Coming to China? Want to work for a univeristy? Don't rush. Really. Don't.

  • 19 replies
Hi. As I write this I am new to the forum but not really new to China. Also at the time of this writing China is concluding another academic year and preparing to hire for the fall. I'm seeing a lot of posts from potential foreign teachers who are getting ready to make the leap into the middle kingdom. I wish them the best of luck in their journey. I'm also a little concerned. There appears to be a a trend towards needless worry about landing a job at a university at this time of the year. Now, while I think the job market here is tightening and offers are not improving in correspondence to inflation and recruiters are now dominating and squatting upon job offers from universities that once used to do their own recruiting like food hoarders during famine, the market here is still fertile enough to land a relatively adequate job. There's no need to worry about finding a job, though there are other things I think prospective, first time, China bound foreign teachers should worry about. I worry that desperation over nailing down a specific job or seemingly any job could lead someone unfamiliar with China down a very unpleasant path. I speak from personal experience.

Years ago, when I made the life altering decision to live and work in China I encountered similar feelings of bewilderment, nervousness and disappointment. I papered more employers than I can recall. I sent all of the materials you're supposed to send, assembled a c. v. that I thought was a "guaranteed hit," and I had the genuine qualifications to match. I had experience in the field, references ready to go to bat for me, and I matched pretty much every desired trait employers here like (except gender. There's an inverted chauvinism here where employers prefer female candidates, but that's not much of an issue more than it is a personal observation). I wondered what I could have done "wrong" in my search and I started to question if I was even going to be able to find a decent job. I sought advice from a self-proclaimed English teaching internet "cafe" and received about a pound of horse shit and bitter vitriol, and another pound of varied, then-unknown-to-me baseless and conflicting options posing as facts. I was absolutely confused regarding what to make of what I perceived as a "competitive" job market. With every day that passed I grew wearier and desperate. I started to rationalize that I just needed to get my foot "in the door," and after a semester or year at a university I'd be on the ground floor to a greater market of jobs, and being in-country, a university would have to be foolish to disregard my credentials. I am not trying to overstate my credentials. Pardon me if it reads that way. I possess fairly decent credentials by China foreign teaching standards, but nothing extraordinary (like a master's degree or a doctorate). I reckoned that if the schools would just give me an interview then I'd be swimming in offers. Surely, if the cretins on that English teaching "cafe" had jobs at Chinese universities I was definitely a viable candidate.

I naively thought that I should have been landing a job as soon as possible. I had a lot of ducks to put in a row before I departed, so the sooner I had a job locked in the easier my transition would be. bibibibibi

That's how it works in theory, but China is a nation where Murphy's Law applies all of the time. It's easy to say this from the vantage point of being here, and I think that no matter how many times it is reiterated, what most first timers think they "know" about living in China, based upon whatever sources they've read, watched or listened to: everything that you know about China is absolutely nothing like what you'll learn once you're here. No matter how hard you try to internalize that you think you know what those of us living here are saying, you are only truly grasping the tip of the iceberg. Once you're here, and have been surviving for a few months, then that revelatory, exclamatory, "Oh! Yeah....."  hits you. Everything you were told before you came: it truly is something you recognize all the way into your bones. I am off on this tangent with a reason: all of that uncertainty and doubt you may be feeling as you keep hustling to land a job, it can blind you into making decisions that you might later come to regret. When it comes to mainland China, such mistakes can hit you harder that you can possibly fathom.

A year in China can turn into a year in hell. I wouldn't want anyone to fall into that trap, so I hope that I can offer you some advice by recommending that you scrutinize every little bit of a job offer. Do not hesitate to ask questions. Don't let them bully you or bullshit you into a false sense of security, or harass your spirit with a, "take it or leave it, chump" attitude. Please do not sell yourself short by feeding into the uncertainty. There is no reason why you should be jumping into any offer because you assume nobody is interested, or nobody wants, needs, nor requires your services.

Stick to the pay you want, the hours you want, and the benefits you feel entitled to. Do not devalue yourself because the way business and management works in China is wholly predicated upon uncertainty and confusion. The longer someone leaves you hanging, the least amount of information they have to give you, the more brash and brazen they react to your requirements, the more the people hiring you make you feel insecure and dependent upon them: the more you're going to fuck yourself out of what you want. If a school doesn't get back to you after you've put in a lot of legwork and made several attempts, you need to realize that in China you might be better off if you don't go where you're not wanted. Settling for "second best," here can set off a domino effect of misery, and if you're going to sacrifice regular contact with your friends, family, culture, and civil liberties and individual freedoms for some yuan, you shouldn't have to suffer.

