White Face Jobs in China: An Insider’s Perspective
A “white face job” in China is essentially when a Chinese company hires someone solely because he is white and has him pretend to be someone that he is not. These jobs can range from being hired to pretend to be a foreign CEO, Doctor, or Scientist to being paid to wear a skirt and pretending to play the bag pipes at a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new housing complex. Essentially, these jobs exist because many Chinese companies still believe that having a foreign face connected to their organization or product, makes them seem more authoritative, legitimate, and trust-worthy. I helped VICE on HBO produce an episode on this phenomena which I’ll discuss later in this blog.
The first rent-a-white guy job I did out in China was by far the strangest. 25 other white guys and myself were offered $150 each to wear suits, hop on a bus, and accompany a Chinese businessman to a large movie theatre outside Shanghai where we were told to hand out fliers containing a bunch of Chinese characters I obviously couldn’t read.
Turns out the guy we were with had won a lawsuit against this huge chain of cinemas but they never paid him so he hired us to act as his foreign investors, show up at one of the movie theaters, and shame the CEO into paying up. Unfortunately, the movie theatre chain had already paid off the police, so after handing out fliers for 10 minutes a bunch of cops showed up and started rounding up all the foreigners and asking to see our visas. That’s when it dawned on me how incredibly shady this whole situation was and I got the fuck out of there. Still got paid tho.
Another gig I did which was less shady but equally as absurd was when I was hired by a fertility clinic to give a speech as their “operations manager.” Luckily they didn’t seem to mind that I brought a camera guy along and got most of it on video. I pride myself on being able to keep my cool in awkward situations but something about lecturing a bunch of woman on how I can help them have a baby really tested my limits.
VICE on HBO ended up seeing this video and reached out to me as they were planning on doing an episode on this “rent-a-white guy” phenomena in China as part of their 3rd season. What followed were two months of helping their production team find white face gigs for their host Thomas Morton and then two weeks of traveling around China with the crew actually filming some segments of the episode, which you can watch below.
I appear in the episode for a total of like 10-15 seconds but still managed to drop some FIRE lines such as
and last but not least…
My main takeaway from working on an HBO/VICE production was that it’s WAY less organized than I would have thought. The producer was a nice guy but seemed to be a bit in over his head in China and reliant on me or for setting up entire sections of the show. It didn’t help that there was a bunch of animosity between the camera crew and producer which apparently stemmed from the fact the producer was a recent hire at VICE while everyone else had been with the company for 10+ years. This led to a bunch of bitching and moaning that wasn’t pleasant. At the end of the day I got paid a small sum of around $500 for my help. I told them I didn’t care about the compensation as long as I could just get a “Junior Assistant Producer” credit or something but that turned out to be too much to ask for… On the bright side, it was still an incredible experience working on and appearing in a piece of television that millions of people watched, although I must point out that was not my first time being on HBO.
Anyways, just thought I’d give people an inside look at my experience with white-face jobs in China as I recently did a few new ones that I’ll be blogging about in the near future. Stay tuned…