8 Survival Tips for Your First Job in China

8 Survival Tips for Your First Job in China
Oct 20, 2019 By Cian Dineen , eChinacities.com

So you've got a job in China. It's a brand new opportunity that’s no doubt pretty scary and pretty exciting. No matter how qualified you are or how hard you work, there are some important things you need to know. Here are eight survival tips for your first job in China.

China work life

1. Speak Chinese

Whether you’re completely new to the language or have been studying for years, always make an effort to speak a little Chinese at your first job in China. You may not be able to use it directly for your work, but even if you just use it for small talk, pleasantries, and a greeting here or there, your local colleagues will appreciate the effort.

Furthermore, try to avoid using your colleagues as some kind of crutch for your lack of Chinese. While they will no doubt be happy to help on occasion, they are not there to order your food, call you a DiDi, or speak to your landlord on a daily basis.

2. Eat and drink like a local

In most jobs in China, there will be plenty of opportunities to join your colleagues for lunch, dinner or even evening karaoke sessions. Chances are you’re going to be eating some local cuisine.

Again, like with the language, your colleagues will appreciate it if you at least try their dishes. This may be easier said than done, depending on if you’re eating relatively safe Cantonese dim sum or insanely spicy Sichuan hot pot, but try to be open-minded. Also, if the others are drinking, join in for a few gan beis of beer. I suggest that it’s best to politely refuse if the bai jiu appears on the table, however. You don't want to get too drunk and lose face!

3. Respect nap time

Perhaps surprisingly, one of the biggest cultural differences you’ll notice at your first job in China is that almost everyone takes a nap at lunch time. While you’re not obliged to sleep too, you should respect others’ right to do so.

If you‘re in the same room as those who are sleeping, avoid talking and making phone calls, and use headphones if listening to music or watching videos. Chinese people are known for working very long hours, so your colleagues probably need all the extra sleep they can get.

4. Join team building exercises

Chinese companies in general are pretty big on team building exercises. These can be anything from a sports day in the nearby gym, to visiting local landmarks, to full-blown holidays abroad (if you’re lucky).

Some activities are bound to sound more appealing than others but, regardless, try to join them all. Even if you want to do something else with your free time, non-attendance sends all sorts of wrong messages to your boss and colleagues.

5. Work overtime on occasion

The fact is that most jobs in China involve some sort of overtime. It might be coming in on a Saturday morning once a school term or regularly working evenings at a tech company.

As a foreigner, you can sometimes avoid the brunt of overtime, as it’s not unusual for Chinese bosses to feel uncomfortable extracting extra unpaid hours from foreigners in the same way they do with locals. However, it can be bad for team morale if you’re the only one going home on time every day. That's not to say you should work overtime all the time, but every now and then when work is busy or there’s a deadline to meet, staying a little later will be appreciated by your team.

6. Be humble

Being humble is pretty good advice for life in general, but especially in your first China job. While in the West, well-earned praise or compliments are usually accepted, in China, it's expected that praise be met with modesty, even if it’s false modesty.

If someone praises your work, look to credit those who helped you achieve it. Even if someone just compliments you in general, laugh it off as not true. Also, note that it's common in Chinese to refer to people as handsome or beautiful, so don't get too excited or concerned if these kind of comments come your way.

7. Be discreet

Again, good advice for life in general, but being discrete also serves a particular purpose in your first China job. The Chinese workplace tends to be a lot less frank than its Western counterpart. It's rare to criticize or contradict colleagues in front of peers and it's an absolute no-no to go against the manager or boss, especially in public.

When you start your first job in China, you might be able to identify some inefficiencies or pain points. Just make sure you deliver your feedback in the right way, or it may backfire.

8. Avoid playing foreigner card

What all these points are getting at is you should avoid playing the foreigner card in your new job. Colleagues may be willing to give you special treatment and you might be able to get away with more than a local in terms of skirting overtime, but going against the grain is not a sustainable way to go about your work life. Such an attitude will foster bad habits and may stunt your career growth in China.

So keep that foreigner card firmly up your sleeve. Who knows? There might come a time when you really have to play it.

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Keywords: China work life


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It is a good practice by humbling ourselves in everything in life.

Nov 16, 2020 19:27 Report Abuse



At this moment, the border remains not in fully operations, restrictions are not fully lifted. Non native speaker still struggling to get a PU letter to apply for visa.

Oct 02, 2020 11:08 Report Abuse



China is a great country with plenty of opportunity. Looking forward to work in China.

Sep 07, 2020 11:09 Report Abuse



Nice talking and soo interesting

Apr 12, 2020 00:29 Report Abuse



Avoid " Expert International Education" with jobs in Xiamen / Fuzhou .high schools and colleges. Innumerable problems my wife had with this company and I ended up having to spend a lot of time and money getting her out of there and back to UK. Avoid. China seems to be getting less and less hospitable. Sad

Dec 29, 2019 17:25 Report Abuse



Hi everybody . This is Sophie.China is a great country with great opportunities and development prospect. If you need any help with visa please contact me. My wechat no:13148154430 or email me: sophyshen_06813@hotmail.com. I'd love to help you with ur visa. I also can help u integrate into Chinese life.

Dec 10, 2019 20:11 Report Abuse



Just a note to the writer of the item 8. It seems like the writer has "an attitude" and bordering on a negative attitude toward the English teachers who just want to fit in. I think you must eliminate the "using the foreiginer card". Simply stated, don't hire someone who is not willing to work overtime. State this up front, so that it is understood, so everybody does not cop an negative attitude.

Nov 27, 2019 05:48 Report Abuse



The article is very good. It is an advantage for one to be equipped with the knowledge cultures and values in China. It helps people planning to work in China a lot.

Nov 11, 2019 22:57 Report Abuse



This is VERY similar to articles written over the last few months for ECC (by the same alias). I say 'alias' as this is not the name of a real person, so the question arises if this is just an alias used by a number of 'writers' who clearly don't read what has been submitted previously. can we see some originality and not just lists that are recycled?

Oct 22, 2019 12:09 Report Abuse



nice article

Oct 21, 2019 22:59 Report Abuse



Very informative article for foreigners who are going to do work/job in China.

Oct 21, 2019 04:39 Report Abuse