China’s booming ‘rent a foreigner’ industry

The South China Morning Post has profiled China’s “rent a foreigner” industry as it’s not uncommon for Chinese companies to hire foreigners, especially white Westerners, to represent them in public relations-type roles. Many Chinese equate Caucasian faces with business success and a global outlook while products made in China, but associated with foreign elements (such as a Western-sounding name or endorsed by a Caucasian model) have been seen as superior.

This perception has made China a lucrative place for foreigners to pick up work on the basis of their appearance and regardless of their skills with companies hiring foreigners for roles such as musicians, athletes, architects, lawyers and many other professionals for their marketing activities.

The “rent a foreigner” practice was explored in Dream Empire, a 73-minute documentary by Denmark-based American director David Borenstein that follows a young rural migrant, Yana, who sets up a foreigner rental agency in Chongqing to help her clients market their products and project an international image.

However, some expatriate professionals who have lived in China for many years resent the practice with one expat (who has been in the country for two decades) being quoted as saying:

“For me, and most other expats who are serious businesspeople in China, these people are an annoying irritant. They damage the reputation of expats in general, and make it harder for me to generate trust and credibility when I’m meeting potential clients and partners. It’s an industry built on a platform of dishonesty and deceit.”

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