20080311-villager teacher bucklin.jpg
Village teacher in the 1920s
Peter Hessler wrote in The New Yorker, “The saving grace of a Chinese school” are teachers that “sincerely care, often calling parents with updates” and the fact that “most adults have a deep faith in learning.” Because of the size of the population, classrooms and teachers have traditionally been in short supply. China has invested in teacher training to address a shortage of qualified secondary school educators.

Nearly all Chinese teachers teach a single subject, rather than multiple subjects. Most of them teach only two classes per day in primary and secondary schools. But compared with their counterparts in the UK, most Chinese teachers have to deal with larger class sizes without streaming for ability. [Source: Kan Wei, Associate Professor, Beijing Normal University, The Conversation, March 25, 2014]

In 2001, the student-teacher ratio in primary school was about 21 to 1. The student-teacher ratio in secondary school was about 19 to 1. The For comparison sake, the number of pupils per teacher in primary school is 43 in low-income countries; 16 in in the U.S. and 15 in high-income countries are also given. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Thomson Gale, 2007]

Teachers in the late 1990s: Primary: 5,794,000
Secondary: 4,437,000
Higher: 516,400
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 24:1; Secondary: 17:1
[Source: Ting Ni, World Education Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Chinese Teachers

In China, teachers have traditionally been strict and formal in their character and appearance and rarely make jokes. Students are expected to be obedient, let the teacher teach and address their teacher in formal terms. There is a notion that the teacher is always right. Students are reluctant to ask questions for fear of exposing the teacher as ignorant. In any case there is so much material to cover there is little time to ask questions anyway

In the Mao era, teachers were fairly well paid and held in high esteem and received good health care and other benefits. Eevn today teachers are regarded as advocates of the Communist Party line first and teachers of the subjects second. Students at teacher's college are required to take courses on Marxism-Leninism and Building Chinese Socialism.

Chinese teachers are not known for encouraging their students. Often a simple “”hao”,” meaning good, is as much as a students can expect. In Asia, it is common for parents to give money to teachers and for students to give any prizes they have won to their teachers.

Parent-teacher conference tend to be group affairs in which the teacher talks to all the parents at once. If a child is doing poorly everyone finds out. This form of humiliation is expect to pressure parents to keep their kids in line.

Many rural school are staffed by “barefoot teachers”’some of whom are peasants who teach math and Chinese even though they never made it past elementary school themselves and are given a short vocational training course and then tossed in the classroom. These teachers were paid $1.60 a month in 1974.

Respect for Teachers in China

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: Respect for teachers remains strong in China; anyone who has taught courses there can speak to the pleasure of teaching in an environment where students are generally not only eager to learn and hardworking but actually still compete to carry bags for and otherwise support the teacher. In fact, this respect extends to anyone who takes on a teaching role, which is part of why, from a business perspective, it is so important for expatriates to take on training and mentoring responsibilities, and why outreach to local universities can be such effective corporate positioning. [Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

Students try to stay on their teachers good side, following the proverb: “A person who stands under someone else’s roof must bow his head.” Other well-known Chinese proverbs related to teaching include: “Strict teacher produces brilliant student” and “Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself. This means a teacher can show you the way, but the rest is up to you.

In 1987 the Chinese government established a national Teachers' Day on September 10 to honor the teaching profession.Ting Ni wrote in the World Education Encyclopedia: Despite the fact that teachers experience the ups and downs and receive low pay for their job, they enjoy unquestionable authority when they deliver knowledge to their students. The universal assumption in Chinese society is that the teacher tells the single and absolute truth, and the job of the students is to absorb the knowledge conveyed by the teacher without question. [Source: Ting Ni, World Education Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“Teacher education suffered severe setback during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 when anti-intellectualism reached its climax. With the death of Mao Zedong, Chinese leaders once again emphasized the importance of teacher education in order to achieve nine-year compulsory education and the nation's grand modernization scheme.

