This is a response to Jonathan Levine’s article on working in China, “Go East, Young Man“, published on January 8. After writing this response, I found that someone had written an insightful blog post at the singularly named (written about a month before Jonathan Levine’s). I highly recommend reading said post for more details about what I describe below.

Jonathan Levine has been in China for almost a year teaching American studies in an English-speaking Tsinghua University class. According to him, China is a treasure trove of jobs for Americans, as demand for native English speakers is “white-hot.” And frankly, he is correct. I’d wager that the majority of secondary school principals would jump out of their chairs if an American walked into the office asking for an English-teaching job. Educational consulting businesses would claw at the chance to have, ahem, a white face to put on their college-prep advertisements. The chances for Americans are plentiful – especially white Americans.

This is something any CET study-abroad student could tell you. What Mr. Levine does not mention is the definite tiered system of jobs for native English speakers in China, wherein most involve copy-editing or English training at a price of 6,000-10,000 RMB per month ($1000-1500, and no health insurance) – more than enough to party it up in Sanlitun. For sure, China can be a whirlwind of crazy daily experiences, fascinating conversations, good food, and cheap drinks; a real paradise for singles in their twenties without a strict career path (I would know). But for non-teachers with a specialized skill set, especially those coming from middle-level American jobs, and especially those with families, I dare to suggest that China is a step down for them in terms of income and professionalism.

The next tier up includes Western-salary companies, who hire native English speakers to audit, manage, train, and communicate. It’s not a bad gig if you can get it; most of those end up in Guangdong, where the factories are, or nestle into random pockets of IT activity. There is a plethora of consulting jobs in Shanghai; most Americans can land one of those at China-salary, while big-name consultants (Bain, KPMG) are reticent to hire anyone who is not a native Chinese speaker. To my friends and classmates who have worked their way into the latter positions, I have the utmost respect. They could not have done it without years of perfecting their Chinese language skills.

This brings me back to my frustration with an article about working in China from someone who knows very little about the place. Those who have high-paying, health-care-providing jobs in China generally do so either because they are hired by a Western company first and then move to China, or because they know about China and speak Chinese very well. This group cannot afford, however, to be looking at the jobs that Mr. Levine rightly claims to be so plentiful (i.e. teaching and copy-editing). First, almost anyone who has lived in China more than a few weeks has done one of these jobs. Chinese majors and freelance scholars, therefore, tend to have plentiful TESL experience to blog about. However, these people generally do not go to China to be Western. They seek something more meaningful; something that is a testimony to the work that they have put in learning Chinese and about China.

I dare to say that, ironically, finding a real career in China is hardest for this group. They have sweated over memorizing characters, perfecting tones, mastering the nuances of discussing sensitive issues with Chinese people. They are invested and, in many cases, in student debt. The American with the best Chinese I have ever heard graduated from the Hopkins-Nanjing Center last year. While teaching English at a high school in a second-tier city, he buried himself in Chinese culture. He labored to this end for eight years before returning to the US this past year. Why did someone so skilled have to leave China? Because, in his words, the only things he was qualified to do in China were teach English or open a bar. He is now a US federal employee.

My other friend graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Chinese language and literature in 2008. He moved to Beijing and taught English, then copy-edited, then freelance translated, for a total of three years. It was a charmed life for sure, but the aimlessness of translating and copy-editing spurred him to return to America to start a career.

After six months in America, he’s back in Beijing. When asked why, the question of employment doesn’t come up. “Everyone in America just talks about politics or the TV shows they watch. When you mention that you’ve just lived in China for three years and speak Chinese, the conversation basically stops,” he says. After a certain point of delving into China, this friend is faithfully and irretrievably a laowai, wherever he may go (laowai is the Chinese word for foreigner). I expect Mr. Levine to end up in this group one day, as well, and maybe then he’ll be more humble.

For those who graduated with degrees in China studies and have an honest, vested interest in the country paired with deep humility from having learned the language, Mr. Levine’s sort of article borders on offensive. Was he just trying to rile up the political feathers of those who claim that China has stolen American jobs? “If you don’t have a job, go to China” – and manifest destiny! Just be careful about getting into the language and culture; if you go too far, you might not qualify as Western enough to be employed.


