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Being Black in Beijing


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Hey everyone!

Quick bio about me, I've been studying Chinese in the U.S. for about 2 years now and decided to study abroad in Beijing this summer (my plane leaves in a week, I'm studying at BFSU). At first I was kind of immune to the whole "nervous about experiencing a new culture" but now its starting to eat at me. My counselor said that since I was black that my experience is likely going to be very different from others. So here are a couple of questions

1. What should I expect being black and staying in Beijing? (Sorry if this sounds ignorant in anyway but I've been to turkey for a summer and I had like celebrity status over there xD).

2. What is the night life in Beijing like? Like the dance clubs compared to American ones (i.e. is grinding/juking unacceptable?)

3. For those who have stayed at BFSU before (or just know) does BFSU have a fitness center for lifting weights etc? If not are there any nearby centers?

4. Do you have any tips for making the best out of my Beijing stay?

Thank you for reading and hopefully answering. Sorry if this sounds silly in any way but once again the anxiety is killing me.

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I'll just offer my view on your first question:

What should I expect being black and staying in Beijing? (Sorry if this sounds ignorant in anyway but I've been to turkey for a summer and I had like celebrity status over there xD).

If you look like NBA god and you can play ball and play it well, you should feel good in Beijing. I think being black in Beijing is better than being black in any other city in China.

You'd better get ready for swarms of Beijinger high school kids wanting to have their pictures with you! :wink:

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Get ready for housing discrimination. We have had a lot of home stay families & agents say "No blacks" when we look for housing for our students. This has happened more times than not.

(we have rented more places than most people will in a lifetime here so I think the sample size is adequate)

I really like Chinese people in general, but I really get tired of the overt racism from some (more than a small minority) people.

I wish it wasn't true, but it is.

They don't even see it as being racist either, which is what really throws me.

Don't let it phase you though. Come here and have a good time and dispel their preconceptions.

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Some of this is the same as what our wise members have listed above, and some of it is can also apply to all foreigners, but here it goes:

1. Basically, just get ready for people to say the most random things about you within earshot period. Some will be absolutely hilarious, and some (while harmless) could make you want to kick the 1000th person who said the exact same thing about you that day. This will happen to all foreigners, but if you are black it will happen even more and as mentioned before some of it may sound pretty racist....but most of it will just be discussing your physical appearance in general...and possibly not in the most positive way. But on the otherhand, people will also be intrigued, and may want to touch you, feel your hair, and get a good look at you. How bold people will be in doing so can also vary. (My friend from the caribean always had people intrigued by her hair and asking really really random grooming questions. )

2. Clubs are ok, I haven't been to alllll the clubs BJ has to offer, but some seems pretty similar to clubs in the US if you go to the clubs that foreigners prefer.Any kind of dancing goes in those foreigner frequented clubs.Then there are definitely clubs that locals prefer and play really 'interesting' music that might be impossible to break to, but who knows, it could be a fun challenge:mrgreen: Just beware of some of the professional girls in clubs. As a foreign male, you are a live target, black, white, or whatever...

3. Dunno.

4. Don't sweat the small stuff, and don't let people's ignorance get you down.

Add 5. Review the Beijing Tea Scam thread too. This should be read before China. I say this b/c it's always a few bad apples can really spoil the batch. Basically no matter what unpleasant things happen, it's really just going to be that small <<<<1% of people that have certain questionable motives, but as a foreigner you will attract those people, so just be smart, and you'll be fine!

6. Go have fun!!!:clap [edit] And study hard too!!

Edited by heifeng
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Thanks a lot for the replies,

Yea I was a little bit worried about the racism aspect of China (from what I researched on the web). But I'll look at it as a way for me to change peoples impressions of blacks. Plus I have a rather thick skin/I'm pretty oblivious. I'm ~6'1 so I'll probably get the nba stereotype (too bad I suck haha)

Thanks for pointing out the tea scam, I definitely would have fallen for that. Any more tips/advice on staying in Beijing is welcomed. Oh and I'm staying at BFSU dorms, not sure which building it is but its to the west of campus.

