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Chinese Real Estate Developers Are Renting Foreigners to Pose as Fake Celebrities

Times are tough in the Chinese real estate market. After years of enthusiastic development, many housing complexes sit empty on the city limits of smaller urban areas in the country's western region, having failed to transform into the luxury housing hubs for which their developers had so sorely hoped.

But Chinese developers are not giving up just yet. Because what happens when you fall on hard times? You rent white people and dress them up as fake celebrities, that's what.

In a beautifully shot documentary from the New York Times, filmmaker David Borenstein follows one incredibly shrewd Chinese businesswoman who has it all figured out. The agent, whose name we never learn, makes her living by scouting ordinary foreigners – they mostly hang out in bars, she says – and renting them out to Chinese real estate developers for large events.

Apparently, the thinking goes that if a developer can bring foreigners to their sales events, the mere presence of these non-Chinese attendees will give an international vibe to the place, boosting sales.

“Once you put a foreigner out there, everything changes,” the agent says. “It is no longer some remote building built by an unknown developer. It becomes an international city of the future.”

But why would you rent just any foreigner when you can rent a fake celebrity? In addition to a pretty racist conversation about the varying costs of renting foreigners – “We have high-, middle- and low-grade ones,” she says – the agent creates fake profiles for many of her clients. For instance, one average white guy tells the camera: “In China, you can be anything without any knowledge or education. If you're from the west.”

“Everything is fake,” he continues. “We just show up to give them a white face.”

Minutes later, he appears as Evan, a contestant on America's Next Top Model and one of the top 20 models in America, to a crowd of screaming Chinese ladies, complete with disco lights and a heavy dance beat.

Though Borenstein admits it's unclear whether this practice actually helps sales in China's remote housing developments, the whole industry is fascinating. At the tail end of the video, the Chinese businesswoman puts it best: “The real value of a house or any product doesn't really matter. As long as there is a good image, people will be willing to buy. For the time being, the image has become the reality.”

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