  1. I couldn’t agree more. The one thing the author didn’t touch on was Mr. Levine’s blind optimism towards China in a way that glosses over some of the more serious aspects of expat life in China. I love living in China, but there are serious criticisms that should make most Americans think twice before jumping on the China bandwagon. The environment isn’t just bad, it’s unfathomably bad. CCTV News is not more fair and balanced than Fox, I suspect they just don’t say too much that he disagrees with. Yet their hollow, vapid news indicates more than anything a government afraid of challenging its citizens with truth. The food safety scandal had some highly-publicized repercussions, but the system is no safer than it was before. Reports of tainted milk from the same company involved in the original scandal recently surfaced. The Chinese people I know are warm, courteous, and caring, but this is a system that rewards corner-cutting, dishonesty, and corruption. I say these things not to harp on China – it is a wonderful country and I don’t regret my decision to live here for the past three years in the slightest. But it isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t the next home of the American dream.

  2. I supposed one could make an argument that the jobs available in China are the best kind of overseas jobs one will find. Foreign workers at our age (young twenties) coming to the US would be lucky to find any sort of job that allows for a comfortable, leisure-filled lifestyle. Maybe it’s only teaching jobs available, but I know a young man (2 years of China and Chinese experience) who’s been offered a teaching job at a Hangzhou high school for something like 15,000 RMB a month. That’s over 2400 USD (or so) per month.

    But I think what you nailed, Hannah, is that the cry of “Go forth and seek labor!” implies that you’re preparing a future for yourself, which you are *not* doing in China. Years of teaching will enable you to…keep teaching. Maybe try to start your own teaching company or something, but good luck with that. And really, whatever for? So you can have kids and start a family here, putting your kids into incredibly pricey foreign schools or, more likely given your salary, Chinese schools? (I don’t even know if that’s possible.)

    If you’ve recognized that complete dearth of permanence and still want to play, then go for it. But ask yourself what you’re waiting for, and make sure you’re keeping an eye open for when it arrives.

  3. I think this issue touches on the general reality that your tree will grow where it is planted. Like it or not, as the second blog points out, foreigners are NOT planted in China, no matter how much they may want to be. The Chinese system ensures this on so many levels. Mostly, it is because China is not an immigrant country, as discussed, and so foreigners are welcome only so long as they have a service to offer the Chinese.

    I lived in China 2006-2007. Shenzhen back then was often thought of as the ultimate wild east, with money flowing for all party-goers. I left promptly after that year, largely because I recognized what the blog described as the two main groups of long-term foreigners as 1) American professionals working for a US company which had transferred them to the eastern outpost; and 2) ‘those people’, who came to China to for the much needed ego boost. To me, these latter folks looked like junior high kids who went to hang out on the elementary school playground and loved that the elementary school kids thought they were cool. Sometimes, my American friend and I would notice that some of these fellows, perhaps with three Chinese girls on each arm, would look away as us two foreign ladies passed, afraid of our knowing glance about how this guy commands about as much social influence back home as a preschool classroom hamster. The thing is, these people are generally willing to stay there, and never move up the ladder in the western world. This is reflective of a secondary reality of expats: many are running from something, and if that something is society, China may be the right place for them, but for the very same reason that ensures they will never grow a big strong tree in Beijing. They are never really going to be part of that party, just an honorary guest.

    I think your China-fo-life friend didn’t give the USA enough of a go. It takes time to move on. There’s also plenty of people who know about China that he could have met up with for talks about the good old days in the Middle Kingdom, perhaps over a bobba tea and lotus bun, both of which I had the other night after leaving the office in Boston (he could have given me a call!). I suspect he will be back someday ready to redirect his energy and able to handle the fact that most Americans don’t know the rules of face or how to play ma jong like a Chinese retiree.

    Perhaps most significantly, the Laowai day, beyond being limited, is also numbered. Chinese are acquiring the skills which will make laowais unnecessary. Besides having so much English training available, Chinese are gaining foreign qualifications. They have taken home foreign MBAs and financial degrees for a generation. Even JDs, by the way, are now plentiful in China among Chinese nationals. Take a look at legal job boards in China and you will see demands for JDs with NY Bar admission and Chinese citizenship required. Such jobs, by the way, are paying about $5000 USD a year. AND there are reportedly too many Chinese with JDs in China to make gaining such positions attainable for them. Foreigners will not be cool for long as Chinese inevitably swarm the laowai’s formerly unique skill-sets, bringing these home with the innate skill-set of being Chinese and speaking Mandarin. China belongs to the Chinese populace, and they are so plentiful that it is only a matter of time before the boutique abilities of native English speakers are outpaced by Zhongguoren themselves.

