The Foreigner Card, Don’t Leave Your Home Country Without It

Posted in Business 'n Economics, Curious English, Fujian at 11:16 am by Benjamin Ross

Have a look at this card which came into my possession the other night when I was out bar hopping in Fuzhou.

prada bar card
Chinese foreigner card

For those of you whose eyes are as bad as mine, here’s what the writing says:

外籍卡使用须知  The foreign card usage beard know  

This card is a foreign card, only for foreigner. 此卡外籍卡,限外国人使用

Can get to present 3 bottles of beers for specify everyday with this card. 凭此卡每天可获赠3瓶指定的啤酒

End explain power to return the prada bar all.  最终解释权归PRADA BAR 所有

The “Prada Bar,” a popular watering hole in Fuzhou, employs a marketing strategy which has been growing in Second Tier cities across China where foreign faces still number in the hundreds.  It works in three steps.  1) Attract foreigners to the bar with free beer.  2)  Next will come the Chinese girls, who are interested in foreign guys as well as English practice.  3)  Finally, the wealthy Chinese businessmen will swoop in after the Chinese girls.  The bar owner will lose money up front, but ultimately makes his buck when the Chinese businessmen spend hundreds of RMB on expensive bottles of imported whiskey.   

In China, bars are costly, out of the price range of an average working citizen’s salary.  A Fuzhou bar owner told me, “If a bar’s prices are too cheap, Chinese people won’t go to it.  They will think it’s a second-rate bar.  They might lose face if they take their friends there.  If the prices are expensive, it will give customers a better impression.”

With Westerners the logic is reversed.  In a city like Fuzhou, in which the foreigner population is only large enough to support 1 or 2 “laowai bars,” the crowd of foreigners usually follows the drink specials.  Whoever is selling Tsingtao’s for 10 RMB has a shot at attracting the crowd of white, black, and brown faces.  More expensive than that, and only Chinese patrons will show up.  Since the foreigners generally will only pay 10 RMB for beer (some bars sell them in upwards 30 RMB), there isn’t much profit to be made off this demographic anyway.  Instead, bar owners are oftne better off using the foreigners as loss leaders to attract the high-rolling Chinese businessmen.

In Wenzhou, a Taiwanese businessman who goes by the name “Cowboy Eric” has opened three night clubs around a country Western theme.  Cowboy Eric speaks fluent English, dons an oversized cowboy hat, and can be seen leading patrons in drunken renditions of “La Bamba.”  In each bar, foreign patrons are greeted with free 6 packs of Tsingtao and occasionally complimentary steaks.  All three of his bars are filled to the brim every weekend, with droves patrons often spilling over to the outside.         

As China’s foreign population increases, special priviledges for foreigners are likely to become less prevalent.  Whereas in small urban centers like Fuzhou and Wenzhou, using foreigners to attract Chinese patrons has proven succeessful, in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, these marketing efforts have little effect.  Foreigners there are an every day occurrance, nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly no reason to patronize a bar.  For me, although I have seen the “free beer for whitey” strategy practice for several years, the Prada Bar is the first bar I have known to have an official policy, not to mention one backed up by membership cards.  I can’t help but wonder if I were Chinese whether I might feel a little knee-jerk resentment knowing foreigners get free beer simply on account of their nationality. 


  1. Liuzhou Laowai China said,

    August 3, 2008 at 2:57 pm


  2. Benjamin Ross China said,

    August 3, 2008 at 5:32 pm

    @ Liuzhou Laowai

    Looks like you caught me using the objective instead of nominative pronoun case…or something like that. I’m sure somebody with a better understanding of English grammar could give a better explanation. Change has been made.

  3. Lee Gadye China said,

    August 3, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    “Small urban centers like Fuzhou” with it’s 6.6 million people, not much less than London. SmallER, or periphery, I think.

    The funny thing is that you need a card. If you need one to identify yourself as foreign, maybe you should paste it to your forehead so that these cougars, as such agressive ladies are known where I come from, know who you are too. If the staff can’t see from your big, deep set eyes, beakish nose, and 5 o’clock shadow that you’re foreign, there’s always the sniff test. Lift an arm, “Sniff sniff, phee-ew, 3 beers for you.” If that fails due to deoderant use, put your hand over you heart and say “I like the Japanese” or “the Olympic games aren’t my cup of tea.” If they still suspect an impostor, list the countries that border China. No true Chinese can do that.

  4. whitey China said,

    August 3, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    god, obviously you havent drank a lot around china. its not just whiteys who get teh red carpet, if anything, korean and japanese drinkers get better treatment, especially in places like beijing, shanghai. most bar owners think white people are cheap, picture in your head the typical back packer trying to get through china on $10 a day, and haggling over something that cost 30 kuai. dont flatter yourself there. most chinese owners know white people who come to china are cheap, i.e. they overcrowd the ten kuai beer joints. and the chinese girls dont go there to bc the whiteys are there, god you are full of yourself arent you.

  5. ZZTopless United States said,

    August 4, 2008 at 2:30 am

    “外籍卡使用须知 The foreign card usage beard know”

    My beard doesn’t know how to use a foreign card.
    If I don’t drink the free beer then can I sell the 3 bottles to a cheap Chinese customer? (Or give them away to a lucky Chinese girl?)

  6. Tora Spain said,

    August 4, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Nice how the card can be used every night. I know of many instances of racism by the Chinese against non-Chinese Asians so I’m curious: is the card given to foreign Asians too or just the ones that look foreign?

