Illustration: Chen Xia/GT
Mithila Phadke, an Indian woman living in Beijing, recently published an article on Scroll.in about her experiences in the local dating scene. "There's a part of me that takes unconscious pleasure in being exotic, and another part that cringes at being scrutinized for my race," Phadke wrote.
Her article was met with across-the-board derision by netizens of all nationalities, including Caucasian expats on Reddit's r/China ("Indian girl goes to China, only f*cks white guys, goes on rant about white privilege"), Indian nationals on r/India ("Doesn't seem like she even bothered to see if there were any non-white men available and interested in her, in Beijing of all places!") and Eurasian offspring on r/Hapas ("Why is it that unattractive women have to lash out at everyone?").
As an ethnic Indian "fempat" (what foreign males in China call female expatriates) residing in Shanghai, I agree that the Indian dating pool is tragically limited in China, forcing women of color like me and Phadke to date other races or risk staying single. In fact, just three weeks before her article was published, I penned my own rant ("Brown girls like me get no love in pale-crazed Shanghai" Global Times Metro Shanghai 2017/3/22) with very similar views. Coincidence?
With few female or male Indian friends here, this can naturally isolate us in a country where having darker skin and more hair definitely stands out. But as much as I agree with most of Phadke's points, we must remember that it's not only China that behaves this way. The UK, the US and Scandinavia are also known for their racialism when it comes to people of brown color.
I am a British Indian, so by no means can our experiences be completely the same, however, in the eyes of the Chinese I'm sure that Phadke and I look similar. I have experienced some doubt when I tell locals that I am an England national. I can also relate to her comments about being the "only brown female face" and being "racialized."
I mentioned in my own article that a young local student who I tutor often comments on my physical appearance. But as I have been in China longer than Phadke, I have learned to understand that the Chinese are very matter-of-fact when it comes to expressing their opinions. Ironically enough - and Phadke dropped the ball in this regard - should her or I openly comment about a Chinese person with tan skin (a mark of shame among urban Chinese), we would probably be screamed at and accused of hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.
Unlike Phadke, who seems genuinely unhappy in China, my experiences here have been quite positive. Also, I take pleasure in being unique, different and "exotic," and I think this can be attributed to Shanghai itself, which historically is a much more diverse, cosmopolitan and open-minded metropolis than Beijing. Perhaps this is the perfect case study to contrast and compare a tale of two cities. Apart from my adolescent student, I have never experienced any racism here.
What Phadke forgets is that whiter, paler skin is a popular desire all across Asia among those who don't have it. The Chinese abhor tan skin and the sun itself, taking every measure - from bleaching creams to parasols to keeping the curtains closed - to avoid turning brownish.
But another craze for "less-brown" skin is taking place in Phadke's own Mumbai, where Bollywood often casts the whitest, least-Indian-looking starlets in leading roles, which in turn gets them commercials to advertise skin-whitening products pitched at dark Indians, perpetuating the shame echoed in Phadke's article ("I tell myself I am hairier, I am smellier, I am bumpier and lumpier. Sometimes before a date, I find myself wishing I could climb into new skin").
Nevertheless, with China advancing so far forward economically, perhaps it could also take this milestone of acceptance and surge forward in embracing a fully diversified society, perhaps someday even more than England or New York.
Shanghai's economy is in fact largely dependent on international companies and foreign talent - including the English teachers that Phadke admits to looking down on as "something that requires little skill" - who are the driving force behind all the global communication and deal-making coming out of this city. On a global scale, then, it makes sense to accept all people from every country, ethnic group, skin color, language, accent, appearance and religion.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.