    Basically put, China is there, and you can work WITH it, but generally not WITHIN it. If you’re with a big US company that sends you there for whatever reason, go and enjoy. But don’t expect to join a Chinese company and live happily ever after. You’re dreaming. Your tree is planted in your home country (which, by the way, is a tremendous place to be in the world). My advice is to go home and water it.

  4. I’ve actually moved up the ranks from ne’er-do-well English teacher to expat professional working for Western company abroad. This rise did not happen in China. I realized early on that if I was going to make the leap I would have to go back to the U.S. and improve my resume to move up the ladder-in my case continuing study of Chinese via an MA program.

    Worked for US companies over in China for four years after that degree. I thought I would be living there for much longer.

    Once I started a family priorities changed. Environment, food scandals, healthcare, as people mention above, such concerns might roll of the back of twenty-something singles who don’t have a child growing up in that environment. (The fact that I was now actually tuned into such issues because of language improvement also forced this new perspective.)

    Back in the U.S. now, I miss a lot about China, but I do not miss all those worries about basic things like “can I safely feed my daughter?”. It made life a lot more stressful to point that the aspects of China I loved lost their charm.

    We’ll see if we ever end up living over there again, but for now I’m happy to be able to enjoy China as a “visitor” rather than a “permanent” resident.

  5. Hannah, great article. Thanks for the reality check. Living in China right after college was a lot of fun, but like you said, you can’t build your career there. I spent one year as an education consultant, and I found it unfulfilling and realized it would be difficult to move up from there. I wasn’t even a good “American face” for the company since I’m half Chinese! Now I am working for the State Department and will be posted to Shanghai for two years starting the end of this year. I’ll be living in China but working in an American system that allows me to move every two years!

  6. Mostly @Lin Zhen, but everyone else feel free to read.

    I’m the “China-fo-life” teacher-editor-translator friend, and while the actual circumstances of my departure from China and decision to return are more complicated, I’m happy for part of my story to serve the point Hannah wants to make, that is, that this type of person–a China-delver, a laowai, is fated to be a person between cultures both in China and now in their homeland.

    The quote is accurate, and it was a complaint I had about my time in America, but I just as you know more time would find me adjusted back to society. Here I would like to qualify my story not for self-justification, but in the hope it will yield more insight and more discussion. I left China less for the aimlessness of my current career (translation) per se and more from exhaustion with life in China, including the hassle of visas, and an insecurity that before twilight fell on my 20s, I should try being young and on my own in America. While I did very much miss the excitement, adventure, and Chinese-ness of life in China, my main impetus for returning to China was for my career as a translator, a business I need to expand first in order to afford life in America. In the haze and daze of life in Beijing, I had lost clarity on what I wanted from China and why I should remain, and a difficult visa situation served as an excuse to get myself out (the “aimless” part). With distance and sobriety came some reflection and a renewed desire to return to Beijing with a professional mission to replace my stumbling, though illuminating post-graduation years in China (teaching, traveling, studying, editing, and lastly translating and traveling more). I’m confident in the middle-term prospects for my career, though fearful for the short- and long-term prospects of my health, as I think many here can attest.

    What I meant by “the conversation stops,” is a bit of a simplification on my part. Literally I meant it pauses, before it resumes in one way or another: the response of those ignorant of Asia, confusing it with something Japanese or anything else Asian; the empty, if good-natured flattery to one’s intelligence and fiscal-foresight (though mostly mistaken as we know) for learning Chinese and living in China; and perhaps the most unbearable–the personal insights (usually simplified) of someone who has read some newspaper piece and wants you to confirm their intelligence. Treasured are the actual curious questioners and entertainers of one’s experience and insight from living and learning China, and even then their attention only holds so long. And who can blame them? My field is China and Chinese, and if someone wanted to lecture me for 20 minutes about their work in some similarly-specific professional field, I would probably also grow bored. Simply, China, particularly for someone as involved as the group to which Hannah points, is rarely a polite or enjoyable subject of small-talk. And this is the most poignant isolation I feel as a “laowai” back in America, that most people will never share an understanding of the last three years of my life, my work, and my study.