With this long winded opinion and bit of advice, I offer some bullet points you might want to consider before you accept a position. These are points that don't get brought up enough when people offer advice to prospective foreign teachers, and these are things your potential employers cannot or will not tell you.

1. Scour the internet to compare salaries and other packages from universities in the city in which the university you're negotiating with claims to be located.

You might find that you're being given a shit offer, and fed a bigger line of bollocks from a foreign affairs officer. You should know what you can negotiate. They will do everything in their power to counter your demands. Some will plant their feet in the mud and never budge. They need your more than you need them. Do you really want to work for people who view you as a disposable cog, and won't work with you to ensure that you are given incentives that make you want to come and work in this crazy county?

2. They need you more than you need them.

It's worth repeating. Foreign affairs officers bluff more often than not, and some actually prefer to not have to hire another foreign teacher if their school has a few. They can simply force the overtime on a current hire, and pocket the rest. They may even get brownie points for saving the university money. Hell, some foreign affairs officers have a job for life thanks to guanxi, and their job security is not threatened in the slightest if their university does not land foreign instructors. So, if they cannot even negotiate slightly then they're not worth working for. Chinese universities aren't usually bastions of joy anyway.

Some schools might not be able to offer substantially more than they already advertise. This is occasionally true, but there are other things you can negotiate for if you find yourself wanting to live in a particular location, and you like most of what you’re being offered. If they can’t rise pay, negotiate fewer hours. Negotiate for an abbreviated work week (this may mean longer days, but fewer total days and thus enable you to actually travel around your city and/or China, and to pursue activities that add to your quality of life.

3. Contrary to popular opinion: you don’t come to China to get rich by teaching. So, what about quality of life?

Seriously, some university positions pay a bare minimum but some also ask for very little. Working 24 hours at one university for six thousand renmenbi, versus 12 hours for four thousand: which is better? If you want to make money, you can easily make more than six a month and work less than 24 hours if you are in a large city and negotiate a light work schedule spread over the fewest number of days possible. If you want to learn Chinese, or have other pursuits and hobbies you’d like to entertain, then taking the smaller offer is the way to go.

You are sacrificing a lot to be here, so having a comfortable life is important. For some that means making a lot of money. For others it may mean working the least amount of hours possible with the least amount of responsibility. They want to be able to survive from what they earn but they have other interests. They work to live, rather than live to work, so for such individuals a limited schedule takes priority over substantial pay (hopefully they don’t pander to the lowest paying jobs out of some sort of odd form of cultural relativism. We should be raising the base offers of salary in this country!)  

You can lead a relatively happy existence in China, but it requires carving out your niche and making it happen.

4. As time goes by, the number of universities hiring in China are NOT located in the actual city they claim. This is the norm. The chances of actually being in that city you're fallen in love with form pictures and posts and blogs may very well be slim. In China you are more likely to commute to a "life," than commute to your work. This sucks more than you may ever be accustomed to.

Since the early part of this decade, numerous universities both pubic and private, were mandated to build new, “modern” campuses throughout China. What this means is that they go to backwaters and undeveloped hillsides and slap a metric ton of concrete, glass and steel together and hope to become some kind of boom-town one day. Few are. Beijing apparently wants all universities to be in the middle of nowhere and far from any “distractions.” Granted, these distractions are merely conveniences (not just applicable by western standards, but for locals too) and do nothing to really help with the quality of education (where cheating, bribery, plagiarism and a general lack of learning anything practical is obscenely rampant; with no reform, nor end in sight).

If a foreign affairs officer tells you that the school is, “thirty minutes from the city center,” that means it’s at least an hour away. This relativism is rampant. Sometimes it’s an intentional bit of bullshitting to sucker in another foreign, native speaking body. Sometimes it’s coming from someone who has the luxury of living off campus and being chauffeured by the university buses back into the city, or they own an automobile.

What may slip your mind is the fact that these “educational development zones” may only have a few buses running to and from the campus, and on an incredibly limited schedule (imagine 5 a. m. until 6-9 p. m.) and will always be crowded and they stop at every corner of the known universe before reaching the city center. They’re the hick express, and you’ll receive that vibe fast. Flagging down a taxi from the city to return to the campus may prove difficult depending on where you are located. They will always be expensive by local standards, and once you grow accustomed to seeing how far your money can or cannot be spread you’ll acclimate yourself to the standard and find it’s blowing a considerable amount of cash for a considerable inconvenience.

A school located in a “suburb” that falls under the administration of the distant, larger city proper does not mean it’s in that city, regardless of what a foreign affairs officer tells you.

