华尔街日报:中国的身份认同危机

凯罗琳·施华兹2006年在中国某公关公司担任项目经理,然而她除了参与各种会议,几乎没有任何实际工作可做。开会时她只是安静地坐着,不知道会议议题,甚至对客户一无所知。

“我总是被摆在显眼的位置。但会议本身和我没任何关系”,现就读于纽约的施华兹说,她在中国之所以拿钱却不用出力,仅仅因为她是白人。那家公关公司有西方客户,他们想让公司显得更加“国际化”。尽管这种方式欠妥,却折射出中国同西方之间一种全新的微妙关系:一些中国公司想通过雇用西方人(特别是白人)来衬托自身,好让本公司显得地位很高、运作很成熟。

  中国同西方之间的关系自19世纪鸦片战争以来就一直不太明朗,这既触发了反帝国主义的民族主义,也使中国人充斥着自我否认情绪,同时对西方充满盲目崇拜。

  中国人的“优等”和“劣等”情结根植于“100年的民族屈辱”,从未自我消除。即便中国最近30年已跃升为世界经济强国,这种情结依然存在。一方面中国要求在国际舞台上获得西方的更多尊重,而在个人层面上,西方人在中国人眼里仍贴着“优等”标签。

  二三十年前,西方人在中国下馆子、住酒店往往能享受到特殊待遇。如今,在饭馆和百货商店里一掷千金购买香槟、名牌服装和豪华轿车的往往是中国人。但在北京、上海这样的城市,一些和西方人共事或交友的中国人却常常发现自己仍无法享受到外国同伴的待遇。一些饭店将较好的桌位留给外国人,在提供服务时也是老外优先。我的一位朋友嫁给了一个欧洲人,住在北京某公寓。如果她回家忘了带小区的通行卡,门口保安往往会刁难一番,而她丈夫就从未遇到过这种麻烦。而事实上我的朋友才是房主。

  一些中国人在“西方优等论”上显得有些极端。中国某大公司的总裁就擅用“白人”商业策略:他出差到一些小城市时身边往往带着一名白人随员,“身边带个白人,当地人会高看我们一眼”。尽管这名随行外国雇员不必开口,其存在却往往会使事情进展更顺利,至少能让氛围变得更友好。但他的“白人策略”也有个缺陷,那就是别人往往将其雇员当成老板,而他在别人眼里只是个翻译。

  对一些被中国公司雇来“充门面”的白人来说,这让他们感到不自在。施华兹就觉得自己在公司被当成小孩子一样,甚至就是“动物园里的一只被观赏的动物”。她来华之前学过8年中文,但她的中国上司对此一无所知,“他们甚至连我的简历都没看过。”

  而我那位朋友的丈夫对小区保安对他们夫妻差别对待的态度有自己的看法。他认为保安应该像对他那样对待所有人,但直到中国人学会尊重农民工和穷人,这种变化不会发生。

Caroline Swartz was hired as a project manager at a Chinese
public-relations firm in Beijing in 2006. For the majority of the year
she worked there, she was never asked to do anything except sit in
meetings, quietly. She would be called in with no knowledge of what the
meetings were about or even who the clients were. Afterwards, she would
be told to go back to her desk.

“I was presented, always visible and on display. But I didn’t have any
responsibility,” says Ms. Swartz, now a student in New York City. She
got paid to do basically nothing because she’s white, she says. The firm
had both Chinese and Western clients so they wanted to look
international. This business approach may not seem politically correct
but it reflects a new dynamic between China and the West: Westerners,
especially Caucasians are getting employment opportunities because some
Chinese firms want to use them to portray an image of high status and
sophistication.

The relationship between China and the West has been fraught with
ambiguity since the two Opium Wars in the mid-1800s, which triggered
both a nationalistic reaction against imperialism and feelings of
national self-loathing and idolatry for anything Western. In the early
1900s, following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty, some Chinese literati
argued that China’s military, economic and spiritual weakness made it
an easy prey for aggressive foreigners. In order to save the nation,
they said, China needed “total Westernization,” rejecting traditional
ideals embodied in the Confucian system and adopting European systems
and values—so-called Mr. Democracy and Mr. Science.

The Chinese superiority/inferiority complex is rooted in what is known
as the “one-hundred years of national humiliation,” and has never
resolved itself, even after Chairman Mao announced in 1949, “The Chinese
people have stood up.” It exists even though China has transformed
itself into an economic power in the past three decades. On the one
hand, China demands more respect from the West in the international
arena, but it treats Westerners as superior on a personal level.

Having said that, I think these attitudes are changing among the younger
generation, especially in bigger cities.

Two to three decades ago, Westerners could go to hotels, restaurants and
department stores that catered to them exclusively and paid in a
special currency called “foreign exchange certificates.” Now at
restaurants and department stores Chinese are often the ones who splurge
on champagne, designer clothes and luxury cars. But even in Beijing and
Shanghai it’s not uncommon for anybody who works or socializes with
Westerners to suffer from less favorable treatment from the service
people. Some restaurants give Westerners better tables and serve them
first. A friend, married to a European, has had trouble getting into her
Beijing apartment complex when she forgets her security pass while the
guards have never bothered to ask her husband for his pass. The truth is
my friend owns the place.

Some Chinese have gone to the extremes to take advantage of the notion
of Western superiority. A top Chinese executive at a multinational
manufacturer in China (one with a U.S. permanent resident card) has a
“white guy” business strategy: when he travels to smaller cities: He
always makes sure he brings along a Caucasian employee. “The locals
always treat us better when there’s a white guy around,” he says. The
guy is often an engineer who doesn’t need to open his mouth at the
meetings. But his presence somehow makes things go more smoothly or, at
least, makes the atmosphere friendlier.

But there’s a drawback in the “white guy” strategy: when locals meet the
executive and his team for the first time, their initial reaction is
always that the white guy is the boss and the executive his interpreter.
The executive says he doesn’t mind at all as long as they get the
business done.

For some white people hired for this purpose, it’s not an easy situation
to deal with. Ms. Swartz felt she was treated like a child and even a
“zoo animal” at the firm. But she needed the job to take care of her
newborn baby. She didn’t start taking on any real responsibility, such
as overseeing clients, until a manager overheard her speaking Mandarin.
“They didn’t even read my résumé,” says Ms. Swartz, who studied eight
years of Mandarin before moving to China. But she also believes that
it’s good for white people to experience racism because most people on
earth have to deal with it, and “it doesn’t feel good.”

The European husband of my friend provided a different perspective. When
I asked him what he thinks of the way the guards treat him better than
his wife, he says there’s nothing wrong with that. He says the guards
should treat everybody like him, but that won’t change until Chinese
learn to treat migrant workers and poor people with more respect. I
think he has a good point.

Write to Li Yuan at li.yuan@wsj.com

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