"It turns out that Chinese are not the only ones that are fond of wild fantasies."
July 13, 2012 1:37 PM   Subscribe

French photographer Benoit Cezard, who has lived in Wuhan, Hubei province for six years, suddenly rose to fame on the Internet, after he orchestrated a series of photos in which Caucasians pose as migrant workers in China. Benoit Cezard is convinced that by 2050, China will overtake the United States as the world’s No.1 economy, and as the result, foreigners will come to China for manual and low-paid jobs, such as street vendors and sanitation workers, most of which are currently held by low-cost workers from rural China. text Via Ministry of Tofu shares photos along with Chinese netizen's reactions to the series.
posted by infini (17 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"China is undoubtedly on its way to becoming a global super power. The middle classes live a comfortable life and some people have already become rich..."

posted by clavdivs at 1:42 PM on July 13, 2012

Becoming a global superpower doesn't mean that you still don't have your own pool of poor people willing to do these jobs. Even being one doesn't mean that.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:52 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Nonetheless, lesbiassparrow, I'll bet it does mean the poor will be attracted to your shores in search of work.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:54 PM on July 13, 2012

"China is undoubtedly on its way to becoming a global super power. The middle classes live a comfortable life and some people have already become rich..."

As an American, let me tell you where this goes and how it ends...
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 1:59 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Where? How?
posted by PipRuss at 2:06 PM on July 13, 2012

The reaction from Chinese commenters on that last link are interesting, as much for the attitude they convey as for the translated diction:
"This set of photos has appealed to our countrymen’s vanity and satisfied their wild fantasies."

"The looks and the crops look convincing. But their faces don’t have the vicissitudes of life and the aloofness."
(My hometown!)
posted by Phire at 2:07 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Let's assume that the pool of very cheap internal/domestic migrant labor in China has shrunk hugely by 2050 (currently there are approx. 150+ million people in China who live on less than US$1 a day), and that the US and Europe have seen their own economies stagnate and decline sharply. Let's assume that China adopts a much more open immigration for work policy than it has today (note that Japan has never opened up its borders in this way) or at least there is widespread long-term tolerance for illegal immigrant labor from US/Europe. Even in this situation, US/European migrant laborers will still have to compete against migrants from other regions of the world, who may be better established in China and willing to accept lower wages than they are. (Or is this a future we're imagining where the decline of the US and Europe is so catastrophic, that these regions become some of the worst-off areas of the world?)
posted by Bwithh at 2:08 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

China is headed for a demographic disaster due to the one child policy. There won't be enough workers to support the retirees within a generation. They certainly will need to import foreign labor to maintain economic productivity and support the massive elderly class.

These foreign workers will only be "caucasian" in that many of them will be from Central Asia, but even those won't be from the Caucasus Mountain region; more from Kazakstan and Uzbekistan and the like. The rest will be from Southeast Asia and Africa.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:11 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nonetheless, lesbiassparrow, I'll bet it does mean the poor will be attracted to your shores in search of work.

Not if there is no work for you and no reason to give you any. China has, for thousands of years, had a fairly inexhaustible supply of cheap rural labor to exploit. This is not likely to change significantly during our lifetimes.

And, I strongly expect that, if China finds itself unable to support the retirees, it will be only the poor retirees (especially the poor rural retirees) that will go without support.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:14 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Demographic doomsaying is the same thing as economic theories founded on unlimited growth. This is a fundamental flaw: At some point, you run out of stuff, whether it's markets or food.
posted by maxwelton at 2:22 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

(shrug) Been there, done that. Could do it again if I had to.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:25 PM on July 13, 2012

As an American, let me tell you

I'm pretty sure I'm ok with becoming an exploited migrant sanitation worker in rural China if it means I never have to hear a sentence starting with that again.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:08 PM on July 13, 2012

It's definitely an interesting switcharoo -- a fairly standard (often cliche, but in this case I think he skirts cliches by a whisker's-breadth) artistic trope of inverting the perceived hierarchy.