Teaching Profession in China

Ting Ni wrote in the World Education Encyclopedia: The scope of the teacher education system in the People's Republic of China is extensive. In numerical terms, teachers in China form the largest teaching force in the world. In 1998, there were 229 training institutions at various levels with 138,745 education majors enrolled. Yet this massive training system has barely met the demand for the number of teachers required to sustain the even larger school system in terms of both quantity and quality. A range of serious policy problems, organizational barriers, and socioeconomic factors undermine the ability of the teacher education system to make adequate contributions to the nation.[Source: Ting Ni, World Education Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“There are two main categories of teachers in China, distinguished according to the source and structure of their pay. The first category is the gongban (state-paid) teachers who are regarded as state employees and earn a regular monthly salary comparable to other civil servants or workers in state-owned enterprises. The second category is the minban (community-paid) teachers who are paid by the local community. Their monthly income depends on the economic conditions of the local community.

“The state-paid teachers are categorized into grades according to their years of service and their standard of performance. In 1980, the Chinese government introduced a five-grade system. The highest grade is the super-grade teachers, who occupy 5 percent of the teaching force. The other grades, in descending order, are the senior, first, second, and third grade teachers. In 1990, only 6 percent of secondary teachers belonged to the senior grade, while the majority of secondary teachers were in the second grade. Most primary teachers were in the senior grade and first grade. This pattern of distribution of grades of teachers illustrates that the teaching force at the primary level is more experienced and older than that of secondary school teachers.

Teacher Training in China

Ting Ni wrote in the World Education Encyclopedia: “The education of teachers is directly supervised by the Ministry of Education. The Teacher Education Bureau is one of the 23 bureaus in the Ministry of Education and is immediately responsible for formulating policies on teacher education and supervising the development of the teacher training system, including the goals of teacher education, curriculum structure, recruitment of teacher trainees, and accreditation criteria. It also directly administers six key normal universities, namely those in Beijing, East China, Central China, Northeast China, Southwest China, and Shanxi. Provincial education commissions and education bureaus in the prefectures and counties are responsible for teacher education under their purview, and they are expected to implement the policies formulated by the central government. [Source: Ting Ni, World Education Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“The system of teacher education comprises two distinct subsystems: pre-service and in-service. Pre-service education is housed in monotechnic colleges or shifan xueyuan (specialized teacher education institutions), which enjoy a unique status within the overall education system. The lowest level of the pre-service subsystem recruits trainees from among junior secondary school graduates who are trained to be kindergarten and primary school teachers. This structure originated from the teacher education system that was first established in 1897 and heavily influenced by Japanese and German models. Because of the need for large numbers of teachers at various levels of schooling, the Chinese government, in different periods, still favored the hierarchical, monotechnic, and specialized teacher education system. In 1953, the Ministry of Education stipulated a three-tier system of pre-service teacher education: normal universities for the large administrative zones, teachers colleges in provinces and metropolitan cities, and junior colleges and secondary normal schools of various types at township and county levels.

“The in-service teacher education is designed to provide unqualified teachers with appropriate training and education credentials. It is organized into four levels: provincial college of education; county or city college or teachers' advancement college; county teachers' school; and town and village teachers' supervisory center. Every level has specific target trainees. Provincial colleges are responsible for training senior high school teachers; county or city colleges for junior high school teachers; county teachers' school for primary and kindergarten teachers; and town and village teachers' center for teachers for their own geographic areas. The in-service courses are offered on a part-time basis and are more flexible in length and format. They also tend to accommodate the needs of individual groups of teachers. Sometimes, in-service institutions also organize research to address local problems.

“The government maintains strict control over the teacher education curriculum and the Ministry of Education outlines the curriculum framework for all normal institutions, as well as specifies basic teaching hours and promotes the standardization of instructional materials by producing national course books for teacher trainees. The normal education curriculum is comprised of five major components: foundation courses, including politics, moral education, second languages and physical education; professional education courses, consisting of pedagogy, psychology, philosophy, history of education, sociology and so forth; subject matter specialization that replicates the major academic subjects in the secondary school curriculum; optional courses, such as art appreciation, computer literacy, counseling and extracurricular activities; and the teaching practicum, which is divided into a two-week and six-week block in the third and fourth year respectively. Besides setting development targets for the teaching training system, the Chinese Communist Party seeks to reaffirm the political and ideological orientation of teacher education, which is "to cultivate cultured persons as teachers with lofty ideals, high morality, strong discipline, and a sense of mission as educators, the engineers of the human soul and the gardeners of the nation's flowers" (Leung and Hui 2000).