    In America, my friends’ apartments and lives are filled with manifold electronic devices and entertainment services (AppleTV and Netflix streaming, both required); their bars are filled with TVs showing the same or different sports games which steal conversation; they mostly eat, drink, and exercise with the same group of friends. Conversely, I rarely encounter TV I would watch instead of talk over in China; due to the friendly nature of strangers in a strange land, I meet at least two new people a week; I see something new every other day; and in Beijing the population of foreigners is self-selecting, and they and my Chinese friends are usually more like me than not. While there were lots of great parts of being back in America, these are some of the sentiments behind those words of mine used in Hannah’s piece; I’m haunted by the statement: “They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.” I also know I’m not alone, particularly among those bit by the China bug. I know I do not plan to live here long-term, but I know (and hope) I’ll be back and forth for the rest of my life.

    And since it probably needs to be said: I usually don’t date PRC citizens.

    • LaoC, I like it. Thanks for clarifying yourself, it’s a pleasure to read.
      And yes, I specifically did not bring up Western men dating Chinese girls, because that’s an entirely different topic, one about which I am not inclined to write.

  7. It may be OK for young men to east, but what about us older blokes? I’m pushing 50 and have two kids, China is just not an option for us. I spent some time there in the 90s and can speak Chinese, but we left when we started a family. Can you raise a family on an English teacher’s pay? Even if you could, would you want your children to go to a Chinese school – or even an expensive expat school, if your salary stretched that far? We are struggling to survive in Australia, but at least we just don’t have to worry much that about schools, getting sick or a polluted environment and what’s in the food we eat. Most of the Australian media is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, but I have many other unblocked options, including the BBC, Youtube, etc.
    I’d like to move back to China to work some day, maybe when my kids have left home. But it just isn’t a sensible option for anyone with a family – even the Chinese think so, as evidenced by the many Chinese ‘astronaut’ families with one parent running the business in the PRC while the other (or the grandparents) raising the kids overseas.

  8. I couldn’t agree more with this post, and I’m so glad that you (and also the creator of are trying to clear up what I think is one of the biggest misconceptions about China today. I’ve been in Shanghai for nearly 5 years, 2 of which were spent at a Chinese university studying Mandarin, and in general I’ve seen way too much optimism and way too many high expectations (both in the popular media and among “fresh off the boat” expats I’ve met here) about what China has to offer in terms of job opportunities; let alone wealth, success or quality of life.

    In general, I’ve been pretty lucky here and fully realize that my case has been somewhat exceptional. I have a job that I really enjoy, with a salary that I’m content with (I can’t live an executive life-style by any means, but I don’t have to worry about meeting my needs and putting aside some money), but it’s taken me a long time and lots of hard work to get where I am and I’ve had a lot of help along the way. But even after achieving what I consider a decent degree of success, I still know that China isn’t going to be a permanent place for me and my time here will have to end if I really want to continue in my career.

    During my time in China though, I’ve seen so many young expats fresh from university come and go, usually leaving with nothing more than crushed dreams and a few months of worthless English-teaching experience to add to their resume.

    For anyone that is considering coming here to work, you need to know that it’s not going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be hard as hell and you’re probably going to face a lot of dark, miserable times along the way. You probably will find yourself stuck teaching English to a bunch of spoiled rich brats, or (if you’re a little more fortunate) working 9 hours a day at some crappy “marketing” job that pays peanuts and doesn’t allow you to pop out to the local Starbucks when you want a coffee break, before you can even have a shot at transitioning to anything resembling a “real career”. This is, of course, assuming you actually care and aren’t just coming to China to score with local girls because you’re a loser back home, or slumming around Asia for a while as a way to rebel against your life in the suburbs. In other words, coming to China is NOT going to be a quick and easy to solution to your problems. THINK VERY CAREFULLY before coming here and realize that China is going to be a much harder place to “make it” than you think.

