (!) than ourselves.

    CK’s post 149 was just so logically bananas that I felt an urge to knock it over sentence by sentence, something a 4YO would be able to do (though, post 149 seems logical enough to most of the people on this group). But… margaritas ante porcos.

  166. CK Says:

    #138
    BF in Japan: “My point is that language is always used in socio-historically contexts. Once the socio-historical context in which a word in use is set into motion, no amount of knit-picking can stop it from being used widely unless the socio-historical context is changed. Take for example, the popular use of “negro or nigger” in USA. It took an arduous social struggle involving millions of people during the 1960s to change that. Then we won’t be just knit-picking, we’d be in the thick of an arduous social struggle, wouldn’t we be?”

    Right on.

    “Unless you’re a separatist and view 香港 as being a country. ”

    Hm…that’s a new one. Starting another rumor, eh?

    “As for stating that you dislike the name “Chinese”, like I stated in a previous post, the government could make an appeal to have the name changed..”

    Hey, great idea. Perhaps the Australia and Canada governemnt could make an appeal to outlaw the use of “Laowei” ?

    “Another thing that bothers me is that it seems there are certain words that people just say in English, where it’s not necessary. 我今天要做一个presentation. or 下午有meeting. Why are people bastardizing Mandarin by inserting English words? messed up! Music now a days, so many English words, it makes it sound so impure”

    Agreed. Same in most present & ex-UK/ US Colonies.

    “as they wait in vain for Chinese racial supremacy to sweep the world…”

    Not what I’ve had in mind…. I doubt it is of most here. Label, generalize all you want…This all just Pots calling kettles black – We’re just playing YOUR game, dummies.

    “so logically bananas that I felt an urge to knock it over sentence by sentence, something a 4YO would be able to do”

    Talk is cheap. Go ahead, do it… Mr. wishy-washy 4 year old.
    We are here to exchange POVs not be converted. nor to convert…I hope you didn’t think that that’s our intention I hope. Pathetic.

    “James Forsyth Says: “how do I unsubscribe? I don’t usually stick around with people who label people in such a way and then seek ways to justify it with such incoherent responses as “don’t play the race card”… BYE BYE….or stay…make up your mind, mean what ya say…

    What do you say to someone who thinks and agrees with someone so warped with arrogant ignorance of equating Chinese to the “Arian Nations’ ” bovine scatological stench as a breathe of fresh air”????

    I can only let out a *Sigh* …and walk hurriedly away from all these toxic fumes – like I said, I have way nicer American, Aussie and Canadian friends to spend time with.

    So…..BYE BYE… Unlike some, I mean it. (So smear away…the stage is yours, losers.)

  167. TonyP4 Says:

    HKer, thanks for sharing @157. We’ve the same experience in HK Cert Exam – if we fail, we could be a nobody (as mentioned in Ben’s last post). There may be no better way to understand the blue collar class in China.

    #R4K @155
    My grandchildren will never understand what I did for a buck. However, it is not bad at all and trained me to be a better man (becoming penny pincher and be careful about false advertising). My college mate (also from HK) told me there was a farm job opened today with a lot of beautiful Mexican girls (an obvious trap). After washing up and making myself look sharp, we rushed in for the job just before sun rise. No pretty ladies for sure, or they’re all hiding from me (could be my bad reputation).

    We had to pick oranges to fill up a crate taller than I. After 4 hours of tough labor in temperature over 90, we’re all exhausted (kids from middle class HK never labor) and every one got about $1. With the $1, we went to a Swedish buffet and ate all the chicken wings we could and piled up the entire table with chicken bones. Sorry for the restaurant owner. He could close the restaurant temporarily when he saw us coming again. End of hard labor for me in this life. 🙂 & 🙁

    An orange never looks the same to me from then on.

  168. Zhou Says:

    @CK: “Hey, great idea. Perhaps the Australia and Canada governemnt could make an appeal to outlaw the use of “Laowei” ?”

    Unfortunately, our countries names are not “the laowai’s republic of Australia” or “the laowai’s republic of Canada”. If that were the case, then and only then, would our governments be able to make an international appeal to have our names recognized. As for the “People’s Republic of China”, that is a name chosen by the Chinese government as being the English equivalent. If the Chinese government were to decide that it wasn’t a suitable name, they would state so.

  169. James Forsyth Says:

    CK:

    “Talk is cheap. Go ahead, do it… Mr. wishy-washy 4 year old.”

    I really meant it, it’s not worth it – and it wasn’t worth it with hongkonger either. I’ve stated my position clearly enough. Don’t call anybody anything they don’t want to be called. Laowai is a term myself and many Westerners don’t like to be called, especially in countries like my own, Australia, where generally we have been around a few more generations than those using the term (as someone “helpfully” pointed out aboriginals have been here much longer than Westerners – true, the point is, if my family has been in Australia four generations, it’s a bit rich to be called a foreigner by someone who’s been here for 10 years). You and many others here don’t seem to appreciate that point.

    If you must have some kind of a critique of the following paragraph from your post 149 which deserves repeating in full I’ll very briefly comment below it: CK SAYS AND BELIEVES THE FOLLOWING (IT’S NOT THE AUTHOR OF THIS POST):

    “老外 is an Eastern holistic term – it is therefore true to the eastern holistic mind that a 老外 is a 老外 is a 老外 – in essence, in fact, in status, in “never the twain shall meet” concept REGARDLESS of time, space and certainly regardless of geography. We understand it and use it without malice. As it takes a crook to catch a thief; a racist to see racism in a convival embracing term such as 老外. So let the racists, the two faced hiprocrites vehemently protest while we make friends with the better open minded people of the world.”

    This is a terrible sequence of assumptions, which ends up with a final sentence that isn’t justifiable by the chain that comes before it, nor anything else. To single out just one error… you say “it takes a crook to catch a thief”, this is a bastardisation of a popular maxim (see within URL): “http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/It+takes+a+thief+to+catch+a+thief”. Now, the problem with using cliches like this, even when you don’t know the proper wording, is that they’re not always actually true. If only thieves could catch thieves, then we’d have no confidence in our police forces, and Sherlock Holmes novels wouldn’t be quite so appealing.

    Furthermore, cliches are often contradictory. “Better safe than sorry” and “nothing ventured, nothing gained”, for example.

    You make an incredible leap to say that those who see racism in the term 老外 are racists themselves. Now that is a statement which simply doesn’ t hold water.

    So you can see that it is unwise to argue in the way you have done, and it certainly hasn’t worked in your case. You ended up actually saying in your last sentence that those who object to being referred to as 老外 (that’s the group you’re actually talking about in your post – those who make such an objection) are racists!

    There are other problems with the paragraph, but I’ve spent enough time on this.

    “I can only let out a *Sigh* …and walk hurriedly away from all these toxic fumes – like I said, I have way nicer American, Aussie and Canadian friends to spend time with.”

