Used to be that to succeed in business, you needed a combination of a tight resume, an arsenal of skills, and the right connections. Now, Chinese corporations will pay handsomely if you're Caucasian and look good in a suit.

Mark Moxley was an American living in Beijing who found himself recruited by a US company that specialized in "quality control." He'd be paid $1,000 for a week's time and put up in a luxury hotel. In return, he'd have to be white and own a good suit. Lucky for him, both were within reach.

And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image — particularly, the image of connection — that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: "Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face."

There was a time when men were jacks of all trades; when being successful in business meant learning one's chosen business from the ground up, holding a position at every level before getting to the top. Today, the workplace has fragmented so that specialization is the order of the day: find the person who can do a specific task better than anyone, be it transmission repair or SEO optimization.

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Will tomorrow's worker bees need to know how to do anything, beyond how to look good in a suit and carry the racial signifiers of wealth and prosperity? How long before someone manages to surreptitiously build a chameleonic robot for the sole purpose of impressing the weak-minded?

Thanks for the directions to the slippery slope, China.

(Via The Atlantic)