But a more realistic portrayal would have been, presuming China is able to sustain their growth (moving about a billion people into the middle class without catastrophic political disruption or war would be quite a feat), a bunch of central-Asian people doing those jobs. Illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, etc. are more likely to feature these low-wage jobs. Why? Because the Pacific Ocean, that's why.
posted by chimaera at 7:44 PM on July 13, 2012

Maybe there is something I don't understand. This photo project just seems incoherent to me. Does the photographer know what poor migrants look like and what they do in other countries? Because the photos he took just look like ridiculous dress-up, like a "ghetto costume" frat party.

If Caucasians are the poor migrants in this scenario, why are they wearing suits and ties and offering lessons in European languages? Will European prestige endure even when Europe is down in the dumps? Except for the weirdly waifish "truck farmer" and the frightened "street vendor," all the people in the pictures wear self-satisfied looks. It gives the photos a condescending air of, "Isn't this a strange and unlikely scenario? Look how out-of-place we look! This will never happen."

Please, as you go about your day, try to pay attention to the invisible people around you. The little quiet lady who cleans your office at night. The guy who washes the plate you ate off of. The hotel maid. We owe so much of our comfort to their tireless and invisible presence, and yet we think of them so rarely. We don't need silly "bizarro world" photo projects to think about what the lives of the poor are like.
posted by Nomyte at 8:09 PM on July 13, 2012

We don't need silly "bizarro world" photo projects to think about what the lives of the poor are like.

But it worked, didn't it?
posted by lumensimus at 9:43 PM on July 13, 2012

Ghosts With Shit Jobs does it better.
posted by fredludd at 11:42 PM on July 13, 2012

Shoe = other foot.

Let us not forget what The Chinese Who Built America: The Chinese Railroad Men accomplished with great effort and little credit:
AND THEN the day came when the final spike, the "Golden Spike," was to be hammered down to bold the last length of track. The iron rails had spanned a continent. In celebration of the occasion, the dignitaries came—bankers and railroad tycoons, politicians and railroad men—to be photographed at the uniting of the nation. Of the hundreds of people in that memorable photograph taken at Promontory Point in Utah, on May 10, 1869, there was one large group who were wholly invisible. Errata

The Chinese . . .

Nowhere to be seen were the thirteen thousand railroad men from China who had dug the tunnels, built the roadbeds, and laid the track for half of the transcontinental line—that of the Central Pacific Railroad-crossing the most precipitous mountains and torturous deserts of the West. These Chinese workingmen had become faceless. They had disappeared.

Detail of Chinese workers from the painting "The Last Spike."One oil painting of the event later symbolically depicted three railroad men crouching beside the tracks as they drove in the Golden Spike. Two of the three were Chinese.

That famous painting was reprinted in hundreds of thousands of copies; it proudly hung in saloons and brothels throughout the West for years. And yet, in the reproduction of the painting a curious thing had happened. Beneath the painting there was a drawing in which the people who had gathered for the joining of the tracks were outlined, each face numbered, so the viewers might identify who was who. But there was no drawing of the three railroad men.

Once again, the Chinese railroad men had been rendered faceless. They had vanished from history.


And it remained for a stranger from Europe to perceive the blindness of those white men who could not see the Chinese as humans. On his tour of America in 1879, the Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson traveled to California in a third-class "immigrant car" on the Union Pacific Railroad. He grew troubled by the segregation of the Chinese railroad men in a separate car; but even more disturbing to him was the attitude of the white passengers toward those who had helped build the railroad they were traveling upon—"the stupid ill-feeling," he called it.

Of these white Americans' conceptions of the Chinese railroad men, Stevenson wrote: "They seemed never to have looked at them, listened to them, or thought of them, but hated them a priori. " They did not see them at all.
More about the Chinese-American Contribution to [the] Transcontinental Railroad at the Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum.

How many Chinese goods in our homes still come to us over the steel trackways built by these men? Over the long run, payback (and paydays) may be a bitch for American gwai lo.
posted by cenoxo at 8:33 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

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