  9. After “Go East, Young Man” I knew this kind of response was coming but it’s still sobering to see it on the page.

    I’m of that group of Americans that did a China-focused lib arts degree and then spent a personally (if not professionally) fulfilling three years there after graduation – studying language, doing research, traveling with abandon. In the end I realized I wouldn’t be able to build a career in China beyond ghost-writing rich kids’ college applications.

    Rather than learning my lesson and starting a career in the US, though, I’ve returned home just long enough to get a masters degree in a technical field I know the Chinese still need: urban planning. Now I’m on the job hunt again, looking for something that lets me get my China fix while also doing some good in the world and building my professional skills. I’d love to get a cushy package from a US company – I even got an offer or two, but I know it’s more likely I’ll be going toe to toe with Chinese employees bearing foreign degrees who will work twice as hard for half the money. I’m willing to do the work and take a hit on my living standards, but I worry about the long term impact on my saving – I can’t stay in China forever, and how will I afford to care for a family or retire back home?

    Echoing another commenter, I’m glad to know I have some State Department security clearances processing that might let me ascend to the astral plane of diplomatic financial security, where I can live in China and moan that I only get to ship X thousand pounds of furniture from home for free. Judging from this article and its comments, it sounds like Uncle Sam is the way to go for China hands looking for more than English-teaching and bartending. Good luck to anyone out there who is in a similar position.

      • I could type out a thoughtful reply but I think I’ll let the Shanghai Expo slogan do the talking for me: 城市,让生活更美好! :D

  10. Hannah- you really hit the nail on the head with your response. During my first year in China, I was a Jonthan Levine too and nobody could change my perception of how China is the new manifest destiny. However, after more than 5 years of working and studying in China, I finally see the China glass ceiling-and its getting thicker. Chinese human resources continues to improve and there are fewer and fewer jobs that only native english speakers can do. In the future, expat jobs will become more scarce and the expat salary will be a distant memory. In addition, there are so many foreigners coming to China looking to be local hires that it has become too competitive. In Beijing, many employers are seeking to pay foreigners who speak Chinese a mere 10,000 yuan a month, which is just not enough. Furthermore, it’s becoming harder to secure a work visa in China because the government has been slowly closing up loopholes and raising standards. For example, last year you only needed 2 years of relevant experience to secure a visa, but now you need 3-5. After looking at all these trends, I really wonder where is it all going and if i can make a long-term career based in China.

  11. Thoughtful piece – thank you. 3 observations:

    1. For what it’s worth, I think a lot of the sentiment you express is common to westerners working in many Asian countries. Although I’ve been visiting China regularly since the early 90s, several of my earlier, formative years were spent teaching English in Japan. I saw exactly the same pattern there as you describe in your piece.

    2. This situation has been going on since China opened and it will likely not change in our lifetimes (nor our children’s). I remember meeting many years ago a bright young thing who’d come straight from a post graduate education at the UK’s LSE and landed quite randomly in Tai’an, looking at it being his first rung on what was to be a glorious China-centric career ladder. He then of course wound up teaching English. I can’t imagine he managed to progress his (non teaching) professional career by staying in China.

    3. However, one thing that I haven’t seen mentioned (and apologies but I’ve only scanned the responses) is the area of entrepreneurship. I do believe that starting one’s own business in China (& it certainly doesn’t have to be a teaching/translation company) is an area where foreigners can make a serious career for themselves. The rigors of entrepreneurship are not for everyone but no one can look at China and not feel confident that there are a host of business opportunities for someone with the right attitude, skills, partnering abilities and a mass of determination. For such people, I believe, China offers great career opportunities.

  12. Excellent point, Hannah. Oftentimes people generalize and oversimplify things, as is usually the case when I hear Americans discussing China. Adding on to GS’s point, I think that there are entrepreneurial opportunities but they are limited. To have a thriving entrepreneurial culture you need a strong angel investor/venture capital lending base. Although some have forayed into the Chinese market, most foreigners are still very hesitant to embark on such an inherently risky leading practice in a country full of fraud as others mentioned above, and lacking a sound legal system to enforce contracts. So although innovating in china, you will have to base yourself out of California oftentimes to network in these lending communities and earn their trust and dollars. Without unquestionable trust in the legal system, entrepreneurial fundraising out of China will continue to be shrouded in a blanket of scrutiny and skepticism. It helps being a foreigner, but your business is still ‘governed’ by the same Chinese legal system.

