Visit any internet forum about working in China and you’re guaranteed to find complaints about Chinese employers.
But do they really suck? In short, yes.
And here’s why.
1. There are so many people
There are more than 1.4 billion people in China.
Because of this, there’s a revolving door of employees in many Chinese companies. It’s usually very easy to find staff.
Chinese employers suck because they tend not to care about treating their workers well. Many of them do little more for their employees than to pay their wages.
2. There’s a culture of obedience
In China and many other Asian countries, there’s a strong culture of obedience and filial piety. Bosses, parents and leaders don’t expect to have to persuade – they expect blind obedience.
If you work in China, don’t expect your employer to consult you about anything. Instructions are usually handed down in the form of orders.
This can be hard to stomach for many Westerners who are used to working autonomously.
3. Money is super important
Many Chinese people have been through hardships.
In the past, some people haven’t even had enough to eat. Most Chinese people will therefore do anything to earn money.
A Chinese employer may therefore think that they can treat foreigners in the same way. They may not feel the need to motivate you intrinsically.
4. The customer is God
In the education sector, where I work, the students are very powerful. Schools hang on their every word.
This creates a conflict of interest because a teacher who disciplines students may get bad reviews that would result in their contracts not being renewed.
In such an environment, it would be nearly impossible to deliver the ‘hidden curriculum’, i.e. to instil the qualities of discipline, hard work and good behavior in students.
At the worst school that I had ever taught at in China, the attendance was terrible. The best I could hope for was for 75% of the students to turn up on any given day. In the worst class, the attendance was less than 30%.
When I brought my concerns to the attention of the school authorities, all they said was “If you want more students to show up, you need to make your lessons more interesting”.
5. They openly discriminate
In the TEFL industry, foreign teachers are sometimes hired based on their looks rather than their skills. Schools can discriminate based on gender, race and age when hiring.
If you’re a young and attractive Caucasian person, you’ll have no worries on this score.
But if you’re over 50 or Asian or black, and trying to get a job as an English teacher, you’ll find that this is yet another way that Chinese employers suck.
6. They exploit staff
Workers have almost no rights in China. Employers can break contracts at will, and order you to work in the evenings, weekends and even on public holidays.
They do this because they practically own you. Once you sign an employment contract in China, no other employer will be allowed to hire you unless your current employer agrees to issue a release letter.
One of my previous employers had a policy of not issuing recommendation letters when a foreign employee leaves.
This created significant problems because a recommendation letter is one of the compulsory documents that must be supplied before a leaving employee can take up a new job elsewhere in the country.
Many employees had to resort to asking their colleagues to write informal references for them in order to take up their new posts.
Basically, Chinese employers realize that a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language well and doesn’t know anything about the legal system or even how to hire a lawyer, is unlikely to sue.
7. They work in secret
Due to China’s face culture, Chinese people are generally not allowed to openly say anything that could potentially be seen as a criticism.
If you ask a student for feedback, they will rarely say anything. But if your students don’t like your class, they’ll tell the school behind your back.
Many Chinese employers suck because they’re unlikely to give you any sort of feedback on your performance.
You’ll be mostly working ‘blind’. You’ll have no idea if your Chinese boss is happy with your work until it’s too late. Some employers only give feedback when they have to explain why your contract won’t be renewed.
8. There’s a lack of training
In the UK (where I’m from), every company that I’ve worked for has provided training. I was given an induction, and trained on health and safety procedures, customer care etc.
In China, employers tend not to provide anything.
As a teacher, not once has any school ever explained to me the teaching pedagogy that the students are familiar with, the students’ ability level, or other important information relevant to teaching in China.
The health and safety arrangements weren’t explained to me at all. I really hope that I never have a heart attack in the middle of the night because there’d be nobody whom I could call at that hour.
I was just given my timetable (and textbook if there was one) and left to figure everything out for myself.
9. They can micromanage
Chinese organizations are extremely bureaucratic.
In the education sector, they might try to dictate syllabus content, exam formats, and even essay lengths.
It can be extremely frustrating for teachers to be ordered to teach a syllabus or administer an exam that they know their students aren’t going to be able to cope with.
10. They keep you in the dark
When you ask your Chinese boss a question, the reply is often “I don’t know.”
This makes it difficult to make plans, for instance you’d need to know in advance when the summer break starts if you wanted to book a flight back home.
The Chinese teachers and students all seem to know right from the start of the semester exactly when their final exams will take place and when the semester ends but foreign teachers are usually not notified until a couple of weeks beforehand.
There might be two reasons for this: Firstly, Chinese people feel powerful if they know something that others don’t.
Secondly, plans tend to change frequently in China. Employers and managers are reluctant to disclose information because they believe that foreigners will complain if they are told something which subsequently changes.
Yet another way that Chinese employers suck!
11. Housing quality can vary
Chinese employers might offer you a fully furnished apartment as part of your contract. However, what you actually get can vary enormously.
A school that I once taught at only gave me a bedroom with an en suite kitchen and bathroom. At another school, I was made to share an apartment with another foreigner.
In the worst school that I had ever taught at in China, I was given a filthy apartment and the stove didn’t work.
Worst of all, the water taps were electrified. I couldn’t touch a tap without getting an electric shock!
If housing is included as part of your contract in China, make sure you see it (photos are fine) before you sign on the dotted line.
12. They have unreasonable expectations
With regard to the education sector, most native English speakers who are interested in working in China do a TEFL course. When they’re hired by a Chinese school, they come to China expecting to teach English to a certain cohort.
In reality, a foreign teacher in China can be asked to teach any subject to any age group.
During my eight years in China, I’ve been asked to teach numerous courses I’m not qualified to teach – even management.
Are Chinese employers good for anything then?
Although it’s obvious that Chinese employers suck in a number of ways, it wouldn’t be fair to say that there’s absolutely nothing good about them.
Many foreigners find a job in China and love the different environment and work culture.
Chinese bosses tend to be quite generous in treating their foreign staff to lavish meals and sometimes take them out on excursions.
Some Chinese employers even provide their foreign employees with rent-free accommodation.
It’s therefore of the utmost importance that you do your research before accepting any job offer in China.
Ask pertinent questions so you don’t end up with an employer who sucks.
I hope you liked my article. I’ve also written one called 28 ways you can get screwed by your school in China, which is specific to the teaching industry.
As always, please comment below if you have something to say.
Main image credit: Fizkes on Shutterstock.