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Shanghai is more accepting of expats than England
Published on: 2017-12-21
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shanghai.2e16d0ba.fill 850x450It wasn't until I left Shanghai and arrived back in my native England that I realized just how different foreigners are treated in different parts of the world.

In Shanghai - home to China's largest foreign population at around 170,000 by the end of 2016, along with over 10 million Chinese migrant workers - you will encounter people from South Korea and Africa to Russia and Spain.

As a former expat, I feel as if the term "expatriate" has positive connotations, which is in contrast to the negative connotations of words like "immigrant" that foreigners in the West are referred to as.

The definition of expat is "a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person's upbringing." So, I can't help but wonder why Western immigrants in China are "expats," but non-Western expatriates here in England are "immigrants?"

060In Shanghai, foreigners earn much higher salaries than locals, and have an abundance of jobs to cherry-pick from, such as modeling gigs, props at night clubs (which includes free drinks) and teaching.

The Guardian newspaper recently posed a similar question: "Why are white people 'expats' when the rest of us are 'immigrants'?" The writer claimed that, "in the lexicon of human migration, there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else."

Is the privilege that Caucasian foreigners in China enjoy a form of racism? Having lived in Shanghai for a spell, I must say that the city, unlike anywhere in the West, does not differentiate between expats in regards to color or race.

For example, even though I am a brown-skinned British Indian female, in Shanghai I fell into the "expat" group alongside all others like Japanese, American, Canadian and French. This contrasts with England and even America, where anyone who is not a native Caucasian is an "immigrant" or "refugee" and, thus, out to steal jobs, wallets and even entire economies from white locals.

Nevertheless, China does occasionally show some negativity toward foreigners. Anyone who is not Chinese is automatically called a "laowai" or "waiguoren," meaning "outsider." It is a form of verbal segregation that suggests that all non-Chinese are completely alien.

061 2In fact, most foreigners resent being called "laowai," but it is so common in Chinese workplaces and social settings that we have come to accept it. Which is ironic because, if you met a Chinese immigrant in England and called them an "outsider" to their face, it would probably erupt into accusations of racism.

I can understand why the more traditional Chinese population may sometimes resent foreigners in China. When entering China, we also bring our cultures, ideals and traditions with us. There has been a statistical rise of mixed-race marriages and births in China over the past decade. Western ideals have also permeated Chinese pop-culture. This has caused some resentment, especially among Chinese elders.

Nonetheless, China's government should be applauded for actively embracing the rising tide of expats into China. Perhaps the future of Shanghai will someday look like England, where there are just as many brown faces as white ones.

Ultimately, while living in Shanghai, I felt much happier. There was less ethnic hatred, racism and negativity there. Since returning to England, that is pretty much all I have felt, what with the anti-immigrant undercurrent that led to the Brexit deal.

I genuinely believe that we as a global population should work more toward integrating, not segregating, our respective countries and societies, which starts with opening up work and student visas to more immigrants/expats. By doing this, we can share cultures, skills, experiences, values, principles and, someday, become one beautiful whole.

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