5. Just because they work with you doesn’t mean they understand you.

After living here for a while, you’ll find that Chinese will often settle not for “Second best,” but the bottom of the barrel. Be wary of any foreign affairs officer who tells you how “convenient,” your living conditions will be. Many foreign affairs officers have never traveled abroad. What they consider “convenient,” or, “acceptable,” will not even come close to what you’re culturally accustomed to. Some officers do not mean to intentionally mislead and falsely assure you of something. They simply only see things through one lens and that lens has very little cultural familiarity with what you are accustomed to. This may not fully sink in until you get here, but it will. You really need to research a school with extreme vigilance. If there’s little information out there then consider giving the position a miss.

I could go on, but I’ve spent far too much free time on this post. Perhaps other posters will add to the list. I assume I’ll post more questions worth considering later, but I need a break!

Good luck with your job search. Don’t sell yourself short by giving into the uncertainty. Keep applying and keep searching. You’ll find work that is suitable for you. It just won’t happen as quickly and conveniently and professionally as we are accustomed to in the west.

« Last Edit: May 31, 2010, 09:45:45 PM by rollerboogie »



  • *
  • 1800
  • How's the water?
    • Fukushima has changed everything.
Rollerboogie - Thanks for the reality check.  bjbjbjbjbj



  • *
  • 518
Hick express.  LOL.  So true.

But,most of it is true.  Some schools absolutely can't negotiate salaries, but they should be willing to work with you on other things if they really want you.  If they refuse to budge, it isn't a good sign.  I just had a school tell me I needed to be a "team player," which I took to mean that they expect FTs to quietly and politely get screwed over.

I think there's something to say for jobs that say "this is what it is, take it or leave it". In my opinion the very worst jobs will tell you whatever you want (and play a negotiating game beforehand) simply because they know it means nothing when you hit the ground in their territory.

Not that you shouldn't negotiate and watch out for your personal biz. It doesn't end when you sign a contract.

As far as that other internet place goes, I think if you look at the job prospects talked about there in other places such as, say that Chinese island, you'll see where the job market on the mainland is going.

The last thing I want to be is an apologist for exploitive schools. I'm just saying that I think people wanting to come to China aren't likely to be moving into cushy positions their first year without both luck and special qualifications.



  • *
  • 518
Well, that depends on what you consider a "cushy" position.  I don't think the original post is advocating that new teachers hold out for the best university jobs in China.  But, there are schools around that value FTs (in their own Chinese way, of course) and those schools are more likely to listen to and at least respect, though they may not grant, the requests prospective teachers may have. 

Of course, just like FTs have been burned by schools, schools have been burned by FTs.  They may be overly stubborn simply because they think all FTs are out to get as much money for as little mediocre work as possible and are in permanent defensive mode, despite multiple e-mails and phone conversations with your very endearing self.  But... while understandable, who the hell would want to work in a school like that?

As far as that other internet place goes, I think if you look at the job prospects talked about there in other places such as, say that Chinese island, you'll see where the job market on the mainland is going.

interesting, what exactly do you mean monkeymind? I've heard a lot said about the current job climate in China, and wouldn't mind hearing what trends you've observed in talk of aforementioned teeweeny island place

otherwise, good thread lads, I've enjoyed your presence in the saloon so far rollerboogie  agagagagag
两只老外, 两只老外,跑得快,跑得快,
一个是老酒鬼,一个是老色鬼,真奇怪, 真奇怪



  • *
  • 1800
  • How's the water?
    • Fukushima has changed everything.
interesting, what exactly do you mean monkeymind? I've heard a lot said about the current job climate in China, and wouldn't mind hearing what trends you've observed in talk of aforementioned teeweeny island place

Ditto that. That tiny little island is my back up, well that and Mongolia, but the latter is way too cold and probably not a realistic option.
« Last Edit: May 30, 2010, 12:21:01 PM by mlaeux »

I sort of took a main point from the OP to be about negotiating, and I was just saying that it can be a sign of honesty if a school says, "we don't have a lot of money to give you, the boss isn't going to approve anymore for you, this is what it is", whereas with the worst kind of schools, they'll let you negotiate away and tell you what you want to hear.

I have to admit, cruising the forums of, well, any place I guess, isn't exactly a good predictor of anything, so I don't know why I said that. But I was just thinking that the last time I took a look at the T'wan forums over there, I saw a lot of people talking about scraping together part time work that wasn't enough to live on, and looking at private training centre jobs that don't seem to pay much more than the mainland as what can be hoped for. Foreign teachers there don't have any upper hand in negotiating because there's just so many of them on the ground looking for work.