    Great. I hope you enjoy hanging out with them. Sure, you have nicer American, Aussie and Canadian friends… they’d better tolerate you calling them laowais, though. Otherwise they’re in for a bit of ad hominem. You don’t really have much criteria to compare me to these great people you refer to, though, other than the fact that I prefer not to be called laowai.

    “What do you say to someone who thinks and agrees with someone so warped with arrogant ignorance of equating Chinese to the “Arian Nations’ ” bovine scatological stench as a breathe of fresh air”????”

    You seem angry. What’s wrong? The onus is on you to disprove this equation – but don’t worry too much, you don’t want to come across as trying to “convert” in your attempt to debate. Besides, my reading of Barny’s post is that he was using an analogy.

    “So…..BYE BYE… Unlike some, I mean it. (So smear away…the stage is yours, losers.)”

    I’m glad you mean what you say CK, I guess we won’t be seeing you around anymore. Smear? Who’s smearing? Have a look at your last few posts. “dummies”, “losers”, “Mr. wishy-washy 4 year old” – sure, you’re only here to express your POV and not to convert… but it seems you’ve got a pretty low opinion of those who disagree with you.

    Namecalling – “dummies”, “losers”, “Mr. wishy-washy 4 year old”, “老外”, it’s all the same.

  170. JJ Says:

    The funny thing is that the day Chinese people stop calling them 老外 is probably the day they stop giving them special treatment as well.

    And I’m sure when that time comes, the 外国人 might complain even more…

    Because the Chinese already refer to people form Korea as Koreans and people from India as Indians and for sure these two groups of people don’t get the special treatment that other types of foreigners enjoy.

    * * *

    Of course I assume the people here are probably fine with that and don’t want special treatment. The problem is enough of your compatriots do. So you really need to change the attitudes of your own community as well.

  171. FF704 Says:

    You people are still arguing about this??

  172. hongkonger Says:

    As they say, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” plus the fact that 愚子不可教… Too many the likes of James Forsyth who have visited or are still in China. So, choose your friends wisely, with the likes of these it’s best to drop like a bad habit quickly.

    Here’s an excerpt from my long time American friend’s new blog — another example of the difference between Asians in general and Westerners in general: “in Yang shuo, there are dozens, maybe hundreds. And the weird thing is how so many Westerners completely ignore the others, as if they are angry to see other white faces. As if Yang shuo is this virgin landscape unspoiled by Western interlopers.”

  173. Wukailong Says:

    @JJ (#170): I’ve got both worse treatment and better treatment here because I’m white. In all honesty, I prefer nothing of it – it’s nicer to be part of the flow like everyone else. These days it’s more natural too. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the olympics or because Beijing is becoming a more cosmopolitan place, but it’s changing for sure.

    @Hongkonger (#172): Yangshuo is _the_ tourist trap. Apart from that, I don’t know what to say – I’ve never been there. 😉

  174. James Forsyth Says:

    @wukailong:

    “I’ve got both worse treatment and better treatment here because I’m white. In all honesty, I prefer nothing of it – it’s nicer to be part of the flow like everyone else. These days it’s more natural too. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the olympics or because Beijing is becoming a more cosmopolitan place, but it’s changing for sure.”

    I agree. I always find it most preferable to be treated totally like a local. Not better or worse. I remember a great taxi driver I had in Jinan. I remember I was running quite late, so he drove very quickly so I’d get there on time. He spoke Mandarin to me the whole time, never labelled, and couldn’t give a flying * where I came from.

    @hongkonger – you were saying something about people putting words in your mouth:

    “As they say, ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’, it really is a shame when we go to Western countries and there are people there who understand us when we still label them as foreigners… if only they didn’t have a ‘a little knowledge’. So choose your words politely, with the likes of these, it’s best to drop the bad habit of saying laowai quickly.”

  175. Zhou Says:

    @JJ: “The funny thing is that the day Chinese people stop calling them 老外 is probably the day they stop giving them special treatment as well.”

    I sure hope that I stop getting special treatment, I don’t know if it’s due to my darker skin, these are some examples of the special treatments I got:
    – requiring to produce a marriage certificate when I stay in hotels with my wife, even though Chinese couples are never required
    – having my picture randomly taken many times by strangers without asking
    – being overcharged when buying things or trying to rent an apartment
    – being refused student discounts at tourist places, even though I had a valid Chinese University student id
    – having to report every time I move apartments, go on a trip abroad (with a multi-entry visa), or stay at a hotel

    Do paler foreigners get special treatment? Did I miss out on something?

  176. hongkonger Says:

    “.. it’s best to drop the bad habit of saying laowai quickly.”

    1) My definition of 老外 remains: “the old familiar foreigner” or “old friend(s) from overseas.”
    2) I don’t use the said term in front of my foreign friends
    3) Like I’ve repeated: WHEN it’s your language and / or IN your own country – It’s your called.

    In # 107 I encouraged, ” perhaps you should do something about it in your hometown, Australia…In addition, I do recommend taking Zhou’s advice: ” keep calling Chinese people 老外 and 外国人, as well as “foreigner”. …Some [Chinese]have accepted it and laugh when I call them that. ”

    JUST as post # 159 was done in jest — to echo Raventhorn4000’s joke in post # 151, I also appreciate as Wukailong did in sharing the sense of humor of post # 149:

    “I also like the joke in #149 about the “holistic” Eastern concept of 老外. Indeed, we should stop using categories and generalizations completely because they don’t hold in our postmodern world…”

    “老外 is an Eastern holistic term – it is therefore true to the eastern holistic mind that a 老外 is a 老外 is a 老外 – in essence, in fact, in status… REGARDLESS of time, space and certainly…geography…And perhaps JJ is not wrong either to say: “… the day Chinese people stop calling them [old friend(s) from overseas] 老外 is probably the day they stop giving them special treatment as well.”

    # 175 Zhou Says:
    July 21st, 2009 at 4:51 am Asks: “Do paler foreigners get special treatment? Did I miss out on something?”
    I really hate to admit this, but I , as a Chinese, miss out on a lot too – in comparison with the paler skin visitors.

  177. Hemulen Says:

    Discussing the etymology and semantics of “laowai” is not very productive in the long run. There is nothing intrinsically derogatory in “Chinaman”, but many Chinese take offense at the term and that is why we don’t use it anymore. Similarly, if many foreigners in China dislike the term “laowai’, it is a good idea stop using the term. Language is a two-way street.

  178. Steve Says:

    Someone calling me ‘laowai’ or ‘waiguoren’ never bothered me because the attitude of the person saying it wasn’t antagonistic or rude. I heard it more as a curiosity remark as they placed me in a general category. For me, the attitude of the speaker was more important than the word used. However, I can see why someone would consider its use in a non-Chinese speaking country as inappropriate. I adjusted to Chinese culture when living there as I believe all people should adjust to another country’s culture when visiting, living or immigrating there.