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  14. I feel each of these blogs are basing things mostly on their own experiences. This makes it hard to decide which blog is more right than the other. I’m by no means capable of balancing this picture, but allow me to add one more point of view, or at least some comments:

    * If you’re young, single and dream of doing “something” in China, just come and give it a shot. It’s easy to “get by” here for a while and giving up after a couple of months is probably better than never having tried. I did this many years ago and remain in China still. All these blogs are well intended but they may not apply to you.

    * Teaching jobs and big consultancies are only two of the many ways you can make a living here. I’ve never done either. In fact I purposely stay away from anything that’s typical for a foreigner to do. My purpose coming here was to get a taste of China, not to hang out with other white guys. (Not criticizing people who do – it’s just not my thing). Your China can be very different if you choose it to be.

    * If you’re a bit more creative and not looking for a 9-to-5 job there’s a ton of opportunities out here. Chinese friends I made in my first week offered me a job shortly after. Since that moment I’ve had opportunities (regular jobs as well as business opportunities) presented to me regularly in various industries. I changed industries only once but if you’re looking to try different things the opportunities are certainly there.

    * You don’t need to start a multi-million dollar company in order to make a decent living. Availability of investors etc. only matters if you’re going to do something very big which probably applies to a minority of the readers. I started out at 4000RMB/month in the first year, got 20.000RMB/month the second and currently make considerably more than that but never experienced life here as uncomfortable on any of these levels.

    * China is a great place to scale your expenses. Even today with all the inflation you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner in restaurants for less than 15RMB/day. That’s in a big city without going hungry or settling on anything hard to swallow. At the same time you can spend 150-400RMB on a beer and a steak at a western style restaurant should I want to. There’s no shame in living on the lower end as long as you enjoy what you’re doing.

    * Visas. Frequent regulation changes trigger waves of scary rumors, but I’ve never actually met anyone who didn’t manage to renew or extend their visa. I’m sure some of the stories of people being kicked out or refused are true, but with over half a million foreigners here it would be surprising if there weren’t some horror stories. In my experience it’s much easier to get things arranged while in China (with the PSB) than outside (at embassy’s).

    * I’ve never found a need to really study Mandarin. What I know I’ve picked up on the street and is not very fluent. There may be jobs where speaking fluent Mandarin is essential but there are many where it isn’t. Speaking Mandarin is helpful but nothing to worry about when you just start out here. In the end a Chinese person will hire you for the same reasons a westerner does: because he likes you and believes you can do the job. Everything else is just formalities which typically matter only at larger companies.

    * Finally, I think the most important thing is to be open minded. I’ve seen people get frustrated fast and leave China depressed. You can get things done here in 24 hours which take 6 months elsewhere but accept that the opposite happens as well. You’re coming here because things are different, expect just that.

    • Well Jeff, you sure managed to portray yourself as a very smart professional.
      However, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re also linked up with some Chinese corporation, at least long enough to want to “sell / promote” the idea of come to work in China. So, you could help them hook up more young Americans and cheap labor – esp. over qualified teachers to go there to work.
      Unfortunately, the ultimate benefit goes to China!!

  15. Got to wipe this smurk off my face. As a laowai with over 10 years of experience in China, who has never taught a day of English. Can’t believe there are laowai out there proud to make 15k a month teaching, that’s less than my apartment, or even what i can reimburse each month to reduce taxes. Have some pride, find something other than teaching even if the pay sucks to start. Plenty of my local staff were making 25k per month plus rmb 8 years ago. Get out there, get some real experience, who knows you may be able to join the USD 200 k club someday instead of wasting your time here.

  16. Surprised no-one has mentioned it in these comments yet, but the minimum wage in California is around $10, or almost 24k per year. Whatever the merits of the rest of the debate, the money angle is just stupid. It isn’t as if the cost of living in urban China is THAT much lower than California.

