Jobhunting in China as a westernised Asian and why it’s a societal issue

”一等洋人二等官, 三等少民 四等汉”

“Whites first, officials second, minorities third, Han fourth” a saying used to describe the unfairness within modern Chinese society soon became reality for me.

I had my reasons to leave Australia and it was mostly to do with the bamboo ceiling.  I fathomed I could take a paycut if it meant competing on equal ground. The theory about the ceiling is all out there writing but in my last few part times jobs I’ve had, I could actually feel it as well, Asian colleagues who had not been promoted due to ‘lack of leadership’ reasons.

Since I was able to read, write and speak Chinese Mandarin fluent enough to even masquerade as a native, I thought I would also have an upper hand in competing for jobs against other foreigners. Sadly, I could not have been more wrong.

One such case when I applied for a copywriter position, which advertised a nice 25k per month salary (55k AUD per annum). They handed me an assessment and small interview. Everything went smoothly but for some reason they had yet to contact me so I took the initiative.


Found this quite odd, considering I told him I was a native speaker…

I proceeded to call ‘Leon’ and he explained to me that it was not his fault but the company wanted a Caucasian copywriter only in name, he had to show up at board meetings as well as a ‘foreign expert’. He told me that the company felt like it would give a good impression for investors as well.

Fair enough so I went on my way to apply for more jobs, as this was just my first setback. That’s when history began to repeat itself. One such time was when I showed up in Haidian, Beijing for a job interview, they were surprised that I was Asian. I mean, they should’ve seen my Chinese last name on my resume but anyway I just went along with it, explaining that I was born in Australia. They, however, said sorry that they filled up their foreigner quota for the company recently. Which is odd, since the next guy they interviewed was a White guy…I guess he could’ve been born and raised in China?

Eventually I stopped speaking Chinese in interviews altogether, I found it to be a handicap. The interviewers were very gracious and treated me very well when I only spoke English, but as soon as I switched to Chinese, the tone changed to something much more assertive. By only speaking English in interviews, I eventually was offered jobs. There you have it, the trick for me to finding a job in China, was to not speak Chinese during interviews.

Still, I was restless and unhappy about the status quo I wanted to find out why this was happening. I never wanted to teach English, but I knew that it was probably the biggest industry for foreigners in China so I went out to interview a recruiter.

I hit up one of the English recruiter agents for an interview. She worked as a recruiter for Renmin University’s affiliated highschool and knew the innerworkings of the industry.

“It really is like this in this industry, they only care about skin colour and nationality. Actually they only care about the skin colour. And…Russians even get a chance to teach English instead of the people from America but his parents are Asian. Within the current situation there both positives and negatives, as many people will look at them with certain expectations, feeling that White people really are privileged.”

I made friends with some local Chinese teaching English in China. The gulf was even larger for them. Yes, they could get hired but one person told me he was working up to 40+ hours a week with no leave, whilst his White colleague worked only around 10 hours. Respectively he earned around 8k RMB a month and his colleague earned 22k RMB a month. He said

“They used the foreigners’ face to get customers but use our labour to teach the children”.

He felt like it was not really the companies fault but more the parents. They associate the English language and quality with White skin so therefore all want White teachers.

To be honest, I felt bad after interviewing him, that he knew that he was being shafted but could not do much about it. If he had not told me he was born in China, I would have thought he was Asian American, his accent was impeccable. Alas, the deepseated societal issues of White worship still nestles deep within Chinese society.

Whites first.



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