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“I Know…I Live Here”: Laowai Writing in "the people's republic of"

Josh Stenberg


This essay examines laowai writing in Mainland China as an area of literary production. Laowai is the usual designation and frequent self-designation of China-resident Western foreigners, constituting an identifiable migrant community in urban China. These laowai texts are written by and intended for a particular ethnically identifiable audience, and constitute a body of work linguistically, culturally and thematically distinct from other Anglophone writing on China. These works reflect the dialogic production of a new cosmopolitan subject, developing out of the gap between it and the Chinese society to which it cannot assimilate. Since Chinese society affords little room for hybrid identity among Western resident groups, the result is insider-outsider writing, deeply engaged with the fraught race and gender relations between Chinese and Western subjects in the cities of China. Although privileged, this writing from the margins challenges both Chinese and foreign narratives about China.


English language writing on China; laowai; expatriate writing; Shanghai literature; race in China

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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