“Unlike the United States and many other countries, China traditionally has had no system of teacher certification. It was assumed, rather, that teachers were qualified by the professional training they received in their teacher education program. However, due to dramatic influx of untrained teachers in the Cultural Revolution decade, many teachers have not received pre-service preparation and have no claim to technical qualifications. Thus, in the mid-and-late 1980s, the government tried to directly reshape the teaching force through a system of teacher examinations and credentials.

“The examinations are standardized for secondary teachers by the central government, while examinations for elementary teachers are the responsibility of each province. The system has a potentially powerful impact as it was designed to be coordinated with teacher ranking and salaries from 1989 on. Generally speaking, primary teachers should have at least graduated from the secondary normal schools or senior secondary schools; junior secondary schoolteachers should at least have a teaching diploma from the junior teachers colleges, while senior secondary teachers should be graduates of the normal universities and teachers colleges or degree holders from other tertiary institutions (Epstein 1991).

Teachers and Teacher Development in Shanghai

Thomas L. Friedman wrote in the New York Times: Shen Jun, Qiangwei’s principal, who has overseen its transformation in a decade from a low-performing to a high-performing school — even though 40 percent of her students are children of poorly educated migrant workers — says her teachers spend about 70 percent of each week teaching and 30 percent developing teaching skills and lesson planning. That is far higher than in a typical American school. [Source: Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, October 22, 2013]

“Teng Jiao, 26, an English teacher here, said school begins at 8:35 a.m. and runs to 4:30 p.m., during which he typically teaches three 35-minute lessons. I sat in on one third-grade English class. The English lesson was meticulously planned, with no time wasted. The rest of his day, he said, is spent on lesson planning, training online or with his team, having other teachers watch his class and tell him how to improve and observing the classrooms of master teachers. “You see so many teaching techniques that you can apply to your own classroom,” he remarks.

Education experts will tell you that of all the things that go into improving a school, nothing — not class size, not technology, not length of the school day — pays off more than giving teachers the time for peer review and constructive feedback, exposure to the best teaching and time to deepen their knowledge of what they’re teaching.

“Teng said his job also includes “parent training.” Parents come to the school three to five times a semester to develop computer skills so they can better help their kids with homework and follow lessons online. Christina Bao, 29, who also teaches English, said she tries to chat either by phone or online with the parents of each student two or three times a week to keep them abreast of their child’s progress. “I will talk to them about what the students are doing at school.” She then alluded matter-of-factly to a big cultural difference here, “I tell them not to beat them if they are not doing well.”

Math Teachers in China

Math teachers in Shanghai are reputed to be especially good. According to The Times: “Shanghai’s teachers focus hard on ensuring that all children master each mathematical concept before moving to the next, through immersion in topics, repetition of similar exercises and high levels of homework to test for gaps in their understanding. Lessons are organised by teams of teachers rather than individual teachers devising their own lesson plan. [Source: Greg Hurst, The Times of London, November, 2014]

Kan Wei of Beijing Normal University wrote in The Conversation: “Chinese maths teachers usually spend a considerable amount of time each day writing out detailed lesson plans, or correcting homework and marking examination papers. They also have access once a week to locally-organised teachers’ research groups, where they can get suggestions for good lesson plans.[Source:Kan Wei, Associate Professor, Beijing Normal University, The Conversation, March 25, 2014]

“When a Chinese teacher introduces a new topic, they tend to use different kinds of examples that vary in difficulty. This way of teaching with variation has been applied either consciously or intuitively in China for a long time. In class, maths teachers also emphasise logical reasoning, prompting pupils with questions such as “why?”, “how?” and “what if?”. Chinese maths teachers also emphasise the use of precise and elegant mathematical language. In secondary school maths exams, if pupils do not write according to the mathematical format required, marks will be deducted.

