During the writing process I often think about style issues, namely things that should be kept consistent throughout an entire article, and even across articles. For example, I long ago made the decision to use businessperson or businesspeople, as opposed to businessman, as the latter implies sexism. Also, I consistently discuss issues more diplomatically, not because I’m happy about everything that is going on in China, or because I agree with or accept every part of Chinese culture and society. Instead, I believe that cultural barriers are overcome through reflection and understanding, not by looking for points to disagree on.
So with this mindset, I regularly use the term Westerner in my articles to refer to non-Chinese expatriates, professionals, students, and travelers in China. However, the word is not perfect, and I have agonized over it a good deal while writing and proofreading. It’s clear that Westerner, when used in the classic sense, only refers to those hailing from North America or Western Europe. I also understand that non-Chinese living in China, as well as my readers, come from all over the world. However, I have yet to come up with a better word.
Here are two important reasons why I choose to use the term Westerner:
- I’d rather not use foreigner: One very important reason why I use Westerner, is perhaps due to my dislike of the term foreigner. The Chinese often use the terms 外国人 (wài guó rén, foreigner) or 老外 (lǎo wài, slang term for foreigner) to refer to non-Chinese. I don’t overly mind these terms in and of themselves, and foreigner might actually be the most appropriate word simply in terms of scope. But in China, the word foreigner will always serve to emphasize someone’s status as an outsider. This, by itself, is more than enough for me to look for another word, as one of my goals in China is to pursue unity and understanding, not emphasize differences.
- I don’t assume I understand your challenges in China: I don’t like to present myself as someone who has all the answers on China for everyone. I was born in raised in the United States, and so it’s natural that I know that region best, in addition to China. While I aim to help everyone I can by sharing my insights on, and experiences in China, I understand that people from different countries and cultures may face their own unique challenges in adapting to life and work in China. What may work for me or other Americans, may not, for whatever reason, work for someone from South America, Eastern Europe or Africa. I feel I would be doing these readers a disservice by broadly assuming my experiences can always be applied to them. Therefore in using Westerner I mean to say that I am confident my insights on China can be used and applied by those from North America and Europe; I sincerely hope they can also be used and applied by people all around the world.
So that’s why I consistently use the term Westerner, though I’m always open to other suggestions. After reading the above points, if you feel there is another term that can better represent all the non-Chinese living, working and traveling in China, I’d be very glad to hear from you. After all, writing can be said to be an art form (one which I have yet to perfect), and there is always room for improvement.
And lastly, if you have read and enjoyed my articles, but feel your experience has been different due to your specific culture or country of origin, I’d like to hear your story too. You can:
- Post your experiences in the comments sections of specific articles
- Email me to discuss specific issues at greater length
- Author a guest blog post to share more off your personal experiences with the world
I look forward to hearing from you!
Thanks for reading!
Do you have any suggestions on proper words to describe non-Chinese expatiates in China? Can you think of examples of how non-Chinese from different countries might have different reactions to various facets of Chinese culture? Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.
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