  179. JXie Says:

    Hemulen #177

    Agree the two-way street part. While “Chinaman” is not intrinsically derogatory, and in all likelihood today when it’s used (such as by Powell) it is not intended to be derogatory either. The key here is historically the term was used in an offensive way. “Laowai” at the other hand doesn’t seem to have that history.

    If you get down to it, it’s due to the inability of people telling you apart — whether you are a 老美, 老英, 老法, 老意 or 老瑞. Personally if no malice in intended, I kind of don’t care people calling me Japanese (in Brazil), Korean (in LA), Asian (why you lump me with the others?), or even “Chinaman” the first time they meet me.

  180. Hemulen Says:

    @JXie

    Nice to agree about something. Anyway, good Chinese friend of me, who is a linguist, told me that the that laowai is “neutral at best, derogatory at worst”. The lao is not a marker of a respect, but just an empty nominalizing prefix, like lao on laohu or laoshu. And laowai doesn’t just mean foreigner, it also works as a shorthand for waihang, meaning outsider or ignorant person.

    Besides, it is not always polite in China to use lao with a surname, it implies a familiarity that can be perceived as intrusive or even rude if you don’t use it correctly. I wouldn’t advise any foreigner using lao with the surname of their negotiating counterpart. You’d be considered very rude saying lao Zhang instead of Zhang jingli…

    …so why do some people in think it is OK to address complete strangers “laowai”. The only conclusion I can draw – and many other foreigners with me – is that they look down on foreigners or that they simply do not care what we think. And we can feel it, believe me.

  181. JJ Says:

    @ Hemulen

    > There is nothing intrinsically derogatory in “Chinaman”

    There’s nothing intrinsically derogatory about any word, even words like “nigger” and “kike”

    However, those words, along with “chinaman” have a history of being used specifically to denigrate people of color.

    Furthermore, the word doesn’t even make much sense.

    You don’t call a guy from England an Englandman. You use Englishman.

    Likewise a guy from France isn’t a Franceman, but a Frenchman.

    * * *

    > The only conclusion I can draw – and many other foreigners with me –
    > is that they look down on foreigners or that they simply do not care
    > what we think. And we can feel it, believe me.

    Interesting conclusion. I guess years of being colonized by foreigners can do that to you?

  182. Hemulen Says:

    @JJ

    Interesting conclusion. I guess years of being colonized by foreigners can do that to you?

    That does make sense. But my ancestors didn’t colonize China, why do I get that treatment anyway?

  183. JJ Says:

    @ Hemulen

    > That does make sense. But my ancestors didn’t colonize China,
    > why do I get that treatment anyway?

    I completely agree that you should not get that kind of treatment. It’s not your fault.

    But I really hope you can see the legacy of what colonialism has done and be a little more understanding of how it’s affected the psyche of the colonized.

    Let’s be completely honest here, a white foreigner in Asia is treated better than a non-white foreigner in Asia. In fact, there are many times when they’re treated better than the natives.

    Now I understand that you might be different. I understand there are genuine people who truly don’t want any special privileges and are aghast at what happened in Asia and to other people of color.

    But the fact remains that enough of your compatriots do. Enough of them are eager to use their skin and “Western-ness” to take advantage of the colonial mentality that still exists.

    Now maybe in the future things will change. I can see that the younger generation isn’t as restricted in this mentality. Especially as China becomes a superpower, the psyche of the people are changing. And maybe then everyone can stand on equal footing.

  184. Zhou Says:

    @JJ: Being from a colonized nation, let me clarify that only 香港 was colonized. The rest of China was not colonized, however there were concessions. Very different. For example, Zheng He set up tributaries in Africa and Middle Eastern countries, while some African historians have said that it in fact set up a concession-like system.

  185. JJ Says:

    @ Zhou

    Yeah, I guess I’m using colonized to mean not just land but also to the human psyche as well.

    The spheres of influence that the Western nations (and Japan) carved out in China had lasting influences on how the Chinese view themselves.

    And that mentality is still carried on today among the older generation.

    * * *

    I was in Shanghai trying to hail a taxi. As the taxi stopped next to me and I open the door the driver told me to go away. And then, he pointed to the white guy behind me and told him to get on. The white looked at me, embarrassed, but nevertheless got in the taxi.

    Stuff like that happens all the time in China. Maybe it’s not as blatant as this instance, but it’s a mentaility that still exists among the older generation.

  186. Hemulen Says:

    @JJ

    But the fact remains that enough of your compatriots do. Enough of them are eager to use their skin and “Western-ness” to take advantage of the colonial mentality that still exists.

    I haven’t told you where I’m from, so what do you know about my compatriots?

    Stuff like that happens all the time in China. Maybe it’s not as blatant as this instance, but it’s a mentaility that still exists among the older generation.

    …and the opposite thing happens. I have had experience of being denied service for just being Western. And here is an example from Peking Duck;

    http://www.pekingduck.org/2009/06/laowai/

  187. JXie Says:

    Hemulen, #180

    Anyway, good Chinese friend of me, who is a linguist, told me that the that laowai is “neutral at best, derogatory at worst”. The lao is not a marker of a respect, but just an empty nominalizing prefix, like lao on laohu or laoshu. And laowai doesn’t just mean foreigner, it also works as a shorthand for waihang, meaning outsider or ignorant person.

    Just so that you know, Chinese often call themselves “laozhong”, or people from Guangdong “laoguang”. It’s very hard for this native Chinese speaker to agree that “laowai” is “neutral at best, derogatory at worst”.

  188. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “I have had experience of being denied service for just being Western. And here is an example from Peking Duck;”

    No, you were denied service for being a Jerk. If you want to fight over taxis like street whores, people will treat you like one.

  189. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “The lao is not a marker of a respect, but just an empty nominalizing prefix, like lao on laohu or laoshu.”

    Yeah, if that’s the extent of your understanding of Chinese language, (and you had go to a “linguist” for this?), you have got to be kidding me.

  190. Hemulen Says:

    @Raventhorn4000

    I am sure you have ample experience of having been denied service for being a jerk. I offer my heartfelt sympathies.

  191. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Hemulen,

    Speak for yourself, I have not been denied service in my life anywhere in the world, because I don’t call people “racist” at the drop of a hat.

  192. JJ Says:

    @ Hemulen

    > I haven’t told you where I’m from,
    > so what do you know about my compatriots?

    You’re right, I shouldn’t assume. This is just a general observation of western foreigners in China.

    Also in your example, I don’t see how you were denied service. The first taxi stopped at the nearest group. Whether or not it was because you were a foreigner it’s hard to say. And the second taxi did stop for you.

    In my case, the guy was behind me, not beside me. So it was clearly evident that I was first. I was standing near the curb while he was farther away behind me.

    * * *

    First of all, let me make it clear, I’m not trying to blame you for anything. And I’m not trying to be purposely antagonistic.

