White people for rent – not as innocent-sounding as it seems

A little while ago a story swept the Internet that “white people are available for rent in China.” Apparently, sometimes companies hire Western actors to pretend they’re either visiting foreign businessmen or high-level employees to make a positive impression.

For the purposes of this post, I am assuming the posts and CNN report are basically accurate, though I couldn’t find any corresponding job listings on a cursory Google search.

What surprised me about this story was the cool reaction of much of the reporting and reaction (I’m looking at you, CNN). The dominant explanation seemed to be that white people lend “face” to a company, a characteristic aspect of Chinese culture. But when does getting “face” cross the line into fraud? Sending a fake company representative might sound like a funny sitcom premise, but misrepresenting your company’s operations can have some serious negative consequences. Not that any of this crossed the minds of the winners in the video. By the way, who wears a wifebeater to their CNN interview?

For a case in point, let me point to this Asahi story about securities fraud among startup companies in Japan:

FOI Corp., a maker of chip production devices in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, pretended to have sold products to overseas companies when the goods were actually gathering dust in a warehouse in Machida, Tokyo.

To sell the story of its overseas business, FOI took CPAs abroad where they met the company’s supposed business partners. The translator hired by FOI lied to the accountants about the sales, sources said.

FOI was listed on the Mothers market in November last year after apparently window-dressing accounts starting in fiscal 2003.

The company reported fiscal 2008 sales of about 11.8 billion yen, but investigators suspect that 98 percent of the amount was fictitious. The company is now undergoing bankruptcy procedures.

FOI’s tactics fooled not only the CPAs, but also Mizuho Investors Securities Co., which advised the company on the listing, and the TSE.


I wonder if these “out of work actors” ever checked to see whether they were fronting for a real company. The overseas trips could easily have been to China, maybe even to a phony shop floor with real live white people.

15 thoughts on “White people for rent – not as innocent-sounding as it seems

  1. Not as common as it seems either. It sometimes happens in the 3rd and maybe 2nd tier cities, but the articles almost made it seem like any white person can hop on a plane and guarantee themselves a job doing it while living the good life in Shanghai. Good luck with that.

    None of this should even be surprising though, considering the lengths some Chinese companies will go to to make a buck.

  2. My GOD! You mean the guy who married me and my fiancee WASN’T a priest. Just because of the Asian predilection with face, we have been fornicating all these years and our kids are bastards.

  3. “The dominant explanation seemed to be that white people lend “face” to a company, a characteristic aspect of Chinese culture. But when does getting “face” cross the line into fraud?”
    I think that the ‘face’ thing is pretty overblown in this instance. While I know nothing more than I’ve read in the handful of articles everyone else has, I have a strong suspicion that the purpose of the white face is to allow their Chinese employee to blatantly misrepresent the business deal to the other Chinese local partner, claiming that the first company – who has the white guy standing around – is in fact not just a local company but a branch or representative of a multinational firm. If so, that obviously crosses the line into fraud.

  4. Clearly, the appeal to the inscrutability of Chinese culture is a cop-out attempt to rationalize what they’re doing.

    As for gaijin priests, how much fraud is in the system? Whether the guy is a “real” priest might not even figure when the couples plan their wedding.

    For example, one fake priest who spoke to the JT said that while he was prepared to lie about qualifications, no one ever asked him to prove he was a real priest.

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20060318td.html

  5. Most said “fake priests” are basically just wedding celebrants, which is an alright situation from a societal point of view even though a ordained priest (pleonasm) is necessary to get an actual sacrament of marriage.

    Where it crosses the line is when the guy lies about his accreditations, but I wonder if anybody is actually believing a real Christian priest would do the same bullshit. Go to an actual church and ask for the same service and see how you’ll be received !

    The fact a lot of people want a white face is another problem, more related to Hollywood than anything else if you ask me.

  6. Cf. 無責任遊侠伝

    And I for one do not believe that a “wedding celebrant” pretending to be a believer in some religion for cosmetic reasons is all right from any societal point of view. Then again, if people want to throw their money at it, so be it. People buy fake LV bags, and don’t give a shit either. We live in a world where you can throw chrome on caca and sell it to the first person who walks by you.

  7. My bad for not being clear:
    I don’t think somebody faking religious credential should be a “wedding celebrant”.
    I just think a “wedding celebrant” being just taken for what he is is an alright choice from societal point of view : a guy/girl you say your vows in front of, period.
    A lot of people are not religious in any way, but still want a bit more symbolism than just filling papers at the Ward Office before being said “next!”, so I think celebrants are a necessity in that way. But not in that form, for sure. Cheap concrete “chapels” should disappear, too. On top of being ridiculous from a religious point of view, they are usually a real eyesore.

  8. I don’t have any particular problem with non-Christians choosing to have a Christian-style wedding ceremony, and from a societal perspective I think it’s better than having no ceremony at all. Having a formalized ceremony before friends and family, however you choose to structure it, helps to reinforce the sanctity of the institution of marriage. People having Christian-style weddings are not necessarily holding themselves out as “believers”—they simply like the imagery and symbolism of that particular rite. Nothing wrong with that.