“Compared with their counterparts in the UK, Chinese maths teachers are not very good at integrating concepts across the curriculum. Even though pupils spend 15 hours per week learning maths, teachers often complain that they lack time in their teaching schedule. They have to deal with frequent grade-level tests every two or three weeks and school level tests every term.

“Some good maths teachers, particularly those who come from quality schools, encourage pupils to learn about the interrelationship mathematics has with daily life. They also give full consideration to meeting the individual needs of the students. They frequently use active participation to check for individual understanding during a lesson, and integrate methods and real life projects in teaching mathematics. However, most pupils in rural areas have few chances to access to this high-quality teaching. Many Chinese teachers who face the pressure of an examination-oriented education system do not see a reason to do activities that connect maths to real-life. It’s easier to just give students the information required and teach them the process.

High School Teachers in China

Eric Mu wrote in Danwei.com, “Teachers are a mixture of army training sergeants and Amway salesmen. The former abuses, the latter promises. A teacher is not only expected to teach, he also needs to motivate. Some male teachers were very good at that, capable of evoking in their subjects the deepest sense of shame that even a Freudian would admire. They did it with verbal ingenuity that a rapper would envy. I remember a teacher once warned us that if we didn’t work hard we would “go and poke a dog’s teeth,” What he meant was that we would end up being tramps or beggars. Now many years have passed but the image of myself with a beggar’s pole trying to fend off a bunch of barking dogs still haunts me. [Source: Eric Mu, Danwei.com September 2, 2011]

The first few days of my high school life I was pumped up by a sense of triumphalism and I was a bit stuck up. After all, I had just passed a very difficult exam, I thought. My teacher spotted that dangerous tendency and he talked to me about it. At first he was using metaphorical language, telling me how a full bucket cannot take any more water. When he found out that I was not improving, he called me an ingrate and a mistake of my parents. It was only later that I realized that the teacher didn’t say that only to me. He said it to most students with the exception of the very best and the very worst in the class. The top ones were treated with respect and the worst don’t deserve his time because it won’t make a difference anyway. [Source: Eric Mu, Danwei.com September 2, 2011]

It was not only the students dealing with a lot of stress, but the teachers as well. A teacher’s salary was correlated by how many of the students that they were responsible for went to university. Even the school principal would be evaluated on such statistics. At my junior year, a girl committed suicide. Not a big surprise. There are always weak ones who just can’t make it. That is how natural selection works. The cause of the suicide was that the girl’s head teacher asked her to forgo the college entrance exam. Not that he hated her personally. He simply talked to all the students who were deemed hopeless and would only dilute the average results of the class. The girl refused. The teacher told the girl something that must have been very humiliating, and she drowned herself in the sea that afternoon. [Source: Eric Mu, Danwei.com September 2, 2011]

Teacher Shortages in China

“The lack of qualified teachers has been a serious problem in China since economic reforms started in the 1980s. Although the in-service teacher education system has contributed significantly to alleviating the problem, the national situation is far from satisfactory. There are two major factors accounting for the inconsistency in the demand for and supply of teachers. First, there is a general reluctance on the part of secondary school graduates to become teacher trainees since the reform of the Chinese economy opened up better paying opportunities for young people. Teacher remuneration became relatively unappealing in comparison with other state-paid occupations, not to mention the more lucrative jobs in the private sectors or foreign-invested enterprises. [Source: Ting Ni, World Education Encyclopedia, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

In 1991, the average annual income of state-paid occupations was 2,563 yuan, but the annual salary of the teaching profession averaged only 2,257 yuan and it ranked among the bottom third of the twelve major categories of occupations. Furthermore, it was not uncommon to see the delayed payment of teachers in the countryside and poor areas. Some villages and townships even paid teachers various factory or farm products instead of cash. Moreover, teachers were seriously deprived of fringe welfare benefits, such as good housing quarters, traveling, and medical care allowances that are critical in Chinese society.

“The second factor accounting for the shortage of teachers is the internal efficiency of the school system and the teacher training system in general. The training capacity of the existing normal universities and teachers colleges has reached a maximum level, with an average of 28,000 trainees per institution. Most of these institutions are suffering from overcrowding and large class sizes, yet a proportion of the expansion in enrollment is taken up by non-normal specialties, as schools desperately try to attract more able students by offering more popular specialties such as finance, international trade, law, business management, accounting, and marketing.

