5 Myths About Working in China

5 Myths About Working in China
Oct 29, 2020 By Lewis Schwinn , eChinacities.com

China is often a byword for mystery and deviousness in the West. This can make the prospect of working in China daunting for many would-be expats. While there is no doubt that China can be a hard place for foreigners, a lot of preconceptions about working here are skewed, if not flat out wrong. Here I bring you five myths about working in China. Let’s take a moment to weigh some of the different ideas floating around and separate fact from fiction.

5 Myths About Working in China
Photo: William Iven

1. Youll HAVE to learn Chinese

Anyone who’s been in China for longer than five minutes has met that 10-year veteran expat who sails through life effortlessly without speaking a word of Chinese. Many people question how these monolingual foreigners survive, but it’s actually surprisingly easy to work in China without speaking a word of Mandarin, especially if you live in a big cosmopolitan city.

First off, most foreigners are hired specifically for their ability to speak English. When you first start at a new company, there’s also almost always someone on the staff who already speaks some English. That person will probably be assigned to you specifically to help you navigate your first few months in China and acclimatize to the work environment.

Outside of work, subways and trains in China all have English translations, many restaurants have picture menus, and there’s almost always someone around somewhere who speaks a little English if you get stuck. In today’s world, any situation that might require you to understand Chinese — websites, apps, and even talking to locals — can be handled fairly well with with translation apps. Obviously your time in China will be easier and arguably more fulfilling if you at least learn few simple phrases, but ultimately, how much Chinese you want to learn is up to you.

2. Its Totally Fine to Work in China Long-Term on a Business Visa

A business visa is officially for foreigners from multinational companies or partner organizations to come to China for three months to work on a temporary basis doing training, reorganizations, and consultations. Getting a valid work visa (Z visa) for long-term employment (typically one year) requires an awful lot of time and hoop jumping, so some Chinese companies get creative when hiring foreigners. They may suggest you work on a business visa (M visa), which can be valid for years (depending on your country) as long as you only to stay in China for up to three months at a time. As a result, many foreigners work in China for years on business visas by leaving and re-entering the country every three months.  

While this is technically legal in a general sense, business visas are absolutely not supposed to be used by those engaged in long-term employment in China. While it may go unnoticed if you’re lucky, it’s inadvisable to use this workaround for several reasons. First, you can be denied entry at any step of the process for pretty much any reason, meaning you could nip to Hong Kong for a visa run and find yourself unable to reenter China, where your work, home, friends and family are. Secondly, different provinces define and punish visa abuse differently, meaning that while some authorities may turn a blind eye, others might investigate you intensively.

If you’re found to be abusing China’s visa system, you could find yourself detained and/or deported, which would in turn see you banned outright from several other countries and drastically complicate international travel for you in the future. Given the geo-political tensions between China and several foreign countries right now and tit-for-tat visa reprisals, having the right paperwork is more important than ever.

3. Your Chinese Co-Workers Will Treat You Like an Outsider

China’s historical and current rocky relationship with the West has given rise to the idea that you’re going to face unwelcoming coworkers in China at worst, and the distinct feeling of being an outsider at best. While you will definitely meet jerks and you’ll always be the token foreigner if you’re in an otherwise Chinese workplace, you’ll probably find that the vast majority of your coworkers are friendly and very curious about you. Those that speak English will want to talk to you in English, while those that don’t will give you the opportunity to practice Chinese, and will no doubt be very impressed (if not slightly amused) when you do.
The most important idea that will drive a comfortable working environment is the emphasis on teamwork and the all-important concept of guanxi. Chinese culture places huge importance on both formal and informal connections in the workplace. Creating and maintaining those relationships is a given in a Chinese company, meaning that people will generally be friendly and helpful in order to get and stay on your good side. In fact, most foreigners receive the bulk of their support, especially when they first arrive, from their Chinese coworkers on an informal basis rather than from any official program run by the company itself. Read this for more tips on making nice with your Chinese co-workers.

4. NEVER Disagree with Your Boss

How do most foreigners picture a Chinese workplace? Most of them think of workplace power structures in China as a pyramid, with a boss at the top and everyone else doing exactly what he or she says. These days, most people also know about the Asian concept of “face”, which dictates that you should never openly criticize someone else, especially if they’re your superior.

You may therefore assume that when working in China, initiative is discouraged, all decisions must be approved by someone else, and disagreeing with your boss will get you fired. So, do Chinese workplaces really operate under such pyramid-shaped hierarchies? Typically, yes, but the social and cultural rules are not nearly as strict as they might first appear.

The key thing to remember is that a supervisor of a department is generally held strictly accountable by their higher-ups for any and all failures. Everything you do reflects on them to a much higher degree than in the West, which makes many bosses risk averse. However, constructive criticism is often welcomed if you do it discretely and have solid logic for your misgivings, and a good idea is still a good idea. Most supervisors will be open to trying something new, incorporating suggestions, or allowing you some flexibility in executing a corporate policy so long as you can demonstrate why something will or won’t work, take the initiative and do most of the work yourself.

Many Chinese bosses follow a policy of 天高皇帝远 (tiān gāo huángdì yuǎn), which literally means “the Emperor is far away in heaven". Many workers, therefore, including your section boss, will simply “forget” to enforce policies from remote bosses or branches of the company that they or you find disagreeable. As a result, there’s surprising amount of informal flexibility in the Chinese workplace.

5. Workers in China Have No Rights

A quick Google about working in China as a foreigner will bring up all sorts of horror stories about expat workers being taken advantage of by their employers or downright scammed. While this does of course happens from time to time in a country of 1.4 billion people trying to make a buck, generally speaking, labour laws in China are pretty strict and employees are well protected.