  9. The significance of the Christian/Western style wedding lies not so much in what it is, but what it isn’t. If you’ve ever been to a REALLY traditional Japanese wedding you may have noticed how different it is from the more modern style.

    There is of course a certain amount of similarity to the Christian style wedding: the bride and groom take center stage, the family and guests of each side are seated behind them, there is a priest or similar figure officiating. But the details of the ceremony are very different, with the old style ceremony strongly emphasizing family hierarchy, and representing the wedding as much (if not more so) as a union between the two families as a union between the couple.

    The traditional wedding is a sensible ceremony for traditional marriages, which were more often than not arranged for economic or political reasons, but fits poorly with modern “love” marriage, in which (generally) the couple has met independently of their families, and are making a personal decision that is – at least in theory – mainly about other things. It’s easy to understand why young people today would reject the old form of wedding ceremony in favor of a style designed to reflect a modern marriage.

    On the other hand, this does NOT explain why the accouterments of the ceremony should be Christian. I suspect there might be some unfulfilled demand in the market for ceremonies that reflect a modern sensibility of marriage, i.e. putting the vast majority of emphasis on the couple rather than the families, but is based on a more “traditionally Japanese” visual sense, i.e. But I think I’ve reached my limit of wedding knowledge so I’ll not even try to speculate any further.

  10. Shinto-style wedding ceremonies only go back to late Meiji, were a part of the “state shinto” project, and differ greatly Edo weddings – either samurai or commoner. So they aren’t so more or less “traditional” than Christian-themed wedding in the end.

    A certain type of Shinto wedding became the norm for the “danchi” generation after the war – they were held at local citizens’ halls and were generally done cheap and drab. The generation that came of age in the late 1950s and 1960s turned away from them as “old-fashioned” and went Christian-themed as the American consumer lifestyle was becoming a point of fantasy and aspiration. They’ve stuck, not at all as a religious thing, but simply as a happy image that has lots of great associations and, as Joe points out, are a form of public commitment that along with the “hiroen” makes meaning for the families and the couple. As a result, I don’t think that whether the priest/minister is “real” or not has much relevance in most cases.

    Incidentally, when my wife and I had our Japanese wedding, photos, and Hiroen, we were shot / appeared in Japanese dress, in a tux and white wedding dress, and then she changed into an elaborate “Gone With the Wind” type of thing that was just a part of the fantasy package. For a lot of people, the third “glam dress” is the highlight.

  11. “People having Christian-style weddings are not necessarily holding themselves out as “believers”—they simply like the imagery and symbolism of that particular rite.”

    My comment didn’t address the people getting married. Only the people doing the marrying.

    If the demand is for the imagery and symbolism, then fine. But I do not like the idea that the “celebrant” is only there to earn money, and the couple or wedding planner only hire him because he’s a handsome foreigner. There are more than enough ministers in this country willing to marry non-believers in order to have the chance to spread their message, if only for a few minutes, to people that may never hear it again. One side gets their authentic “look and feel”, the other side gets his chance at evangelism. Adam Smith gets a boner. medetashi, medetashi

  12. My grandmother-in-law was “married” at the Mitsukoshi department store in Nihombashi circa 1946. As far as I can tell, it was mainly an excuse to take a massive family photo at what was then one of the only standing photo studios in town.

    ...and @Peter: Why not? Would you rather see a handsome foreigner in a tuxedo, or dressed like a samurai, or Ampanman?

  13. “danchi” generation: By this you mean the generation that first populated large housing projects in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Not a gaffe for “dankai” generation, right?

    “They’ve stuck, not at all as a religious thing, but simply as a happy image that has lots of great associations and, as Joe points out, are a form of public commitment that along with the “hiroen” makes meaning for the families and the couple. As a result, I don’t think that whether the priest/minister is “real” or not has much relevance in most cases.”

    Why is it a happy image with lots of great associations? Your connection of publicly celebrating commitment and the celebration at a hirou-en is hard for me to understand. I think having a fake priest at a wedding is closer in ‘meaning’ to whatever quanta of enjoyment people get out of sailing in the gondola at Disney Sea or buying a knock-off Louis Vuitton bag. If what you want is merely the image, than these things are fine.

    You are right is saying that the authenticity of the priest/minister does not carry much relevance in the vast majority of the chapel weddings in Japan. Crying wine and selling vinegar is only a transgression when the buyer knows the difference between wine and vinegar in the first place.

  14. Dankai (the “clump”) are the boomers who were born between 1947 and 1950 (sometimes the date differs) and wouldn’t have been getting married until 1970 or so. “Danchi” (yes, the housing projects) generation means, for me anyway, the people who would have considered that an “ideal modern life” perhaps getting married around 1955.

    “If what you want is merely the image, than these things are fine.”

    I don’t get into that stuff myself, but if people want to do it, I wouldn’t argue with them.

    “Crying wine and selling vinegar is only a transgression when the buyer knows the difference between wine and vinegar in the first place.”

    While I agree that people shouldn’t be misrepresenting themselves, this seems more like a case of red wine vs. red Koolaid (Oh yeah). If the bottle is only there for show, what does it matter what’s in it?

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