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The Reconfiguration of Whiteness in China: Privileges, Precariousness, and Racialized Performances

Project description

The privilege of being a white immigrant in China

The rapid expansion of the Chinese economy attracted considerable numbers of white immigrants. White immigrants live in an environment conditioned by the Chinese law, economy and social rules. The EU-funded CHINAWHITE project will conduct research on white migrants in relation to state policy, English language teaching (ESL), the entertainment sector, and the transnational business and inter-ethnic romance. It will also study whether whiteness ensures a privileged treatment in comparison to black or other migrants and determine the impact of whiteness in everyday life.


This research examines the multiple and contradictory constructions of whiteness in China as a result of the rapid diversification of white migrants in the country and the shifting power balances between China and the West. Existing literature on white westerners in Asia mainly focuses on transnational elites. The rising number of middle- and lower-stratum of white migrants in China deserves special attention due to substantial tensions and discrepancies in their experiences of racial privilege, economic insecurity, and legal vulnerability. Multi-sited and multi-scalar ethnographic research will be conducted on daily life encounters between various groups of white migrants and Chinese in five domains: (1) state policy regarding international migrants in China; (2) the ESL industry (teaching English as a second language); (3) the media, fashion, and entertainment industries; (4) transnational business and entrepreneurship; and (5) interracial romance. Three major research questions frame this project. 1. What are the symbolic and material advantages and disadvantages of being white in China’s thriving market economy and consumer culture? 2. How is whiteness racialized in relation to blackness and other immigrant minority identities in multiple social domains and at different geographical scales? 3. How are multiple versions of whiteness produced, interpreted, negotiated, and performed through daily life interactions between white migrants and Chinese in various social and personal settings? This project contributes to a new line of research on white racial formation in East Asia by creatively integrating theories in whiteness studies and migration studies. It also expands the geographical scope of research on white expatriates from global cities in coastal areas to second-tier cities in inland China.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 000 000,00
1012WX Amsterdam

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West-Nederland Noord-Holland Groot-Amsterdam
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 000 000,00

Beneficiaries (1)