I don't know why I think the same thing will happen on the mainland. Maybe it won't, there's obviously a lot more schools here. But I do think that schools here are going to get pickier and pickier about who they hire, without raising wages and benefits, just because they can.

It's all total speculation, nothing scientific about my analysis  agagagagag



  • 137
  • Living in a self-delusional world!
It seems to me that the age restrictions are being more strictly adhered to than before, as are qualification requirements.  I feel as if the rules are tighteneing, which indicates more of a buyers market than before.  I've also seen univerisites DROP their salaries, pay for only 10 -11 months instead of full year etc.

Things are getting more difficult - for a bunch of reasons.
"At your worst, at your best...who cares? They really aren't that much different anyway, and neither are particularly missed or wanted here anyway." - Marilyn Manson

Firstly, you should post this over at Dave's, that's where all the newbies seem to hang out!

Secondly, I agree with SOME of your claims, not others, particularly the 2nd point. My uni is one that constantly has teachers coming and going, about an hour from the city (which is fine) but few foreigners. Still, they said they weren't interested in keeping me. Whatever. I do think the FAO had a hand in it, I had a few run ins with her in September when I arrived, over the lack of apartment, very little assistance, everything just too hard for her etc etc (granted, she's the only one running the show, but what do you expect with new foreigners? That they can look after themselves completely when first arriving?). They wouldn't even pick me up from ANYWHERE- airport (okay, a little far away, about 2 hours- my first job was a 6 hour drive & they met me!) or bus station (I arrived about 9pm, called, okay, I'm here, where's my lift? Find your own way!).

Anyway, getting off track. Yes, more and more unis are located out of the 'cities' they claim their in- and why not? Why waste valueable land space on some public uni that really doesn't make money for the local economy? And students 'tecnically' don't have time to go play in the city anyway...

Salaries, yes, I have seen very little raises in uni salaries in the 5 years I've been here. Thankfully though in my corner of the country I'm being offered something somewhat 'decent' for my new positions. Still not overly exciting, and most times they tell you 'no private work allowed'. I've verbally accepted a new position, but still trying to get one closer to the city, and where I may have a little more freedom for extra work.
10 easy steps to stop procrastination.




  • *
  • 236
  • "文武双全"
    • My Band @ MySpace

I can't believe how much value and heart you've packed into this post. Thank you, man. I needed this one.



Raoul F. Duke

  • Lovable Rogue
  • *****
  • 9572
  • "Be specific if you order the mushrooms!"
Not sure if it's tongue-in-cheek or not, but please do not recommend Dave's around here. They have lots of newbies because they have a real Marketing budget; not as many people know about us.
Yet. agagagagag

I wouldn't argue that moving unis to the boonies doesn't make sense...for THEM, it clearly does. I would simply argue that WE may not want to accept such an arrangement.
"Vicodin and's a great combination!" (Anthony Bourdain, in Harbin)

"Here in China we aren't just teaching...
we're building the corrupt, incompetent, baijiu-swilling buttheads of tomorrow!" (Raoul F. Duke)

Wow! I find your post interesting and very helpful.  My application was recently accepted by the Chinese cultural center in SC, USA to teach English in China but I'm so nervous because they have given me no actual place of employment yet,and require $998.00 for a 10-12 month contract. What is your opinion about this particular company?  All I really want to do is teach in China for at least five years, but I'm scared of the possibility of being scammed.   (US) Chinese Culture Center
1708 Greene Street
Columbia, SC 29201, USA
Yolanda Benjamin Lewis



  • *
  • 1659
    • My page at Citizendium
My application was recently accepted by the Chinese cultural center in SC, USA to teach English in China but I'm so nervous because they have given me no actual place of employment yet,and require $998.00 for a 10-12 month contract. What is your opinion about this particular company?

I know nothing of that company specifically, but to me anyone who wants you to pay them to find you a teaching job in China is obviously a scam.

There are huge numbers of jobs available without going through a recruiter and legitimate recruiters are paid by the employer, not by the teacher. The general opinion here is that recruiters are to be avoided in any case, and I agree in most cases.
Who put a stop payment on my reality check?

because they have given me no actual place of employment yet,and require $998.00 for a 10-12 month contract.

Let me get this straight; they want $1K from you and they can't tell you where you are going. Well my friend, for free, I'll tell you where to go - ANYWHERE ELSE

Nevernevernever give anybody money to work. The only places you should be doling out coin is the Chinese Embassy, the airport and the taxi to get there.

(Oh, and the cheese store to pick me up a kilo of parmesian)  :wtf:
For you to insult me, first I must value your opinion