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You might want to checkout this thread


especially the video imron links to here


It may give a flavor of the type of racism you may encounter. It probably won't be hostile (unlike a lot of racism in the USA), but more due to ignorance and different culture. But that's not to say it's not annoying.

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I've read the thread jbradford linked to and I agree with those there who said east/west perceptions of racism are very different. Why would the Chinese think black is bad? It's us putting the word in their mouth, a typicaly western prejudice that blackness is negative, and it is much older than the history of slavery, which was justified by the same picture of black man as subhuman.

As far as I know Chinese traditionally picture evil as white :mrgreen::wink: you know: pale skin, blue eyes, blonde/red-hair, etc. Unlike white, black just doesn't have that meaning in Chinese culture.

There was a (very pretty) black girl from Mauritius in our school who could barely speak any Choinese, but she smiled all the time, was very friendly and positive and never had any problems in China. Her best friends were all Asians, among them many overseas Chinese.

Black and white alike are all victims of racism in the east. And don't overlook that while being negative "racism" can also be positive. (Like some people would prefer you just becasue you're different, that's what I meant in my previous post) Racism is everywhere, but it's not as bad as all that in China!

So Shizzlepuffs don't worry unnecessarily, walk tall and show them who you are as a person, like self-taught-mba said:

Come here and have a good time and dispel their preconceptions.

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Chinese people are racist, and often judge people by their looks. They're also really, really nosy. I'm ethnically Chinese, and speak Chinese well enough that I can pass for being Chinese, even when talking with people. I randomly met an older lady one day, who over the course of our 1 hour long conversation, started to ask me about my boyfriend. The following conversation ensued:

Older Chinese Lady: Your boyfriend is American? Is he American Chinese?

Me: No, he's not American Chinese.

OCL: (obviously quite shocked) Really???? ...He's... not... black is he????

Me: Well, no, he happens to be white.

OCL: Oh good! I was afraid he was black! If he was black, your babies would be so ugly! (leans in to whisper) Plus you can't really trust those black people. They're so scary.

Me: ...............

There are positives and negatives on Chinese racism. Some people will like to be friends with you because you are different. Others will judge you based on what they've seen in American movies, or hearsay, or really really odd stereotypes that have zero basis in fact whatsoever.

While stereotyping is technically considered bad (and racism as well), the Chinese don't have the same mindset as those of us who have been exposed or brought up in the West.

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I think Chinese are the least racist people in the world but unfortunantly, there is an exception with black people. Most are good but I know quite a few Chinese people that have a very negative view toward black people, mostly due to misconceptions.

However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't go to China. I personally have two black friends when I was in China - one from Ghana and another African-American. The African American had some problems with his landlord ripping him off but I think that has more to do that he didn't speak Chinese than being black. The one from Ghana never had any problems as far as I know. Both had many Chinese friends. Beside, since you've studied in the US you probably have already encountered to some degree racism toward black.

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I've always been cautious with generalisations like that because to different people, racism means different things. I think you can find racism in any country/culture, but it manifests itself in different ways, and thus I find it really hard to measure holistically.

The first time I went to China, there was one time our group was yelled at by some people, and the Chinese teacher taking us around told us that they were just yelling at us because they didn't like foreigners as though this was a common occurrence. Now this is surely xenophobia, but is this racism as well? Your answer may depend on your perspective...

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1) with your attitude, you shouldn't have any problems...

2) plenty of clubs, affordable, big crowds. no, you will not be deported for grinding.

3) BFSU - either stay at bai lou (white building) or the guo jiao lou (international conference center or whatever). the latter is a bit pricy ~ 3000 RMB / month for a single room with your own shower and toilet. At the 'white building' (you don't have to be white) it's 1800 RMB a month, but the building is older and there are annoying clerks on the first floor who won't let strangers in during the day time (have to register at the front desk). At night, you can easily sneak your booty calls in though.