    So let me ask you this. In your honest opinion, do you feel that you have received any advantages in Asia simply because you’re a white, western foreigner?

    Advantages that some other non-white foreigner or even a native might not have received?

    Finally, I’m wondering if you’re at least aware of what the legacy of how Western imperialism has affected a generation of Asians (not just Chinese, but all Asians)?

    And that it’s this mentality that’s causing a lot of the friction and perhaps misunderstanding.

  193. JJ Says:

    @ JXie’s

    Excellent, excellent point. Chinese people call themselves Lao Zhong. Even Chinese people they don’t know, they’ll call them that. So to say that the “Lao” word is derogatory is ridiculous.

  194. raventhorn4000 Says:

    and Chinese people call their teachers (who all occupy the most revered position of educators in society) as “Lao Shi”, even teachers in general. (Like calling one’s children’s teachers “Lao Shi”).

    “Lao” is “neutral” or “derogatory”?!

    “Linguist” indeed. Must be pretty shameful to be a “linguist” in some parts of the world.

  195. Zhou Says:

    @raventhorn:

    “No, you were denied service for being a Jerk. If you want to fight over taxis like street whores, people will treat you like one.”

    I’ve seen this happen to many different groups of people, those falling under the categories of laowai, waidiren, xiangxiaren, etc. There are some locals in every city who view themselves as higher up and more deserving than the non-locals when it comes to cabs. Hemulen was saying that they are being discriminatory, which is what happens to the waidiren and xiangxiaren as well. why else would the government always say 让我们一起构建和谐社会?

    Furthermore, the terms 外地人 or 乡下人 are neutral. However, if you were to ask a non-local in a city if he/she identifies with the homogenous group of 外地人 they would say that they don’t. Many non-locals hate these terms with a passion.

    @Jxie: “Just so that you know, Chinese often call themselves “laozhong”.

    I’ve never heard the word laozhong used in the manner that laowai is used. There are not many stereotypes associated with the word laozhong. You’ve probably never hear someone say “老中都是这样…”when describing the laozhong.

    In other respects, where the prefix “lao” is used, there are not many negative stereotypes attached to them. If you want proof, just go on any Chinese BBS forums and search the word “老外” to see what the average person writes, whether it’s positive or negative. You’ll be able to quickly identify all the stereotypes people attach to this mythical group of people. Search for 老师,老中 or 老百姓,etc. and see what people in general are writing about those people. Positive or negative?

  196. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “There are some locals in every city who view themselves as higher up and more deserving than the non-locals when it comes to cabs.”

    Really? Did Hemulen know that the person was a “local”? How do you tell between a “local” Chinese vs. a “non-local” Chinese?

    Apparently, Hemulen thinks he deserves some special treatment in fighting over taxis with the Chinese? So what if he lost a taxi to a Chinese person? He being treated like a Chinese person “fighting over a taxi”.

    *
    “why else would the government always say 让我们一起构建和谐社会?”

    Why would US government constantly flash “Terrorist Alert conditions” on TV? Are you suggesting that US government is allowing terrorism to happen on US soil?

    *

  197. Sonia Says:

    @Zhou

    Actually, 乡下人 is in general used in a derogatory manner. But that’s a different discussion in and of itself.

    I feel like the negative stereotypes (or positive ones, any stereotypes really) you talk about are directed at a group of people rather than a term, especially in the case of 老外. I think that you will find equally ignorant opinions regarding 美国人, 韩国人, 法国人. You will also find many many stereotypes attached to any particular region in China. Thus, I don’t think that the stereotypes are in any way specifically connected with the term 老外.

    From this thread, it appears that many non-Chinese are offended by this term. Ok. Note taken. But I think that if you want to attack stereotypes, you’d have a much lengthier battle than just getting rid of the word 老外.

  198. hongkonger Says:

    Once again, Raventhorn4000, JXie, JJ and Sonia’s points are logical and correctly presented.

    However, none of such quality can be attributed to the wishy-washy person who posted this line: “I really meant it, it’s not worth it – and it wasn’t worth it with hongkonger either.” …………………………Yet, he keeps putting in the effort, quite laboriously I might add. As they say, “action speaks louder than words, ” this guy’s action has spoken volume ever since he promised to not hang around for days now.

    Honestly, this guy is incredible, proving over and over the maxim: ‘a little knowledge is [indeed] a dangerous thing.’

    What most annoying is that Forsyth keeps using the term “logic,” when all he’d shown thus far in all his long and winding boring comments are in fact biasly strung together by anything but logic.

    Other than the fact that he has the knack of getting grotesquely confused – hence wrongly accuses and putting words in others mouths and consequently repeatedly serving foot from his own mouth, yes, repeatedly — he continues to come up with all sorts of ridiculous conclusions with which he pins them on his opponents. Reminds me of the many duplicitous “logic” bullshit that the West employ – such as the stability / instability paradox with regard to nuclear deterrent (Dangerous deterrent By S. Paul Kapur.)

    THANK GOODNESS there are MUCH wiser folks on this forum.

    Here, Steve from San Diego, for example, as usual presents another concise, logical and good humored comment:

    ” For me, the attitude of the speaker was more important than the word used…..I adjusted to Chinese culture when living there as I believe all people should adjust to another country’s culture when visiting, living or immigrating there.”

    Once again:

    1) My definition of 老外 remains: “the old familiar foreigner” or “old friend(s) from overseas.”
    2) I don’t use the said term in front of my foreign friends
    3) Like I’ve repeated: WHEN it’s your language and / or IN your own country – It’s your called.

  199. Zhou Says:

    @raventhorn: “Why would US government constantly flash “Terrorist Alert conditions” on TV? Are you suggesting that US government is allowing terrorism to happen on US soil?”

    I wouldn’t compare a slogan promoting social harmony with American paranoia. 🙂 However, in regards to that, I do believe that the US government’s policies have encouraged terrorism to happen.

    “Apparently, Hemulen thinks he deserves some special treatment in fighting over taxis with the Chinese? So what if he lost a taxi to a Chinese person? He being treated like a Chinese person “fighting over a taxi”.”

    Hemulen specifically stated that he did not want the special treatment of being called a laowai. The people he was fighting with over the taxi had to make a special note that he was not Chinese. Completely unnecessary. Why couldn’t they just call him 他妈的 or 野人 or any other insult when arguing with him?

    @Sonia: “But I think that if you want to attack stereotypes, you’d have a much lengthier battle than just getting rid of the word 老外.”

    Well said. As from our experience, the First Nations have worked a long time to remove stereotypes from our community, it’s a very slow and long process, however it takes time and patience. We’ve seen a lot of improvement but it’ll take longer to change. The first step was to communicate that we don’t like the term “Indian”. We were successful at having Canadians respect that and recognize it as a name we don’t wish to be called.

