The ‘Chinese Dream’: Truth about job opportunities in China

The ‘Chinese Dream’: Truth about job opportunities in China

For a few years now, there is this perception that China is a land of opportunity where any foreigner can succeed. A new form of the old ‘American Dream’, just this time it’s the ‘Chinese Dream’.

I think this is not true anymore. Competition for foreigners has become fierce in China and this is due to a variety of reasons. A decade ago China’s education was backward, but now China’s education is improving; even though people still think of China having an inferior educational system compared to some Western countries, there is an evident improvement.

According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics not just did China’s literacy rate rise, but between 2002 and 2011 the tertiary education enrolment among the general eligible population has increased from 12.4% to 24.3%. For a population of 1.3 billion people this is a significant growth.

Adding to increasingly well-educated mainland Chinese, are the huge amount of Chinese students going abroad to do undergraduate or postgraduate studies. There are over 600.000 Chinese overseas students. Alone in Germany Chinese students with a number of account for the biggest group of foreign students.

The same goes for one of the most popular destinations to study abroad, the United States. The Open Door Report from the Institute of International Education states that in the academic year 2012/13, 235.597 students from China were studying in the US (which is an increase of 21.4% from the previous year).

Now imagine all those Chinese students return back home. Five or ten years ago, most Chinese overseas students would stay in the foreign country to find work, but lately the phenomenon of returning Chinese overseas students, so-called haigui 海归, has appeard.

Those haigui are not just familiar with the Chinese culture, but at the same time have learned the ways of another foreign culture. On top of this, they usually speak another foreign language fluently (may it be English, or even German). This makes them extremely competitive on the Chinese job market.

Article’s like Chinese return from overseas study hungry for work published in the China Daily, are screaming ‘competition’. Some foreigners should wake up, and realize that it is not as easy to find a job nowadays in China as it was maybe five or eight years ago.

In addition, I think that the only sectors foreigners might still have a chance in China are those connected to engineering and technical skills or teaching fields. As Michael Hurwitz in his recent article Top 6 Jobs in China has pointed out:

Jobs for high-level foreign management professionals are becoming more scarce, and there’s no doubt the need for English-speaking generalists is quickly receding.

This is because not just are Chinese overseas students returning, but also a growing number of Chinese scientists and engineers who have lived and worked abroad and now decided to return to China after encountering carrier barriers overseas. Those are very skilled and experienced people in their 40s and 50s going for managerial positions in China. How can we compete with them? Given the choice between a well-educated Chinese-speaking foreigner and an educated English-speaking Chinese applicant, companies will most likely favor the Chinese local.

I don’t think this is an unfair treatment. After all, every country would always prefer their own people before a foreigner. Adding to this, a Chinese employee is not just better suited to the environment and the customs, but he is also way cheaper. Employing a foreigner is not just expensive but also a lot of mafan (trouble).

Getting the proper working visa can be a tortuous process. Many Chinese companies don’t have what it takes to employ a foreigner or simple don’t want to go through the trouble. With the new visa regulations, foreigners working illegally, meaning on the wrong visa, can get into serious troubles.

But hope is not lost. And I don’t want to discourage anyone from coming to China to find a job. I just thought it is important that everyone does it with the right idea in mind, knowing that China has changed, and that it takes more now than a high school diploma to land a job here.

If you don’t want to teach English (or any other subject for that matter), the best bet is still to have more technical skills, like knowing how to engineer a semiconductor or design an airport. Unfortunately, I have none of those skills. East Asian studies does not really land you a great job in China. The time when you could simply get a job just by speaking Chinese is long gone. People like me have to find another way to stay in China… mostly we end up teaching.

But nothing is wrong with teaching, right?

What do you think about the job situation in China? Is competition really getting fierce or is China’s job market still open for everyone?

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Anna Z. is a freelance illustrator and portrait artist in her late 20s, with a passion for Martial Arts and Chinese culture, and is the creator of Lost Panda, a blog to China and Art. Together with her husband, a Chinese national, she writes about daily life in rural China, focusing on cultural and social differences and the joys (and sometimes difficulties) as an intercultural couple. Apart from China related topics, she publishes her artwork, photography, art material reviews and tutorials to help more people discover their creative side. She is fluent in German, English and Mandarin Chinese.

8 thoughts on “The ‘Chinese Dream’: Truth about job opportunities in China

  1. 10000 % the truth!! it is hard to find a job besides “English Teaching”… and i just went through the entire “mafan” of getting a working permit etc.. it is troublesome!

  2. Not to mention the rising cost of living in China. If I’m paying almost the same rent in Shenzhen that I would in middle-America, it takes away some incentive to be here.

    It’s still a great place to live and a lot of opportunities, but I totally agree about these trends on education and they will continue.

    The visa issues though especially, hen mafan!

    • So true about the rising costs. Especially if you have nearly the same living expenses as in your home country but you don’t get the same salary -.-

  3. Even in my home country it isn’t easy to find a job when you have a degree in Sinology. A professor told us once that if we are not able to find a job in Europe, we should go to China because there are a lot of opportunities there. Looks like his words were not (completely) true.
    Is it easy to find a teaching job in China? I thought they mostly want native speakers, and I’m definitely not a native speaker.

  4. Much the same was written in 2000, when I went job hunting in China. It was not easythen, must be impossible now.

  5. Very true, I know from some Germans living currently in China and working in the engineering sector. Their problem was for many years that the Chinese workers (even with very good education from China) were practically useless as soon as they had to do problem solving on their own and faced some new methods. These days they can easily pick Chinese who studied abroad as there are each year more and more of them.

    I will see if my career ever takes me to China, I would be actually interested even if it just some expat stuff, but my wife never wants to live in China again except I would get a very good oportunity =/

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