    I didn’t want that to sound like a flame but if you think it’s touching upon an inappropriate subject then just delete it, as for any Chinese person reading this that feels insulted please know that I’m not judging an entire race by the actions of a few bigots and am just curious as to the answer to my question.

    @ whitey – I’ve seen a number of cheap bars in Shanghai that were packed to the brim with foreign guys and, you guessed it, Chinese girls. While there are Chinese guys at these places as well, they’re usually younger and not nearly as numerous as the white guys…

  7. China Journal : Best of the China Blogs: August 4 United States said,

    August 4, 2008 at 8:23 am

    […] –A novel bar and nightclub marketing strategy: First ply foreign guys with free beer, then the Chinese girls who like them will come, followed by the big-spending local businessmen who like the girls. [Midwesterner in the Middle Kingdom] […]

  8. Benjamin Ross China said,

    August 4, 2008 at 10:42 am


    The 6.6 million figure is a little misleading because it includes the entire population of the municipality of Fuzhou city, which would also include Changle, Fuqing, Lianjiang, Minqing, Minhou, and all the other small cities under the jurusdiction of Fuzhou. I need to double check, but I would guess the actual population of the Fuzhou city area is probably more like 3 or 4 million.

  9. Fiona China said,

    August 4, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Yes, in Changchun there was at least one popular bar that had a similar policy. They also had a card, but I never saw anyone actually use it.

    However, one unexpected outcome of this marketing ploy is that Chinese patrons who usually go with foreigners to these bars are then rather shocked when they are given the Chinese price. This happened to a few of my friends when they went to the bars on their own–they were rather disgusted when they discovered that Chinese had to pay more!

  10. Matthew Stinson China said,

    August 4, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Reminds me of when I went to one Tianjin bar earlier this summer with a handful of Chinese friends. They inquired about the price of beers and were told they were 35 each if the Chinese wanted to pay and 25 each if I wanted to pay. Not exactly smooth…

    And sorry, whitey, Ben’s not full of himself. Several bars in Tianjin used the “lure foreigners to lure Chinese girls to lure Chinese businessmen/officials/sons of businessmen and officials” strategy. The Chinese girls went there not because they wanted to score with white guys but because they felt a bar with a lot of foreigners was somehow cooler. Anyways, what usually happens next is that the moneyed Chinese guys start getting into fights with the foreigners, the bar cuts its foreigner specials, and foreigners start leaving in droves. Then another bar repeats the strategy.

  11. Travellers’ Tales - The FEER Blog » Blog Archive » Foreigners Still Got the Mojo Hong Kong said,

    August 4, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    […] A bar in Fuzhou is giving out “Foreigner Card” to laowai entitling them to free drinks, according to Ben’s Blog. The foreigners evidently bring in the girls, who bring in the high-spending local men. Who knew? (Hat tip to WSJ China Blog) […]

  12. Drunk in China: A long way to go for Free Beer « Written on the Wind United States said,

    August 4, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    […] Free Beer in China […]

  13. FOARP United Kingdom said,

    August 4, 2008 at 8:21 pm

    Damn – it wasn’t so long ago the bars in Nanjing were doing this kind of thing, now us useless Laowai need to travel all the way to Wenzhou to get our rightful freebie booze! What are things coming to?!

  14. Jetso China said,

    August 4, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    You guys have it lucky then. In some places in Southeast Asia, the bartenders & shop owners would usually charge a “special” (hence, jacked-up) price for the foreigner & a more “affordable” (hence, cheaper) price for the locals.

  15. King of Men China said,

    August 5, 2008 at 7:22 am

    Cowboy Eric doesn’t give out “free steaks” all that much. At all ,really (unless he did for you, then you’re first). Free beer, however: when he’s around that’s true. He also leaves a lot of his management of one of his bars to a very cool African guy named Bruno. It’s really two bars and one cafe. Cowboy Eric’s III is mostly dead at night and has a cafe atmosphere. Eric is quite the character. Taiwanese, he made his fortune in textiles and is the only Chinese man with a cowboy hat that I know of in all of Wenzhou.

  16. King of Men China said,

    August 5, 2008 at 7:27 am

    By the way, Wenzhou’s nightlife is utter shit. Not much going on. The entire waterfront that’s lined with pubs and discos is mostly dead save the Disco with the broken escalator. Cowboy Eric’s I and II are the only pubs that are regularly roaring. The two foreign-owned pubs, La Luna and The Blue Shell charge the outrageous China prices and while the owners are incredibly nice guys: offer nothing special and tend to be empty or when they’re having a good night – free of many Chinese. La Luna also caters to the shit-pop local music tastes yet Cowboy Eric’s I and II packs them in, especially on the weekend.

  17. Jackson China said,

    August 5, 2008 at 6:38 pm

    A few of the bars here in Xiamen have generic membership cards which can be given to anyone. The door-entry gift usually being a couple glasses of cheap whisky. Pretty easy for foreigners to get them but that are not handed out arbitrarily.

  18. DS China said,

    August 6, 2008 at 10:23 am

    That’s the second time I have seen liuzhou emerge on a China-related forum nitpicking the author’s English….do you not have anything better to do in Liuzhou?? Economic slowdown hitting you hard is it??

  19. Jeremy Yeh China said,

    August 9, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    To Lee and Ben
    the population of the urban area of fuzhou is around 2.2 million.

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