  200. Sonia Says:

    Yikes! Can we try to leave personal feelings out of this? What started out as something peculiar and funny is escalating into a war, and it seems so unnecessary. I think that EVERYONE here has a point, but we just all see and interpret things from very different perspectives. And frankly, I don’t think that stuff like this CAN be explained in a logical/rational manner. Civil perhaps, but explicitly logical no. So let’s try to at least keep it civil, eh?

    [Don’t hate on me, I’m just a kid! *Dodging rotten tomatoes.* :-)]

  201. hongkonger Says:

    #200 “Civil perhaps, but explicitly logical no.”

    @Sonia:

    LOL. Boys will be boys….Thanks for the reminder. Cheers.

  202. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Zhou,

    “I wouldn’t compare a slogan promoting social harmony with American paranoia. However, in regards to that, I do believe that the US government’s policies have encouraged terrorism to happen.”

    In that case, I don’t mind those slogans as “Chinese paranoia”.

    “Hemulen specifically stated that he did not want the special treatment of being called a laowai. The people he was fighting with over the taxi had to make a special note that he was not Chinese. Completely unnecessary. Why couldn’t they just call him 他妈的 or 野人 or any other insult when arguing with him?”

    Well, next time, Hemulen should tell those Chinese about his “preferences”, when he get into an argument with the “Chinese”. But again, how does he know that they were even “Chinese”? They could easily have been one of those Chinese Australians who like to throw those “Laowai” labels around, even in Australia! 🙂 Maybe Hemulen should be more careful about who he’s arguing with.

    Are all Chinese supposed to be responsible for what some Chinese Australians say in Public now? Is it our fault when Australians can’t deal with Chinese-Australians? 🙂

  203. Zhou Says:

    @Hongkonger: “LOL. Boys will be boys….Thanks for the reminder. Cheers.”

    Well said! haha. 🙂

    @Sonia: Don’t worry about people flaring up sometimes, that’s part of cognitive dissonance, which all people experience when passionately discussing such topics. 🙂 My cognitive dissonance would be on one side my love for China, Chinese people, Mandarin and other dialects, among other things, and the other side would be the terms “laowai” and “waiguoren” which I feel isolates and separates me from those things that I really care about.

    @raventhorn: It’s not about “preferences”when arguing with only the “Chinese’. If I were Hemulen, I’d be equally annoyed if anyone from anywhere would discriminate against me in an argument. (which has happened to me in both Canada and China). 🙁 My hope is that one day, we don’t have to tell people that it’s not a term that is representative of such a heterogeneous group of people that do not share a home country or culture. 🙂

  204. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Zhou,

    “It’s not about “preferences”when arguing with only the “Chinese’. If I were Hemulen, I’d be equally annoyed if anyone from anywhere would discriminate against me in an argument. (which has happened to me in both Canada and China). My hope is that one day, we don’t have to tell people that it’s not a term that is representative of such a heterogeneous group of people that do not share a home country or culture. ”

    Good luck with that, in Canada and in China, and in Australia.

    I don’t hope as high as you do.

    My rule is even better, don’t get into arguments, period!

    Fact of life: you get into an argument, you will hear all kinds of bad words.

  205. Wukailong Says:

    @raventhorn4000: “Speak for yourself, I have not been denied service in my life anywhere in the world, because I don’t call people “racist” at the drop of a hat.”

    Good for you! Just don’t fall into the trap of believing your experience is what everybody else is getting… It reminds me of this:

    “the people we’re talking about just don’t know anything about what it’s like to live in the ghetto, or to be gay-bashed, or to have no health insurance. They judge liberal sentiments based on their own experience, and of course condemn them… hey, I don’t need state assistance, why should Joe Black in downtown Detroit?”

    http://www.zompist.com/predic.htm (under “Illiberals”)

    I have been denied service in China several times before 2003 *, mostly about staying in certain hotels that are off-limits for foreigners (though one European guy was able to stay because he looked like a Uyghur), or living in certain areas. I was denied service once in a police station when I tried to register my residence. I guess I should add that I don’t hold any personal grudge against these people, and some even apologized for it.

    *: In 2003, the laws about registering residence for foreigners began to be followed by local police. These laws had been in place for a long time, but as most people who’ve stayed in China knows, laws are not enough: it must also be ideologically feasible.

  206. hongkonger Says:

    Lao Po = Wife no matter how young or old
    Lao Gong = Husband regardless of age
    Lao Tian Ye = Heavenly God
    Lao Ban = Boss
    Lao Shi = Teacher
    Lao Wai = Foreigner
    Lao Shu = Mouse
    Lao Zi = The greatest (Chinese) philosopher ever lived.

  207. Wukailong Says:

    Actually, “laopo” sounds OK but is not the most respectful term of address for wife. It’s mostly used in informal discussions. Nobody would refer to Hu Jintao’s wife as “laopo.” Just mentioning this because there’s a claim that all “lao” words are automatically respectful, which isn’t the case.

    In the same vein, “laowai” isn’t particularly respectful or -less, but in my experience the people who like to use it the most are those who also have prejudices (like all foreigners are from the US, have the same mentality, only speak English etc). Hence I understand perfectly well why some people dislike the word…

    I’ve never heard “laozhong” said, even once.

    @Hongkonger: Laozi is great, but what about Zhuangzi? He’s not only a great philosopher, but also one of the most ancient comedians. 🙂

  208. Wukailong Says:

    Another thing that raventhorn4000 brought up about people inside China possibly being Chinese-Americans or people from Australia, etc. Sure, that might be possible… But generally, mainlanders and overseas Chinese keep some traits that make it easy to spot the difference. For example, the Taiwanese love for the baseball cap (1) is not seen as much on the mainland (2). Then there’s the almost ubiquitous southern accent of overseas Chinese, something that might change in the future, but still is quite obvious.

    Finally, overseas Chinese often have a strong belief in their knowledge of what life is like in China, even though they’ve never been or are rarely there. 🙂

    (1) Even when wearing a suit!
    (2) Lee Teng-hui once inspected the ROC army wearing a baseball cap.

  209. JXie Says:

    * Laozi can also be a self-aggrandizing version of “I”.

    * An old way of poking fun on young pretty girls, told by my dad a long time ago, was approaching them and introducing yourself as surnamed Gong, “please call me laogong”.

    * My mom uses laowai quite a bit with no prejudice whatsoever, even when she was technically a laowei outside of China. One thing she did quite a bit the first time was looking at some overweighted people and told me in amazement: “another super fat laowai!” On the other hand, I never use laowai since I can’t stand its imprecision in describing somebody, and the technicality issue on who is really “wai” now.

    * Among my circles, we use laozhong quite a bit, often in some sort of self-criticism tone, e.g. “laozhong are too greedy”, “laozhong have a trust issue”.

