I attended a speech given by the then retired former head of the Cultural Affairs section of national SAFEA in Beijing. During the speech, he mentioned the 5 Year Rule. I asked him some questions afterward and he told me there is such law/regulation on the books, but that national SAFEA takes no position on the rule and leaves it up to the local provincial/city Foreign Expert Bureaus FEBs) and or local provincial/city Education Departments (who initially approve/disapprove credentials) before the material is sent to the local FEB for processing the Foreign Expert Certificate (FEC) which is needed to apply for a new Residence Permit (RP). He told me the national SAFEA leaves it up to the locals whether to use the rule or not, but that it is on the books.
I did find it once online:
Scroll down to the red highlight
in Part 4. There it is in Chinese.
I was able to score a ride with him and his driver as we were going in the same general direction, and during the ride, we talked about it further. he told me the main impetus of the original rule was that "Foreign Experts" in whatever field (and SAFEA isn't limited to teachers and education) need to keep their skills upgraded-STEM Foreign Experts for example-so should return to their homeland for updated STEM.
I pointed out that I basically agree with the concept, but that most of the SAFEA realm relates to Education and English, and with the plethora of English Education websites both here and abroad, it's fairly easy for English teachers to continue to upgrade their skills here without having to return home and spend thousands of DOLLARS on supplemental teacher training just to qualify for another chance to teach in China after one year in the penalty box.
"You will lose your best and brightest Foreign Teachers- the ones who are or become committed to teaching here. It takes a hella lot of effort to get past your first year teaching in China - and if you can make it through to the 5th year, why push the reset button? New foreign teachers are much bigger pains-in-the-asses to deal with. than 5+ year teachers.
He seemed to agree with me, but mentioned two things (of course). The longer you are at a school, the more you know it's skeletons. True dat.
Also, they can dust off the rule and use it when needed to non-renew someone in a Chinese way-avoiding confrontation.
i happened to be at a dinner a couple of years later seated next to him and (he remembered me.) We renewed the conversation about the 5 Year Rule and he said it was being reconsidered, but was still on the books.
The Takeaway advice from me: Which province/locality is doing it?
And which department? Local FEB/ Education Dept./ PSB?
These are all separate departments with their own foibles and rules.
Foreigners tend to group everything into CHINA.
CHINA IS NOT A MONOLITH.
If you have a problem here, you need to identify where the bottleneck is coming from.