“The unique aspect of China's teacher training system is the rigid regulation of teacher education by the state and the Communist Party within the context of an economy and labor market that is experiencing a rapid reduction in the degree of state control. Because education remains a state-run business there has been a subtle change in terms of people's perception of teaching profession since the end of the twentieth century. Some young people started to view teaching as a guaranteed job with a stable income (although not very high), and it is better than facing uncertainties in private sectors. The teaching profession is gradually climbing up the occupational ladder. In the twenty-first century, China plans to implement system of teacher certification. After having their diploma and teaching experiences reviewed, current teachers should obtain their certificates quickly. For those who plan to choose teaching as their career, they will need to pass examinations on several educationrelated courses, such as education, psychology, and Mandarin.

Generating More Teachers in China in the 1970s and 80s

A scarcity of qualified teachers afer the Cultural Revolution led to a serious stunting of educational development. In 1986 there were about 8 million primary- and middle-school teachers in China, but many lacked professional training. Estimates indicated that in order to meet the goals of the Seventh Five-Year Plan and realize compulsory 9-year education, the system needed 1 million new teachers for primary schools, 750,000 new teachers for junior middle schools, and 300,000 new teachers for senior middle schools. [Source: Library of Congress]

“To cope with the shortage of qualified teachers, the State Education Commission decreed in 1985 that senior-middle-school teachers should be graduates with two years' training in professional institutes and that primary-school teachers should be graduates of secondary schools. To improve teacher quality, the commission established full-time and part-time (the latter preferred because it was less costly) in-service training programs. Primary-school and preschool in-service teacher training programs devoted 84 percent of the time to subject teaching, 6 percent to pedagogy and psychology, and 10 percent to teaching methods. Inservice training for primary-school teachers was designed to raise them to a level of approximately two years' postsecondary study, with the goal of qualifying most primary-school teachers by 1990. Secondary-school in-service teacher training was based on a unified model, tailored to meet local conditions, and offered on a spare-time basis. Ninety-five percent of its curricula was devoted to subject teaching, 2 to 3 percent to pedagogy and psychology, and 2 to 3 percent to teaching methods.

“By 1985 there were more than 1,000 teacher training schools--an indispensable tool in the effort to solve the acute shortage of qualified teachers. These schools, however, were unable to supply the number of teachers needed to attain modernization goals through 1990. Although a considerable number of students graduated as qualified teachers from institutions of higher learning, the relatively low social status and salary levels of teachers hampered recruitment, and not all of the graduates of teachers' colleges became teachers. To attract more teachers, China tried to make teaching a more desirable and respected profession. To this end, the government designated September 10 as Teachers' Day, granted teachers pay raises, and made teachers' colleges tuition free. To further arrest the teacher shortage, in 1986 the central government sent teachers to underdeveloped regions to train local schoolteachers.

“Because urban teachers continued to earn more than their rural counterparts and because academic standards in the countryside had dropped, it remained difficult to recruit teachers for rural areas. Teachers in rural areas also had production responsibilities for their plots of land, which took time from their teaching. Rural primary teachers needed to supplement their pay by farming because most were paid by the relatively poor local communities rather than by the state.

Problems for Teachers in China

There is a lot of pressure on teachers. Some have their pay linked to their students’ performances. Others have been forced out of their after parents complained they weren’t covering the material fast enough. Many are studying English and taking other classes to improve themselves. High school teachers sometimes lose their job if their students don’t do well enough on the university entrance exam.

Teachers are usually exhausted by the overcrowded classes and insufficient facilities. In the poor rural provinces many teachers rely on the charity of farmers for food and sometimes go hungry because they go months without getting paid. Some teachers live in rat-infested dormitories at the school, which have no running water or electricity and try to keep warm in winter by sleeping under piles of thick quilts.

