Chinese government recently released the draft of Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on the Management of Permanent Residence of Foreigners, the content of which faced fierce backlash among Chinese netizens. As is often witnessed on social media platforms, the incident quickly evolved into a mayhem of misinformation, nationalism and racism. What is less expected yet more alarming is that this time Chinese women have also been implicated in the nationalism discourse and have fallen victim to patriarchal oppression.
What’s new about the regulation?
The permanent residence regulation, first released in 1986, is by no means a new law, and could stand to be revised. With its strict restrictions, only 7000 people gained Chinese permanent residence from 2004 to 2013. However, with China developing rapidly, the regulation should be changed to attract foreign talents and investment.
When viewing objectively, the standard of income (at least three times of the local average) and investment (10,000,000 RMB) one needs to qualify is not lower than global standards, as well as the ones concerning family and marriage. Given the current welfare system and overall development of China, such conditions are unlikely to attract such a large number of foreigners that the system will be overburdened.
Why the violent reaction?
The draft was heavily criticized online, with strong emotional responses like fear and anger. There are indeed reasonable concerns, as well as irrational ones. The first type of objection is based on nationalism and racial discrimination, especially targeting the people of colour. There has long been a stereotype on Chinese social media platforms that astonishingly resembles that of 20th century America, where “Negroes” are considered lazy, incompetent and potentially hazardous to society. Those who hold this view now fear the new policy will attract more people of colour, causing public security to deteriorate and leaving China to be deemed less “Chinese”. Such remarks are the combination of xenophobia, discrimination, nationalism, ignorance and prejudice. It’s also a misinterpretation of the policy; permanent residents, unlike refugees in some countries, are vetted under strict conditions previously mentioned. Luckily, these views are not mainstream nor the most educated. Still, in an age where populism sweeps across the globe, people should be vigilant against hate speech.
There are also concerns about foreigners receiving better treatment than Chinese citizens. The topic has long been debated and is brought up again in this case. It is undeniable that Chinese authorities can go to great lengths to maintain China’s international image, including prioritizing foreigners. Police retrieving stolen phones or bikes of foreign students makes the news, while similar reports won’t even be filed if reported by Chinese citizens. Others suggest that certain loopholes in the regulation benefits Chinese with foreign citizenship who wish to transfer illegal assets abroad. However, these points only prove the regulation is better revised than outdated.
The most surprising, even ridiculous, twist in the incident, however, might be how the topic of “Chinese boys protecting Chinese girls” arises. It’s inexplicable how some teenagers came to the conclusion that after the draft passes, Chinese women will be forced to marry foreigners (and yet again it’s people of colour they’re mainly referring to), with boys claiming they’ll “protect our girls from foreigners at all cost”, and some of the girls dramatically questioning whether their homeland is “abandoning them”. Despite the absurdity of the whole situation, the message it carries is quite alarming. Ever since Mao’s time, women’s rights have played a vital part in CCP propaganda, with a relatively high female labour force participation rate in China. However, just like America after World War II, China is slowly switching back to a more traditional perspective of gender. Women are encouraged to “return to the family”, while facing a more hostile working environment and social views. In this specific case, the hegemonic domination of nationalism objectifies women as an asset “to be married” or “to be protected”, with a sacred mission to preserve the purified bloodline. These words, coming out from a younger generation, are not hilarious, but terrifying: will they grow up to be men who claim women as trophies, or women who are completely disciplined by the patriarchal society, passively accepting a role as men’s affiliation?
Chauvinism, both in politics and gender, is toxic. The trend of nationalism sweeps across the world, and China is inevitably caught in it. The regulation draft prompted an outburst of existing emotions. We are forced to question whether this is merely the tip of an iceberg, with a bigger part still hidden under the surface.
This article was written by Cecilia Sun based in Shanghai, China. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: N/A, received permission to use this image from Dr.Pe.