Rent a white dude

When it comes to corporate image, Chinese firms don’t exactly have the cleanest record to show off. Sure, Wall Street could probably give them a run for their money right now, but let’s face it: white-collar crime is arguably a lot less threatening to the public than, say, tainted food and hygiene products that people ...

LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images

When it comes to corporate image, Chinese firms don't exactly have the cleanest record to show off. Sure, Wall Street could probably give them a run for their money right now, but let's face it: white-collar crime is arguably a lot less threatening to the public than, say, tainted food and hygiene products that people depend on to feed children and avoid cavities. Fear not, though: enterprising Chinese businessmen know how to get back on your good side. Just look the other way while they grab some random expat off the street:

“I call these things ‘White Guy in a Tie’ events,” a Canadian friend of a friend named Jake told me during the recruitment pitch he gave me in Beijing, where I live. “Basically, you put on a suit, shake some hands, and make some money. We’ll be in ‘quality control,’ but nobody’s gonna be doing any quality control. You in?”

I was.

When it comes to corporate image, Chinese firms don’t exactly have the cleanest record to show off. Sure, Wall Street could probably give them a run for their money right now, but let’s face it: white-collar crime is arguably a lot less threatening to the public than, say, tainted food and hygiene products that people depend on to feed children and avoid cavities. Fear not, though: enterprising Chinese businessmen know how to get back on your good side. Just look the other way while they grab some random expat off the street:

“I call these things ‘White Guy in a Tie’ events,” a Canadian friend of a friend named Jake told me during the recruitment pitch he gave me in Beijing, where I live. “Basically, you put on a suit, shake some hands, and make some money. We’ll be in ‘quality control,’ but nobody’s gonna be doing any quality control. You in?”

I was.

And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.”

Sadly, being Asian-American makes me ineligible for the honor. Maybe I’ll find better luck someplace equally bereft of scruples where I can pose as a fake Chinese CEO. If any of you have suggestions, hit the comments.

Brian Fung is an editorial researcher at FP.

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