In the mid 2000s, as part of an effort to modernize schools and raise their quality, some barefoot teachers lost their jobs, even some well-respected ones with numerous years of experience and awards. Many achieved professional status by passing test. But those who failed were dismissed, going from heros of the socialist revolution to disgruntled unemployed who felt cheated by society and the government especially after hearing about teachers who failed the exam but were given professional status because they gave officials a $6,000 bribe Some 10,000 teachers from Jilin province worried about losing their jobs staged a protest in Beijing. They were stopped by police and some were beat up.

In September 2010, Yuan Lei, who teaches Chinese literature at Beijiao High School in Foshan, was detained for “spreading pornographic articles” after posting an online novel about the so-called post-1980s generation in Dongguan, Guangdong, where saunas and brothels thrive. Using his pen name Tianya Blue Pharmacist, Yuan wrote a 390,000-word novel on Tianya.cn, China’s most popular online forum, that received more than two million hits. The novel’s introduction says the novel is about “a hidden, unknown world with love stories of the post-80s generation, Dongguan sauna massages and adult life.” The mushrooming sauna business is mostly a front for brothels in Dongguan. The police were quoted by Nanfang Daily as saying that the novel had a hugely negative impact on Dongguan and its author could be penalised. Internet users were outraged by Yuan's detention, saying his novel was nothing compared to works by Jia Pingwa and Chen Zhongshi. Jia and Chen are renowned writers of fiction about peasants' lives. Spider 1, the moderator of the Tianya forum's literature section, said it was very common to describe sex in fiction and Yuan was not as explicit as Jia or Chen. [Source: Priscilla Jiao South China Morning Post, September 29, 2010]

Teachers’ Strikes in China

In 2014, thousands of teachers frustrated by low salaries and mandatory payments to pension plans went in strike in cities in northeast China. Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times: “The strikes spread to a half-dozen cities or counties near Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province, where economic growth has long been slower than elsewhere in China. Classes in some primary and high schools in Heilongjiang were suspended, the reports said. Teachers are asking for raises and for the government to end required payments to a pension plan. China National Radio reported that one teacher was making less than $400 a month after working for 25 years.[Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, December 1, 2014]

“A one-minute video posted online showed a group of banner-waving peoplein the snow in front of the county government offices in Yilan. “Give me back my salary, give me back my dignity,” the people shouted in unison. A report by Global Times, a state-run newspaper, said teachers in Yilan County held up a banner that said: “We are 4,000 Yilan teachers. Return my withheld money!”

“In China, teaching has long been a profession with relatively low pay. Teachers from Yilan had posted a letter online that said educators who have worked for 20 years make just over $320 per month, and new teachers make $160 — “even more pathetic,” according to the letter.

“The grievances over the teachers’ pension plan have arisen because of a project started in 2004 by Heilongjiang Province, and supported by the central government, that requires government workers, including teachers, to contribute part of their salaries to a centralized provincial pension payment plan for all citizens. Previously, government workers were exempt from making payments.

“The protests around Heilongjiang began after teachers in the city of Zhaodong, in the same province, took to the streets in mid-November to demand higher salaries. The local government approved an average increase of $125 a month and promised to investigate working conditions, state news media reported. The teachers in Zhaodong then went back to work.

“Strikes by teachers have taken place recently in other parts of China. Teachers at one junior high school in Guangdong Province protested in late October when the government began paying them about $260 a month after having promised a monthly salary of $800, according to the People’s Daily, the main Communist Party newspaper. A similar walkout occurred in March at a kindergarten in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong.

“In early September, teachers at a high school in the city of Xiaogan, in Hubei Province, went on strike over what they called the government’s refusal to give them the proper status in the public employment system. The status helps determine details of their pension plans.

Harassment of Foreign Teachers in China

China had roughly 400,000 foreign citizens working in its education industry in 2017, working in schools, colleges and language institutes. According to Reuters: “The industry has long been plagued by abuses on both sides, with many foreign teachers in China working without proper visas and some schools taking advantage of that vulnerability.[Source: Cate Cadell, Reuters, August 13, 2019]

“Lawyers said rising anti-foreigner sentiment in Chinese education and a glut of teachers mean expats are also more likely to be exposed to non-criminal legal issues, including schools docking pay, refusing to provide documentation for visas and changing contracts without warning. “When (schools) get a lot of applications they feel they are in a commanding position,” said Pang, whose firm has handled dozens of labor arbitrations between teachers and schools in recent months.