    • Well, I think Jeff’s pt. #4 touched on that issue. The Purchasing Power Parity of China is way lower compared to the US. As a laowai, if one is hoping to get rich by US standards then the US holds more promise than China. But if one just wants to build a successful career whilst living affordably I do think China has something to offer (see my earlier comments). Though this gets much harder/complex if you start a family (concerns over safety and quality education).

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  18. Hi Folks!

    These posts are incredible, so thanks in advance. I am a black woman headed to Shanghai to work for Disney English in Feb, but I also have interest in hitting the crest of the Amway boom there…from all reports statewide and through some colleagues on the ground there in Shanghai, a person can make a mint…

    Are there any comments about Amway’s presence there? I know it has had to shrug off the super Christian slant it has a few years ago…


  19. Glad to see this blog. China is not what you may dream it to be. If you are Chinese American like me, just trying to see where your family came from. China is definitely a harsh reality. I went to the Guangdong Province. And to be honest I became frustrated and worried over health and saftey. Poverty is alive and progressing in China. I used to work in a homeless shelter in the states. Poverty in America is not comparable to China. It is more obvious in China. And as a person who is sensitive to social inequality…China will break your heart.

    Go to China for a new experience, to open your mind, and to learn something about China. But, not a place to live, I am proud of my own country. I have the freedom to express myself and not worry about dishonesty and corner cuttings. There are standards in the states that are missing in China. Though I am not religious, the displacement of god sure can reflect itself in the society. I a, grateful to return home, and if i ever return, it would be as a visitor for very short time.

  20. I have just read this, and it couldn’t be more accurate. I dont teach english, luckily I have contract work that can support me. But my desire to live here has changed a lot. If you are creative you either take a pay cut with a foreign co, take a pay dive with a local co, or start up your own business. At this point in my career, NYC is looking like all the foreign land I need anymore.

  21. I’ve been in China for 8 years and am American Chinese.

    Interesting to read through the posts, and as someone else pointed out earlier, you can’t roll the China-experience into a one-size-fits all and recommend it or tell others to stay away from it based on your personal experience.

    You need to know what you want out of China, what type of background you currently have, and what type of background you need to DO/GET what you want out of your China experience.

    When it comes to job opportunities, there are really just 3 categories:

    Local hire – you are a local Chinese and you are hired locally by either a Western or domestic company for your skillset or service. Pay is usually not very attractive. If you are fresh from the US or any Western country, and do not have any China experience, or China language ability, you should expect to land in this category. Life will be tough, standard of living will be low.

    Half-pat – you are speak some Chinese to do business, somewhat have a skillset already developed in a certain function, or you have extremely strong Chinese skills coupled with English skills but do not have any proper training or skillset. You will be able to land a job at again Western or domestic company with a “boosted local pay”. You can live comfortably, social, so on, but it will depend on your dedication to the market, country and language to continue your career path.

    Expat – you may or may not speak Chinese, but nonetheless have performed well in your company elsewhere and have been given the opportunity to lead a company or department in China to grow the business. You have full benefits, package, housing, Western compensation.

    Unless you are capable of living a life of no regrets, I would not suggest that you simply come to China and go with the flow to see what sticks. Your path and career will depend on how you mold you yourself through the choices and experiences you make. Especially in network connected China, and if you have no language or skillset to offer.

    I have seen too many people come and go. If it is your dream to be a teacher, the China market is your wet-dream.

    If you choose China, you need to dedicate a part of your life and career to be on the Asia track. Being here while thinking about what you miss about the US is just failure on the part of those who have been misled about the opportunities for those who come to China blindly, by only reading about China on CNN, BBC, or other news outlets and by not talking or networking with those with actual work experience in the country.

    And as also noted by someone else above, it will only get harder and harder to get a job in China as locals gain the necessary skillset, language abilities, certificates to make expats obsolete. Much of the business frontier to be conquered now in China no longer exists in the 1st tier cities of Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, but in the 2nd and 3rd tier cities where people do not speak a lick of English, families survive on less than USD $300 a month. Its a very different world than the skyscrapers, bullet trains, world’s tallest this, world’s largest this that the news outlets report about.

  22. I’m weighing up going to China to study a Masters in Engineering, taught in English, at Tsinghua Uni. I’d plan on learning chinese on the side. My reasons for going would be to learn about chinese language and culture mostly, but at the same time to get a master’s as it will (without going into too much detail) hopefully allow me to change my field of work after working a couple of years in one that doesn’t overly excite me.