    * Try to google Zhenli Ye Gon’s pictures and tell me if you can spot his origin. Whatever system you develop will inevitably fail, especially for those of us who can speak a perfect southern dialect and perfect Mandarin, and sport a baseball cap once in a while. BTW, has anybody figured out why “Gon” at the end in Zhenli Ye Gon’s name? Some sort of local customization to the multiple last name system in Latin countries?

  210. Wukailong Says:

    @JXie: “Among my circles, we use laozhong quite a bit, often in some sort of self-criticism tone”

    Oh. Perhaps it’s used more outside China? I guess it’s not the same need to say that in China, or maybe people here prefer just “中国人” or “我们中国人”.

    “Try to google Zhenli Ye Gon’s pictures and tell me if you can spot his origin. Whatever system you develop will inevitably fail, especially for those of us who can speak a perfect southern dialect and perfect Mandarin, and sport a baseball cap once in a while.”

    🙂

    His is a fascinating case, btw. Even more funny that his name is 真理. 😉

  211. Wukailong Says:

    Actually, I have to admit that I’ve used “laowai” myself quite regularly, perhaps because I tend to mimic local ways of speaking. This stopped when my wife (who’s Chinese) chided me for it, saying that “you know better than to use that silly word.”

    A variation of this theme that hopefully offends nobody is the use of “国内” to refer to China, even when the person using the word is abroad. That’s more interesting psychologically.

  212. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I have never used Laowai or any of those similar terms, and no one in my family ever used those terms.

    Those are “silly words” used by childish people.

    But it’s also equally childish to complain about such “silly words”, when the meaning is hardly derogatory or stereotypical.

    Don’t like the words because it makes one feel “standing out” or “outsider”?

    Gee Golly, that explains the high depression rate in the West.

  213. raventhorn4000 Says:

    I should testify my personal experience in HK.

    2nd time I was in HK for a 1 month long Law school program, taught by numerous Expat foreign law professors.

    1 was a White Australian Criminal Law professor (who lived in HK for many years), who used 鬼佬 to describe foreign expats in HK. She probably considered herself a “local”, since she obviously spoke the local dialect.

    Funny part was, she was using the term in front a whole class almost full of Chinese American students, who didn’t speak a word of Chinese. I was the only one in the class who understood what she said. And I chuckled, while the whole class look at her with a dumb look on their faces.

    *It’s ironic really, but I don’t think it’s isolated.

    Some non-Chinese in China learning to use the word “鬼佬” to describe another non-Chinese in China.

    🙂

  214. Zhou Says:

    @Raventhorn: “I have never used Laowai or any of those similar terms, and no one in my family ever used those terms. Those are “silly words” used by childish people.”

    The first part of your post, I agree with you 100%. Excellent point. I don’t have any statistics available, however I’ll provide a hypothesis for my theory:

    In every society, the majority of people are good. Let’s say that in any given society, 5% of the people are jerks and/or ignorant. The other 95% being good and considerate people.

    Let’s apply this to a city like Shanghai, population 18 million, with a density of around 2600 people per square kilometer. If we go by the 5% rule, that’s about 130 jerks per square kilometer. Let’s apply this to a city like Ottawa, population around 800,000, with a density of around 300 people per square kilometer. With the 5% rule, that’s about 15 jerks per square kilometer.

    Thus in cities with high density, you’re more likely to bump into people that will treat you this way, which can give people the misperception that many people use the word laowai is a demeaning manner. In a lower density city, there are the exact same amount of jerks, however they’re spread out geographically, so it lessens the chance of bumping into them.

    That being said, it’s usually a small percentage of people that ruin things for the majority. 🙁

  215. Zhou Says:

    @raventhorn: “1 was a White Australian Criminal Law professor (who lived in HK for many years), who used 鬼佬 to describe foreign expats in HK.”

    I have First Nation friends who will refer to other First Nations as “Indians”. I also have many Chinese-Canadian friends who refer to each other as “Chinks”. When listening to rap like Dr. Dre or Snoop, which word is constantly repeated? 🙂

  216. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Zhou,

    True enough.

    But I don’t hold any particularly bad opinion of NY City, just because I am more likely to run into jerks in NY city than some smaller town.

    Why? I lived in big cities, seen plenty of jerks of many races.

    I would suggest that those who thinks that some how Chinese cities have an unique problem, with “Laowai” as a term, are themselves rather narrow minded.

    I would suggest that if such people are rather more comfortable among their own kind, so to NOT risk any bad feelings of such labels, they will be equally likely to encounter other “silly words” that are much more derogatory and more familiar in their own languages.

    I’m realistic about my statistics. If I let the 5% (maybe) ruin my feelings for a culture, I wouldn’t have stayed in US for almost 30 years.

  217. Wukailong Says:

    @raventhorn4000 (#216): “I’m realistic about my statistics. If I let the 5% (maybe) ruin my feelings for a culture, I wouldn’t have stayed in US for almost 30 years.”

    I could say the same about myself, though I’ve only stayed in China for 7 years. I think some things helped:

    1. I came with a very high appreciation for China and the culture. I didn’t think of it as poor, or a rising military power, or anything like that.
    2. I took all opportunities I had to meet people and make friends.
    3. I tried to understand what opinions and ideas people have in general (I’ve done the same with the US).

    Of course there are downs. I’ve experienced fatigue over all ideas people have about “laowai” and prejudice. I believe immigrants all over the world experience the same thing – people don’t behave the way you expect, they have outrageous opinions, they laugh at the wrong jokes, etc. If someone has never had these problems or opinions, I would like to meet him/her! 🙂

    @Zhou (#214): I like the concept of “number of jerks per square kilometer.” I haven’t thought about it that way, but I do notice a rising number of eccentrics and mentally ill people as the place gets larger – and this seems to hold all over the world.

  218. hongkonger Says:

    WKL:
    Zhuang Zi may be a great comedian and all, but I was putting a list of Laos….
    Lao Zi = The greatest (Chinese) philosopher ever lived.

    Hm, first time I ever heard that Lao Po (wife) is a bad word…. The only time or under certain circumstances that “La Po” could be bad is when the “Lao Po” shows up while the “Er Nai” (mistress) is in your bed, or when you’re asked to buy or lend money and you have to tell someone that your “Lao Po” Controls your finances or has all your money etc 🙂

    Even Lao Po Po (Old or senior lady) is a term of respect.

  219. Wukailong Says:

    @Hongkonger: I don’t think “laopo” is bad, it’s just too informal. I agree with the last comment – whenever I hear someone complain about their overprotective or -controlling wives, they usually use “laopo.” 😉

  220. Zhou Says:

    @Raventhorn: “I would suggest that those who thinks that some how Chinese cities have an unique problem, with “Laowai” as a term, are themselves rather narrow minded.”

    I don’t think that anyone is saying that it’s a unique problem in Chinese cities. I have Chinese friends that lived in Nigeria, and they had problems with terms referring to them in local languages, whereas the majority of locals used those terms in neutral terms, the “5%” created that negative association for them.