While some of the rules, such as those surrounding overtime, are frequently bent by employers, you can in fact make a stand against any unlawful practices and your employer will have little choice but to give in. Once an employee has successfully cleared their probation period (which is a maximum of two months for contracts of 1-3 years), they’re actually very hard to fire without evidence of law breaking or serious professional misconduct.

The best advice to insulate yourself against abuse is to pay very close attention to the Chinese version of your contract (the only legally binding version) before you sign. However, remember that the contract does not supersede Chinese law. If your employer is breaking the law and you decide to take them to court, you’d very likely win. While most foreigners would not have the stomach or the patience to go down the legal route, any threat of such action is usually enough to ensure your legal rights are met. You may not be very popular and you almost certainly won’t get a hefty annual bonus if you don’t work unpaid overtime like the rest of your colleagues, but it’s really your decision.

China is a country of contradictions, idiosyncrasies and anomalies, but some of the things you’ve heard are probably not entirely true. Any more myths about working in China that you’ve since found to be exactly that? Tell us about them in the comments section before.

Hot New Jobs recommended for you
ESL Teacher
Beijing New Talent Academy (BJNTA)
  • 18,000 - 31,000 CNY /Month
  • Beijing
  • Full Time
English Teacher
Layton Academy
  • 15,000 - 30,000 CNY /Month
  • Shanghai
  • Full Time|Part Time
Social Science Teacher
Zhongshan Whampoa International Education
  • 25,000 - 30,000 CNY /Month
  • Guangzhou
  • Full Time
R&d Manager
Mad Science
  • 25,000 - 30,000 CNY /Month
  • Shanghai
  • Full Time
Pre-School Homeroom Teacher
Gemdale Education Co Ltd
  • 20,000 - 30,000 CNY /Month
  • Shenzhen
  • Full Time
Kindergarten English Homeroom Teacher
Chengdu Wharton Bilingual School
  • 15,000 - 20,000 CNY /Month
  • Chengdu
  • Full Time
Models for face collection project-Offline
Isoftstone Technology Service Company Limited
  • 300 - 400 CNY /Day
  • Beijing
  • Freelance
ESL teacher
Sino-Canada School
  • 25,000 - 35,000 CNY /Month
  • Suzhou
  • Full Time
Kindergarten homeroom teacher in Suzhou
Suzhou Wujiang Qiaorui Kindergarten Co. LTD
  • 20,000 - 30,000 CNY /Month
  • Suzhou
  • Full Time
Italian Teacher
Guangzhou Huayitong Education
  • ≥10,000 CNY /Month
  • Beijing
  • Full Time
View More Jobs

Warning:The use of any news and articles published on eChinacities.com without written permission from eChinacities.com constitutes copyright infringement, and legal action can be taken.

Keywords: Working in China


All comments are subject to moderation by eChinacities.com staff. Because we wish to encourage healthy and productive dialogue we ask that all comments remain polite, free of profanity or name calling, and relevant to the original post and subsequent discussion. Comments will not be deleted because of the viewpoints they express, only if the mode of expression itself is inappropriate.



Cool although i wish to come to CHINA but not at the moment but when i have the opportunity and come i will make sure to observe because china as been like a dreamland to me

Dec 11, 2020 06:58 Report Abuse



This link may be related : https://profile.echinacities.com/user/center/integral

Nov 22, 2020 06:52 Report Abuse



What will be our benefits as a membership

Nov 21, 2020 19:14 Report Abuse



plz help +923459869307 my whatsapp number

Nov 10, 2020 06:09 Report Abuse



Not having the right visa is risky, definitely not worth taking this risk.

Nov 02, 2020 08:26 Report Abuse



It is without surprise that most foreigners who have been offered a job to work in China , never set a foot in China. They only heard of it from mainstream media, which majority of these information are fake and created to tarnish China image for decades. People often build up thoughts based on the preconception.

Nov 01, 2020 07:39 Report Abuse



actually they generally talk to people who have lived and worked in China, and then make an assessment based on this.

Nov 21, 2020 19:42 Report Abuse



Always remember , Chinese labour law supercede contract.

Oct 31, 2020 15:13 Report Abuse



Be familiar with the contract before anyone sign it off. If you know your right and so on, it will be difficult for anyone to take advantage on you given that labour law is always there to protect your interest. Please also bear in mind on what you read from Google etc, there are a lot of misinformation and fake news and even baseless accusation spread by the western media.

Oct 30, 2020 10:45 Report Abuse



It is recommended that foreigner learn at least basic Mandarin for long term survival. Those on the top management in particularly Multi corporation may not expose to the situation that they have to speak Chinese frequently.

Oct 30, 2020 10:37 Report Abuse



are you paid by the post? Just asking

Nov 21, 2020 19:42 Report Abuse



Please enlighten if there is a rule limiting post. I am sorry if it brothers you. MYOB

Nov 22, 2020 06:43 Report Abuse



just curious - you have many 1/2 sentence posts - a trait/style that is common with many Asian people i know and have worked with. Also a lot of copy/paste links with no discussion, evaluation of what you post.

Nov 22, 2020 14:58 Report Abuse



I am sorry since it concern you so much whether or not you are the admin or contributor of the post is another story.

Nov 23, 2020 06:44 Report Abuse



The role of connection is not only important in China but also to the Asian culture.

Oct 30, 2020 10:28 Report Abuse



Always make sure that you are on the right visa in order to work legally for long employment. Those breaching the rules will be detained / deported.

Oct 30, 2020 10:26 Report Abuse