“Emily, a 25-year old English teacher from the U.S. state of Utah, said a school in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu held her passport for 10 weeks in late 2018, refusing to hand it back until she threatened to call police. “There was always an excuse, like registering my dorm with police or some administration to transfer my visa ... at one point they just said they were keeping it safe,” she said, asking not to publish her full name or the name of the school because of an ongoing arbitration.

“The school docked her 16,000 yuan ($2,269) monthly salary by 1,200 yuan for an unexpected “agency” fee, according to documents provided to her by the school before and after her arrival. Lawyers say the practice is not unusual, and arbitration typically costs more than the withheld wages.

Surge in Arrests of Foreign Teachers in China

Arrests and deportations of foreign teachers in China soared in 2019 amidst a broad crackdown defined by new police tactics and Beijing’s push for a “cleaner”, more patriotic education system. Four law firms told Reuters, that requests for representation involving foreign teachers had surged in a six month period by between four and tenfold. Teachers and schools said arrests and temporary detentions for minor crimes had become commonplace. [Source: Cate Cadell, Reuters, August 13, 2019]

Switzerland-based Education First (EF), which runs 300 schools across 50 Chinese cities, saw a “significant” increase in detentions in China for alleged offences including drugs, fighting and cybersecurity violations, according to June 2019 memo sent to employees. It said EF staff had been “picked up by police at their home and work as well as in bars and nightclubs and have been questioned and brought in for drug testing”. The notice said the school had also received warnings from embassies about the rise in arrests.

An international school in Beijing and a teaching agency in Shanghai separately confirmed arrests had risen sharply. “There’s tremendous pressure for them to keep things clean. It’s all part of (President) Xi Jinping’s idea to make sure that China can show a good face for the rest of the world,” said Peter Pang, principal attorney at the IPO Pang Xingpu Law Firm in Shanghai, which represents foreign teachers in disputes.

“Lawyers said a rising backlash against foreign influence in China’s fiercely nationalistic education system means even qualified teachers are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation. Many government officials think that kicking out Western influences like English teachers is doing the Party’s work, and the schools are taking advantage of it” said Dan Harris, Seattle-based managing partner of law firm Harris Bricken, who now advises against foreigners teaching in China. “The risks of going to China to teach far outweigh the rewards.”

Drug Tests on Foreign Teachers in China

Reuters reported: Many of the legal cases involving foreign teachers are linked to new and enhanced drug-testing measures, including testing methods that can track drug use over a longer time, such as surprise inspections at teacher’s homes and workplaces, lawyers said. Three former teachers from two schools in Beijing and Shanghai who were detained for between 10 and 30 days before being deported this year say authorities drug-tested teachers multiple times within weeks of arrival and conducted extensive interrogations. [Source: Cate Cadell, Reuters, August 13, 2019]

“One of the three, a 25-year-old Florida man who was deported in May after a 10-day detention in a Beijing jail, said he and a colleague underwent a urine screening on their first day in China, which came back clean, but were detained after a surprise workplace test two weeks later showed traces of cannabis in his hair. “I didn’t touch a single drug in China,” said the man, declining to share his full name because he is currently looking for a job in the United States.

“Hair tests can detect cannabis for up to 90 days, meaning teachers that come from countries where the drug is legal, including parts of the United States, are especially vulnerable. “The problem with hair testing is that it can detect cannabis from months prior,” said Harris, whose firm saw a steep rise in case requests involving foreign teachers beginning earlier this year.

“The behavior of foreign teachers in China was thrust into the spotlight last month when 19 foreign citizens, including seven who worked for EF, were arrested in the eastern city of Xuzhou on drug charges.“The case drew fierce criticism in state media, which echoed earlier calls by Beijing to push for the eradicating of foreign influences from the country’s schools.

Image Sources: Wiki Commons: Nolls China website ; ; Columbia University; Beifan.com ; University of Washington; Bucklin archives

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2022

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