In the wilderness of smaller provincial cities, however, the picture is different. There, another breed of foreigners, working illegally, appear at bizarre promotional events mockingly called “monkey shows”. The foreigner is essentially a marketing prop – exhibited to be gawked at and photographed, like a monkey in a cage.
Yet for new arrivals looking for casual work in China, whose English is too accented or not fluent enough to teach, taking part in monkey shows is a way of putting food on the table.
Promotional campaign in China. Photo: Imaginechina
“White monkeys”, as they are known jokingly in the expat community, are among the most poorly integrated foreigners in China, barely able to speak or read Chinese. …
“Chinese want the most foreign-looking foreigners possible – dark eyes and dark hair are a no-no. Sharp facial features are no good, either. They want tall, with white skin, blond hair, blue eyes, and a round, cute face. Muscles are very good — there are many topless jobs for guys with good muscles,” [agent “Alice”] says.
They will be rewarded with extra cash for baring their flesh, whether they are muscular or not. “The standard rate per day is between 800 and 1,000 yuan (US$117 and US$147),” Alice explains, “but if a girl wears a bikini or a guy is topless, this is an extra couple of hundred.”
The models are not expected to do too much for their pay. Apart from simply being foreign, they are only required to “either stand still for as long as five hours, or do catwalks on the stage”, says Alice, going on to describe a typical “monkey show”. …
Besides cosmetics and clothing companies, real estate developers also like to have foreigners “exhibited” at their activities when they are promoting new property projects, Alice says.
In tier-one cities such as Beijing or Shanghai, such a crude marketing exercise would be ridiculed, but in the Chinese hinterland, tall, blond foreigners – women in high heels and men in suits – lend an air of perceived sophistication. They are certain to impress the locals, who will queue up to take selfies with them.
hat-tip Stephen Neil