Gyms - there is one on campus and a bunch in close proximity. You're bound to get a flier on the street or find out from one of your classmates.

4) try to combine fun with learning; go out and meet new people - much easier to do here than in the US; don't act gangsta...


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I can't see any problem of being black maybe because i am not one. When i taught there a student(black) from a nearby class greeted me on the way and we chatted in Chinese all the way to the canteen. He was polite, open-minded and very pleasant to talk with.I guess it's more of your attitude and your behaviour that people will judge you by. If you are loud and inconsiderate i'm not sure people will like you even if you are white(or even, "yellow"!). Actually once a friendtold me that she liked to teach students that are "black" because they usually have more fun and help to activate the class atmosphere(no offence to 'white students", you are equally wonderful!).

Someone mentioned " Chinese people picture evil in white". In Peking Opera evil persons are those with white faces and unbiased,loyal and trust-worthy people are those with black faces:). Ask your teacher when you arrive in China and i'm sure she/he will explain to you in more details.

Why Chinese people don't like black people? I can't see hatred. From my point of view as being a Chinese if i see an impolite black person scenes of gangsters from American movies will come into my mind but that's true for all other skin colors. Personally i never have any problem with black people. Also, you might like to take this into consideration: When white people first came to China in the past they attracted lots of attention and they might get comments both good or bad. But now especially in Beijing people just take their presence for granted. And i guess black people came way later than white guys so you might be just in the process of normalizing the presence of black people. Say, after twenty years you wouldn't have the issue i suppose.

Once again just be polite, open-minded and considerate (don't talk loud in the library,etc.),you'll make lots of friends and have a good life. Good luck~

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You'll be fine; for almost every member of the old Chinese generation who professes racism towards blacks, there are members of the younger Chinese generation who rebel against that racism by intentionally finding black partners, presumably just to piss off their obstinate grandmothers/fathers.

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I went to China a couple of years ago to adopt a chinese child and didn't have any trouble at all. (I'm black), and was trying to communicate through written material and lousy pronuntiation. I had a good experience, and noticed that for the most part people were curious about seeing a black man walking around with a chinese child communicating through signs. We went everywhere, the metro, stores, (Wallmart), and people just came to us and stare at us like we were strange. Didn't experience any derisive, offending or descriminating experience whatsoever. I could say that you will see what you want to see and will interpret their gestures the way you want to see them, however, I don't think that most people are looking at you because you are inferior or less than them, rather, just different. By the way, the same way some people approach me to touch my hair and take pictures with me and my wife, they were doing the same thing with several German turist with the opposite physiognomy of mine. Good luck and have a great time.

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zerolife, have you been in mainland China for any length of time?

yup almost two years ... plus the US and a couple other European countries as a foreigner so I think I can make the comparison

Some Chinese are afraid of foreigners (what do you expect from a country that has only fairly recently opened to foreigners) but that doesn't mean they are racist ... not to say that there aren't racism in China ... but in comparison better than in the US and many Western countries. I don't really know what experience you had but it most likely arose through cultural misunderstanding. There are things we might be offended but are normal to Chinese. There are also things we see as normal but are offending to Chinese people.

Yes, some Chinese don't like "white" people because they are seeing as loud and disrespectful. But there are at least some truth behind it. When I studied in China, it was usually the Western students and that includes myself that has (often unintentionally) disrespected Chinese culture. We also partied around in the dorms and only because I knew the front desk lady quite well did I learn that other students were quite disturbed by that. Chinese people don't drink to death in their dorms.

Also, Chinese in general are colder toward people they don't know (or not as open to stranger as Americans). It's quite similar to how some Americans who went to Japan think that Japanese people are racist.

However, things with black people are different. I've heard comments made by some Chinese people about black people that are really ignorant. Often times, they have never gotten to know a black person, or the only thing they know about black people are from Hollywood movies.

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  • 2 weeks later...

When I was in Beijing, I got the impression that people in Beijing love black people and are more excited by them than they are by white people. (One of my classmates was black.)

