There’s a new viral video on YouKu, claiming that foreigners are better treated than Chinese citizens without a hukou. Here is a sample translated from Chinasmack:
“Beijing has two types of “lao wai“. One type are the wai di ren that come from various parts of our motherland, numbering 8 million. The other type are the wai guo ren who come from various parts of the world, numbering about 200,000. Chinese have always been hospitable, naturally treating “lao wai” with the utmost of care and consideration. In Beijing, they enjoy “super-national treatment/status” [preferential treatment and status above those of local citizens]. The only thing is, when it comes to “wai guo ren” and “wai di ren“, although there is just one Chinese character of difference, there’s quite a bit of difference in how they are treated.”
I’m not sure what planet or dimension the creator of this video lives in, it must be a Bizarro earth where foreigners in China are hoisted onto a golden pedestal the moment they land on the tarmac at Beijing Capital International Airport. They definitely don’t have any inkling of the trials and tribulations most working foreigners have gone through over the past few years with the visa crackdowns and foreigner culls. Trying to cobble together some semblance of a professional career in something that doesn’t revolve around EFL for kindergartners in China is no easy task for foreigners these days. True, China’s antiquated hukou system has many flaws and must be reformed if the China truly wants to realize its ambition to urbanize another 250 million people in the next dozen years. With the exception of the full-package expats and diplomats, who are a dying breed, white collar half-pat foreigners face a whole host of issues including price discrimination, lack of government health care coverage, the constant threat of arbitrary visa crackdowns, and of course competition from lower cost locals.
I refuse to use the term laowai （老外, old foreigner) because it is derogatory. I prefer to use the term waiguoren (外国人, foreigner). The first racist part of this video is that it depicts waiguoren as essentially all being white, while in fact the largest number of foreigners in China originate from Korea, followed by the US (though many are Chinese Americans), Japan, Myanmar, and Vietnam to round out the top five. So, to be accurate, they really should be showing Korean and mostly Asian faces to depict the waiguoren of China in this video.
“Hallelujah!” There are approximately 200,000 foreigners “Laowai” from all over the world
First, they mention that non-hukou holders must go through a very long, arduous process to be eligible to buy a house, while waiguoren can buy a house in just one year’s time. It is true that, according to the law, foreigners after one year of work or study in China can purchase one house for personal use. However, the law stipulates that foreigners cannot buy additional housing that is not for “personal use”. If only it was that easy to buy even one house in Beijing! The average English teacher at a salary of 10,000 RMB per month, supposing they could somehow save half of that amount after taxes and daily expenses (quite a stretch) would need about 25 years to pay off the mortgage on one low-end house in Beijing, while living on two or three thousand kuai a month for all other expenses. By which time there would only be 50 years left on the lease. After which, the land is returned to the state with compensation not guaranteed. The problem is that they wouldn’t actually be able to afford a house with this income if they wanted to pay for health insurance, contribute to something resembling a retirement fund, annual flights out of the country for visa runs, visa renewal fees, student loan payments, food that isn’t poisoned, and to send their kids to a decent school.
“Entrepreneurship joy” Even more deals and even more fun
Secondly, they mention starting a business and the tax benefits. Starting a Wholly Foreign Owned Entity (WFOE) in China can be done with the right government approval, but the tax privileges for businesses have an array of conditions. Only businesses that fall under certain government approved industries and meet many other conditions can actually enjoy this privilege. The different tax rates of 3,500 for locals and 4,800 for foreigners is true. What they fail to mention is the new foreigner social security tax which was enacted in 2011 to supposedly to make them eligible for social security when they retire, but it had the unintended (or intended?) devastating effect of encouraging most Chinese companies to stop sponsoring work visas en masse in order to avoid the new tax. We’re talking about white collar workers here, foreigners from countries such as the US who have had to invest a huge amount of money in their education. For example, in the US the class of 2011 was 26,600 USD in debt on average. Unlike waidiren, waiguoren have to spend a great deal more money on reaching Beijing by air and for all the visa and health check fees. Once they live in China, they have to pay the discriminatory waiguoren price for everything from vegetables and bottled water to rent for an apartment.
“Foreigner Eternal Residence Permit” Foreigners’ children can simply enjoy
Third, they mention having babies. Actually, in the foreign community, the price range for a hospital with the standards they are accustomed to in the west ranges from 50,000 to 100,000 RMB for a normal birth, with no complications. A C-section will cost an additional 40,000 RMB. And, by the way, unlike the US, children do not automatically qualify for Chinese citizenship, they instead must meet certain requirements such as being a permanent resident or having at least one parent that is a Chinese citizen.
They then mention the wonderful benefits of a green card for a foreigner, but those in the green card membership club in China belong to a a truly elite club indeed. In 2011, according China’s Ministry of Public Security there were 4,752 green card holders in China. That’s less than 1% of the 593,832 foreigners residing in China. Here is a very long list of requirements in Chinese. There have been recent rumblings that the government may start to relax these requirements, but nothing substantive has occurred thus far. Anyway, there are always crackdowns on visas of all kinds for foreigners every few years, where thousands are purged from the country. The Beijing Olympics are a prime example, as well as last year before the leadership transition. This July, even stricter rules took effect such as the criminal record checks. Waidiren don’t need to deal with all this annual visa drama.
Foreigners don’t actually need to take the gaokao to enter a Chinese college, and who in their right mind would go out of their way to apply for such a horrific test when it’s not even necessary? I’d like to see the proof that a foreigner who takes the gaokao automatically gets better housing than a Chinese citizen. Also, like waidiren, the children of foreigners can’t go to a local school. That is, unless it has an “international department”, in which case there is usually an expensive hongbao (红包,red envelope) fee that is expected from the foreigners. Otherwise, they will need to attend an International School, which are exorbitantly expensive, again out of the price range of English teachers and half-pats. Only the super rich expats and diplomats can afford such schools, and they usually don’t stay in China long enough for their children to make it all the way to high school. The whole point of attending these international schools is to prime the kids for western universities, so gaokao is not in the curriculum.
The last bit is kind of silly, just as waiguoren can jet out of polluted Beijing, waidiren can go to other less polluted cities like Shanghai. Things have gradually gotten a better for waiguoren. In the 1980’s foreigners could only use foreign exchange certificates as currency; in the 1990’s many parks and museums charged separate, higher ticket prices for foreigners. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that foreigners were no longer restricted to renting foreigner-approved apartments and staying in foreigner-approved hotels. Hopefully, policies will continue to improve for both waiguoren and waidiren in coming decades.