    It’s the Pavlovian or (classical conditioning) aspect of human psychology that creates such a normal response. Repeated exposure to an unpleasant stimulus accompanied by a neutral stimulus will cause the neutral stimulus to become a conditioned stimulus.

    @Hongkonger: “The only time or under certain circumstances that “La Po” could be bad is when the “Lao Po” shows up while the “Er Nai” (mistress) is in your bed, or when you’re asked to buy or lend money and you have to tell someone that your “Lao Po” Controls your finances or has all your money etc”

    LOL! awesome.

    @WKL and HK: My understanding (correct me if I’m wrong) of laopo is that it’s originally a Cantonese word that was brought into Mandarin from Mandarin speakers watching soap operas. While in the southern parts of China, people use it frequently, however in the North, it is regarded as being less appropriate.

  221. hongkonger Says:

    @ Zhou:

    “laopo is that it’s originally a Cantonese word”

    Good point. It’s kinda of like ….for years it was strange / funny for people in Hong Kong to hear married couples from northern China referring each other as “Ai Ren.”

  222. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “I have First Nation friends who will refer to other First Nations as “Indians”. I also have many Chinese-Canadian friends who refer to each other as “Chinks”. When listening to rap like Dr. Dre or Snoop, which word is constantly repeated?”

    Yes, but they don’t use these terms in front of other races. The White Australian law professor was using the term in front of a class full of Chinese American Students.

  223. hongkonger Says:

    This, from a FM regular – our most erudite European Mr. WuKaiLong – could have been the concluding comment on the subject…

    Maybe this time it will….

    “Sigh… What these terms “mean” isn’t just some thing you can read from the words themselves, it’s the way they are _used_ by people. “Laowai” isn’t endearing or condescending, it depends on who says it. I’ve heard this several times and I honestly don’t bother much, but the knowledge of my experience is firm in this case. You can hear it used either as a “matter-of-fact”, or in a sarcastic way, or as an insult, or whatever, depending on context. I’ve heard all kinds.” Wukailong Says: April 16th, 2009

  224. hongkonger Says:

    Interesting article by Joel and reader’s comments on:“Chinese immigrants vs. Laowai expats”

    http://chinahopelive.net/2009/07/04/chinese-immigrants-vs-laowai-expats#comments

    Joel said…
    Interesting stuff, everyone. ….
    @Sonia,
    I’m glad you balanced out the discussion about the colonialism mentality. Westerns suspiciously make verbally flagellating our cultural heritage for the sins of the past something of a hobby (as if that somehow make us less guilty for continuing to enjoy and perpetuate the benefits of our past collective global actions?).

  225. Steve Says:

    @ hongkonger #224: I completely agree with Joel. I ran into that sense of superiority all the time but the funny thing about it was that the ones that felt the most superior had the least reason to feel so. They normally weren’t very intelligent, hard-working or open to other cultures. Maybe it was because they only saw themselves as short timers there? I guess it’s one thing to be an expat and another to permanently emigrate to another country.

    Actually, most expats tend to stick to themselves and their own countrymen. It’s no different in the States where most foreigners hang with their own people and don’t integrate much. But I think the attitude that Joel pointed out definitely exists and is more annoying in Asia. It might be because life is too easy for them there but that’s only speculation on my part.

  226. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “It might be because life is too easy for them there but that’s only speculation on my part.”

    It’s probably more due to the fact that most Expats in Asia do not intend to stay for long.

    Some long term expats, (who decided more or less to relocate permanently to Asia), will venture out, rent / buy houses/condos in the main Asian community, because it is often cheaper.

  227. hongkonger Says:

    Steve & Raventhorn4000:

    Exactimo~!

    That was what I said in post # 93 and inadvertantly got this post all fired up again….

    “看,那边有老外,说’hello’”(a)LOL, I hear that all the time and it always made me think of idol worshipping idiots going: “Look it’s Andy Lau or xxxxx celebrity, here’s a piece of scrap paper, let’s go get an autograph…”

    Talk about misplaced love and blind idolatry.

    Steve said: ” I completely agree with Joel. I ran into that sense of superiority all the time but the funny thing about it was that the ones that felt the most superior had the least reason to feel so. ”

    This was exactly what I was trying to point out [i.e.sense of superiority] when I read this BS: “if China is to truly develop, not only in technology, but also in mindset.”—– (b)Truly develop? And, to develop to whose bloody mindset?

    Rav4K: “Some long term expats, (who decided more or less to relocate permanently to Asia), will venture out, rent / buy houses/condos in the main Asian community, because it is often cheaper.”

    Indeed, these will venture out, intermarry, even buy properties, yet…..like I said, (c) “Foreigners may live in China / Aisa for years even decades, have Asian spouses and even learn Mandarin —the fact remains that few — I repeat — very few, will ever get the nuances”

    Having said that, there are of course always exceptions to the rule.

    Take my Canadian musician buddy of 25 years whom I was the Best man at his wedding for example. He’d picked up Cantonese the first six months he worked in Hk. and became very fluent in it over the years: good enough to give complex presentation and cut many albums singing in Cantonese written by local lyricists to Rock tunes which he wrote. In fact he is still doing that in HK as a livelihood 25 years + on.

    I also knew a Norwegian dude who impressed me immensely with his Cantonese fluency & little accent after less than a year of arriving in HK. The common attributes that these guys shared was that they both had more local, even local street friends – than expat friends from the beginning. They genuinely loved the local culture and people. Another European gal I met a decade ago even became a popular Cantonese private tutor among the expats in HK. Again, like I said, these are rare exceptions.

    Having worked with expats for decades, I also have the privilege of knowing good guests & permanent expat residents like Steve, who may not speak the local language but are very open-minded and are quick to put away their tinted glasses whenever things puzzled or bewildered them – which happens a lot. These are the peace-makers, and may these be so blessed as is said in the Beatitudes. These are the same kind of individuals who’d call themselves “Laowais” or “Gui-Laos” without qualms or gripes.

  228. Steve Says:

    @ Hongkonger & R4K: R4K, that’s a good point about not staying long. I suppose someone who has a two year expat contract (that’s the typical length) can take the easy way or the interesting way and most choose the easy way, which is to hang with other expats and never learn much of anything. For me that’s almost like being in prison, caging yourself into an expat jail cell when another world is just outside your door, except the door isn’t locked and you put yourself there by your own choice.

    I noticed you correctly used the word “some” regarding the expats who venture out into the wider Chinese world with the intention of living in China for a very long time. Some do, but I’ve run into people who have lived in China 5-10 years and still haven’t picked up even the most basic social etiquette. I could never understand why anyone would live in another country and not interact with the culture, but after talking to some of these people I figured out that they suffered from what I’d call “exceptionalism” where they were used to being treated better than in their homeland, could get pretty local girlfriends even though they were basically losers, had a lot of money compared to the locals no matter what job they had, and many of them were working for international companies where their skills were much lower than the locals working under them.