Night life is very western in the student areas at least.

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Walking around the Sanlitun area at night, or inside the bars, one will frequently find themselves being approached by black men offering to sell drugs and also possibly ladies. These are usually (read always) African nationals who make their living that way. This does give rise to a perception that black men in BJ are "all drug dealers".

Of course anyone with brains knows better and especially seeing you are from the states (?) would know the tag doesn't apply.

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  • 4 months later...

I think racism in China will only kick-in when: 1. You date a Chinese woman (not if you date a Chinese man); 2. The person who you are dealing with is really, really an asshole.

What I mean is that, in most daily life situations, you won't experience any racism. Most people are tolerant, or at least they pretend to be. There are many black people in Beijing, so you may meet with them and ask them about their experience. I sense that you won't go through any unpleasant experience.

Beijing is great, so enjoy!

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I find this forum really refreshing and Yueni's dialogue was just hilariously so. I am black and I can laff it out loud.

For lil over the decade that I have lived in England, I have come across all sorts of people, and not that i had an insight into everyone's perspective and reservation, i did have a glimpse and learnt alot.

I have all my life been well acquainted with hindi and Indians, to the the degree of understanding the language and the culture, and some blacks would say Indians are the most racist, I knew their reservations or that of the older generations and with that we got along well. I am not judgemental towards most things, but the caste system is one i just cant be in tune with.

I once had a discussion with someone i had a great deal of respect for, who argued, Whites are more racist than Arabs... (Yes open to discussion), he said an Arab will never kill a black because they hate their skin colour but the Whites will (around the time a 15yr old black boy was killed with an axe i think while walking with his white girlfriend in Liverpool), now i believed the point but felt it was still relative. A Chinese I believe will not kill a person because of his colour (correct me if I am wrong), an Indian in the States hired assasins to kill his black daughter inlaw.

Chinese from my experience were some of the most dynamic and genuine people I met though to be frank all my friends from diverse background are, yes the Chinese have reservations, or atleast their parents do, but on a whole if you respect the boundries you'll get along really well. I know Chinese that have shown preference of me over Whites. Yeah just a silly situation and an assumption too but it happened more than once.

As a black African, my concept of racism is different, I grew up comfortable around the same kind of people though i must say on my street which was a rarerity, we had Lebanese, Filipinos, Indians, Sudanese, Thai or Chinese and more but as a whole prejudice was a little distant and thought all Eddie Murphy comedies were just comedies... and they are just that to me... Black Americans have a different concept of racism... And I cant judge nor fault them for their feelings and views.

Black Americans though, due to the influece of Hollywood and MTV, have made every black around the world a victim of this gansta image, though at the sametime the coolness attached to it like NBA and maybe Will Smith rubs off too. I once had a Chinese friend who dated a black guy and her parents knew and were against it and some of her friends too, after breaking up with him, her family have encouraged her to find a white guy and settle since she lives in England.. Though little did they know she had all type of preference but White, please please please this is not to say Whites are not good enough.

Chrix I agree with your first point but Xenophobia is no excuse. Wheres does the prejudice stop and xenophobia start?

On a whole, I think everyone has reservations and that inkling in them to prejudice, Africans too have reservations especially if you take someone other than African home. Hey Africans are even worst, they can be tribalists... On the otherhand you have those that will receive with open hands.

Guess who's coming to dinner.. hmmm - Anyways, with time, all walls are being broken and people are realising we are 'almost' all the same. There will always be those that embrace and those that reject.

Shizzlepuffs if your afro hair hasnt been all pulled out already, give us some feedback man! I am hoping to go soon and though I am aware of reservations, I am least sensitive to racism, it brushes past me unnoticed! Like an English friend that always stopped to say, when telling a story that 'he has nothing against blacks'..... :lol:

Told him I am African.... with very little understanding of who a black is. Afterall I am not American :wink:

Advise: find circles with modern interests... Salsa... yeah that i know that to be black friendly and major boundries breaker hehe :mrgreen:

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