    My concerns are much like those in the post above – won’t find a job in China, and the experience won’t count for much if and when i return home, i’ll just be a few years older and without work experience during that time.

    I guess i’m seeking advice/opinions so if anyone feels like commenting it would be much appreciated!

      • I finished uni 2 years ago and am just about to finish a graduate program at a telco where i am a network engineer. Thats my only real work experience. The masters is in mechanical engineering, i studied mechatronic eng at uni and would like to get into the robotics/automation/manufacturing industry.

        How well respected are degrees from Chines universities? The other risk is do people who go usually get very proficient in chinese or do they end up hanging around english speakers and speaking english?

  23. My primary thought is that you are still young enough to “have a go” and get A LOT from the experience. If I were you then I would go in anticipation of learning a lot (both good and bad) about the world and about yourself. That would stand you in good stead for the rest of your career/life. I wouldn’t go with the expectation that you’ll become terrific in Chinese language or that those Chinese insights/skills will become an integral part of your future career. They might but it’s far from certain. It’s the maturing process that will help you in your career.
    Others with more knowledge can comment on the Chinese unis. My observation is that, as in the West, not all uni degrees are equal. Where I’ve seen Chinese graduates thrive in the West, it has involved them doing post grad/doc work at a respected Western uni. Though obviously they must have demonstrated their intellectual chops by getting into the Western program. Certainly Chinese unis are not yet in the higher rankings of global unis.
    As for the “who will I end up hanging out with: Chinese or Westerners?” question, I think this is very much down to the individual and how hard they work at fitting in. Either outcome is achievable with more or less effort, respectively.

    • I am going to say what no one else will. A degree from a Chinese university is not respected in the west, and likely won’t qualify you for a position. It makes you look weird. Your home market will treat this is a kangaroo degree. There will likely come a day when you remove if from your CV.

      You’re trying to do two things at once. If you want to improve your career, go to school in your own country. Only go outside if it is an upgrade (China is not). If you want to go to China, there are other options. But do not combine.

  24. Each of these comments have been so wonderful to read and reflect upon; I find agreement with points from them all. I just wonder if there is anyone else with my experience – I’ve raised my family, am single again, and I am over 50. I’ve enjoyed a very pleasing lifestyle living in both major and non-major cities in China. I’ve taught in “training schools” and wouldn’t choose those again; but have found such joy teaching in universities. I found the so-called “spoiled brats” to be as refreshing as their counterparts. I am a TEACHER. I belong in the classroom and I wouldn’t be happy doing anything other than teaching, whether in China or in my homeland of America.

    I came for a purpose. I came for personal reasons. I am paid well enough to live as the locals; my living quarters are paid for and I have constant interruptions from the “locals” every day – which brings me tremendous joy!

    I have a cultural understanding of the Chinese peoples and I do not have expectations to “convert” them to the ways of the west. They have much to show me – to teach me – and I learn from these peoples every time I choose to open my eyes to an opportunity.

    Yes, I have a higher education degree and could be fine in my homeland; but my joy has come in the faces of those Chinese students and in the faces of those I meet along the streets in a rural village and along the trails of the mountains. It’s an “experience” that I have chosen to allow in my life at this season of my life and I have no regrets. When it is time for me to pack my bags and return to America, I’m sure I will “know it” and I will gladly do so. But for now, I find so much wonder in living and teaching in China.

    Maybe this sentiment comes from my own childhood when I spent my days camping under the stars and fishing early every morning. I’ve never cared about owning things and have most often only had enough to fill a suitcase. My expectations (or my demands) for life are simple: water for washing and a light-bulb for reading. Now I include “a student to teach”.

    So, maybe there is someone reading this who also enjoys the simplicity of life and just hopes to be a useful member in teaching others something – as long as it’s done with a smile and with a heart for interruptions!

    Whether we speak of China or some other country, it’s what brings us joy that will be the measure of our experience.

  25. Leaving 5 years here , my life span reduced 10 years I guess due to pollution and stress.
    As soon as I have chance, I wlil leave here. not happy about anything at all. one of the places humanity is lost( fall on the street nobody gives a hand..)

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