    Short story: One of my close friends in Shanghai went to work as an accountant for a major international consulting company right out of college. She and her Chinese colleagues had all gone to the best universities and were top students. The initial training was from westerners who were good guys and everyone got along great and morale was high. But after those trainers left, they were replaced at first by an incompetent woman from Sichuan, then a steady stream of managers from English speaking countries who were all incompetent, couldn’t speak any Chinese and made no effort to learn, had no background in accounting though they were managing accountants, never bothered to learn any social etiquette yet they all felt superior to the people under them. This feeling of superiority drove the local Chinese nuts because they knew these people were incompetent and they did not like being treated as inferiors in their own country, nor should they have had to put up with such nonsense.

    My friend told me that she liked all westerners at one time but realized that not all were alike and had to change her views. I told her every culture has good and bad people, no different since that is just human nature. But I was still shocked that a corporation of this magnitude would place such incompetent people in management, simply because they were from English speaking countries, and even more shocked that they were stupid enough to have a superior attitude. That’s what I mean by “exceptionalism”.

    Her final “boss” was a woman from South Africa whose claim to fame was a billiards championship and who also wasn’t a trained accountant. Sometimes when my friend would work, this woman would just stare at her so she’d ask her why she was staring and the woman would say she was just ‘thinking’. Eerie. Anyway, when her performance review came up, this woman gave her a pretty mediocre one and my friend contested it. Ends up this woman was taking my friend’s work and passing it off as her own. Fortunately, my friend was able to report directly to the head boss after that time and actually got promoted, but that’s the kind of thing she had to put up with. Needless to say, my friend found a much better job and no longer works there.

    Hongkonger, I’m also not sure what they meant by ‘mindset’. I think a lot of cultures would do well to learn more about family values from China’s cultural ‘mindset’. Since when is friendliness, openness and a willingness to share not a good mindset? The stuff people complain about always amazes me. People spit? Yeah, so what? People used to spit on the street in the States all the time back in the 60s. People eat ‘weird’ food? One man’s meat is another man’s poison. People are rude on the street? Maybe, but they are far more hospitable when you enter their home. Cultural values are just different and the big mistake is to compare one culture to another. You just need to accept them the way they are. I didn’t see any “Jerry Springer” shows in China either.

    Though I unfortunately stink when it comes to languages, I never expected anyone to speak English and just plowed through with my couple hundred words, lots of smiles and hand gestures. Never really had a problem communicating though I was never fluent. I always appreciated that in China, most places I lived or visited had alternate signs in English. Yes, some of the translations weren’t correct, and many expats made fun of those translations. I never did. At least I could figure out what was on the menu without having to ask or where I was at when reading street signs. That someone had taken the time and effort to offer the translation, even if it wasn’t the greatest, was very helpful to me and something I truly appreciated.

    I think that the term “laowai” is one that someone would use who isn’t used to seeing westerners on a regular basis so they all kinda look the same to that person. I’m sure 100 years ago many westerners would have used the term “Chinaman” in the same fashion, simply because they couldn’t tell them apart. Once that person has met a few westerners, they would see the different features and see others as individuals rather than belonging to one big group. It’s just an attitude adjustment and a change in perception and nothing negative. If one wants to travel extensively, a good attitude, tolerance of differences and thick skin go a long way.

  229. raventhorn4000 Says:

    Good points, Steve,

    Have good attitude and tolerance does get one far in life in general.

    When I was young, I traveled in China quite a bit. Even when I came from a relative pampered existence in Shanghai. My parents had their own apartment in an university with actual plumbing. My family had more money than most families. But I never complained when we travel to some farming village, to visit distant relatives, where there are no running water, and people ate even stranger food than I was used to.

    I recall a Chinese commentator once said to a British person in an interview, “We Chinese are tougher than some of you Westerners.” And that is very true.

    Being Chinese in China, means one has to deal with multitude of diets and habits and customs of 1.3 billion Chinese who are all very different.

    For Chinese, to “Eat bitterness”, is to test one’s inner character.

    To “share bitterness” of others, is to pay respect to their lives.

    I really admire some young Westerners, who backpack their way through rural China.

    In some ways, that is the secret of Mao’s success. His peasant boy army of PLA backpacked their way through the Long March, with hostile military forces on their tail, through some of the most isolated difficult terrains in China, to end up in the cold North, far away from where many of them came from.

  230. Steve Says:

    @ R4K #229: Your remark about the Long March reminded me of something I read once, I think in an Edgar Snow book. The rice eating southerners had worked their way up into northern Sichuan and wheat country, but no one knew how to grind wheat so they made it like rice and it tore up their stomachs. Fortunately, they were able to recruit northerners who showed them how to make flour. I guess back then, food was far more regional than it is today. That story stuck with me because if I were in their situation, I would not have known how to grind wheat into flour and would have had the same problem.

    I think people are equally tough no matter what country. Some are and some aren’t; you just have to put them in the situation and see how they react. If the spirit is willing, the body toughens up pretty quickly.

  231. raventhorn4000 Says:

    “I guess back then, food was far more regional than it is today.”

    Yes, it was. Even in my childhood, food was still quite regional. It wasn’t until the 1990’s, Chinese started becoming very cosmopolitan about Chinese cuisines from all over China.

    Some of the “rough food” from the old days, are now considered delicacies in China.

    Chinese tourists go on trips in China or in other countries, and they always want to eat the famous local dishes.

    *
    “I think people are equally tough no matter what country. Some are and some aren’t; you just have to put them in the situation and see how they react. If the spirit is willing, the body toughens up pretty quickly.”

    I hate to generalize, but on the average, there is a perception (among Chinese and other people), that Chinese people are tougher.

    Historically and anecdoctally, Chinese people in China and outside of China are more willing to work harder, longer, for less money, and in more difficult conditions.

    That pattern of Chinese work habits has continued to today. I read accounts of old Chinese ladies in Egypt selling trinkets and slippers to tourists, that even the local Egyptians commented that they would never able to do such hours for such low pay.

    It’s not merely work, it is also about the general living conditions.

    The word “Coolie” in Chinese means “Bitter laborer”.

    In many parts of the world, Chinese immigrants quickly establish their hold in the local market, because of their willingness to do work that others do not want to do.

    *
    I do not mean that other people are not capable, but rather Chinese people seem more willing of the spirit, and had a long history of doing so.

  232. oohla Says:

    statement opens with this as its topic “I thought it was funny that even in Canada, Chinese people would call white people “foreigner” (in this case: “外国人”).”

    So if there are Chinese people in other countries still calling non-Chinese foreign – if this is indeed true, then serious questions have to be asked not just about the total ignorance and xenophobic mentality but also the sheer arrogance which to my mind is the reason why Chinese people are so racist.

    Arrogant, deluded with a chip on their shoulder.

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