China English Teaching Horror Stories

China English Teaching Horror Stories
Jun 28, 2017 By Jessica A. Larson-Wang ,

Teaching English in China can be a risky venture, especially for inexperienced teachers who might fall victim to the more unscrupulous schools and administrators out there. Here we take a look at several horror stories which should illustrate what can happen when innocent English teachers fall into the wrong hands. And what you can do to keep yourself from becoming another victim.

Horror Story #1: “Illegal Immigrants”
Two teachers signed contracts with an agency working with a primary school in Northeast China, part of the contract stipulating that the teachers were to come to China on tourist visas and that the school would arrange proper work visas and residence permits within a week of the teachers’ arrival. However, after the teachers arrived, one week turned into two, two weeks turned into a month, and soon the teachers found their L visas about to expire and still no proper paperwork was in sight. At this point the agency told the teachers they could get them business visas through a connection – for a price of 4000RMB each, which the teachers would have to pay themselves. It turned out that neither the agency nor the primary school in question was authorized to hire foreign teachers and had lured the teachers to China under false pretences. The teachers eventually left this school, but not without harassment and threats from the agency.

The Moral: The only way to be sure you’re going to get the correct visa is to leave your home country with a Z visa already in your passport. Legit schools are perfectly capable of applying for a Z visa before you leave, and if they tell you otherwise, be very wary.

Horror Story #2: “When Is Payday Again?”
A young British teacher and all of his co-workers at a private language training center in Beijing were forced to storm the headquarters of the school in protest after the school failed to pay the teachers at least three months in a row. The teachers were afraid to quit their part time jobs at the school, fearing that if they quit, the school would simply never pay them. Yet even though they continued to show up and do their work, month after month their bank accounts remained empty. Finally, after the teachers united together and showed up in force to demand their payment, they were paid partially. In a similar story, the owners of one Beijing private language school packed up in the night and emptied out the office. When teachers – Chinese and foreign – showed up for work the next day, the school was closed and the boss’ cell phone was turned off. The owners had fled, taking tuition money from the students and leaving its teachers unpaid.

The Moral: The majority of these sorts of stories happen to teachers working under the table at unlicensed schools. If your school is unlicensed, work at your own risk!


Horror Story #3: “The Wrong Side of the Tracks”
One university in Hainan was recently relocated to a “village” (actually an abandoned wood mill) outside of Sanya, a locale so sketchy that even taxi drivers refuse the fare, claiming the area is just too dangerous. Foreign teachers walking to and from campus have been attacked in broad daylight, to the extent that they required hospitalization, and a female student was raped and committed suicide as a result. Despite the dangerous environment, the school has no guards posted at the entrance, nor is there any safe transportation provided between the school and Sanya city. Since the area is remote and there are no shops or supermarkets nearby, students and teachers must frequently leave campus and wait for public buses which only run every 30 minutes or so.

The Moral: Check out the location of the school thoroughly before you agree to anything. Find out if the campus is in the main city center or if it is located outside the city in the boonies. If it is in the boonies, find out if the school provides regular transportation to the city center from the university.

Horry Story #4: “Exploitative Practices”
One Filipino foreign teacher was contracted to teach 20 hours a week but found himself teaching 35 with no overtime pay. He made a call to the agent who had arranged the job for him and she promised to talk to the school on his behalf, but nothing came of it. With the school having sponsored his visa and his family in desperate need of the income the job would bring, he did not want to lose the job. Even worse, the school had taken possession of his passport so that even if he had wanted to quit, it wasn’t an option, he was effectively a hostage of the school. Another teacher found that while she wasn’t scheduled to work any more than her required 16 hours, she was constantly being scheduled for English corners, judging English contests, recording work and promotional appearances. Her resentment built up to the point that she was ready to quit, but the school threatened to withhold her pay if she did not complete the contract and invoked the breach of contract penalty to scare her into staying.

The Moral: Never give your passport to the school to keep for you. It is your property and the school is not entitled to it. If your school has taken your passport in order to process your visa or residence permit they should have it for no longer than a few weeks, a month at most. If your passport has been out of your possession for more than a month threaten to contact your embassy. While the embassy is not always effective in cases like these, usually invoking the embassy is enough to scare most schools into returning your documents.

Horror Story #5: “Extortion”
A young American woman was just finishing her contract at a university in Kunming when her foreign affairs officer told her that they had mistakenly overpaid her for the last month and asked that she give half of her salary to him. Her passport was in the FAO’s possession as he’d been changing her work visa to a tourist visa in preparation for her to leave the country. The FAO said that if she did not give him the money he would not return her passport. In a panic, the teacher began to make a scene in the office, attracting the attention of the dean of the foreign language school, who told the FAO in no uncertain terms that the teacher’s passport should be returned right away and that she was not required to pay any more money to the school. The teacher later found out that this particular FAO was known for these sorts of shenanigans and many years later he was fired from his job and prosecuted on a corruption charge. Other teachers have been hit at the end of their contract with outrageous phone bills for calls they supposedly made or charges for utilities that they never used. 

The Moral: Do not agree to pay any extra charges or fees without a written agreement and a receipt. If the school claims you owe them money or try to dock your paycheck at the end of a contract, refuse to pay unless they are willing to write you an official receipt. For utilities, demand to see a record of the bill in question and do not pay anything unless a record can be provided.

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Keywords: china English teaching nightmares China English teaching horror stories what to look out for china English teaching china esl horror stories china english teaching disasters


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After living in China for five years, I have heard similar horror stories from other teachers. Thankfully, nothing has happened to me. Let me offer this observation about those who have told me their horror stories. The majority of them either brought it upon themselves for not educating themselves enough and doing the research about the process and requirements, or they were the typical egomaniacs who thought their crap did not stink, while Chinese are all idiots. Are there bad situations here in China? Of course. But, you will find this to be true in any country. Some people are looking to get rich off the backs of others. The odds of a person falling victim to this kind of corruption is very low compared to the number of teachers that work in this country every year. As I mentioned, more times than not, it is the foreign teacher who is to blame for not doing their due diligence in research, or they are just a douche bag to begin with. In most cases, we only hear one side of the story. We usually hear from the complaining foreigner and never get the story from the school's side.

Jun 28, 2017 21:24 Report Abuse



Who said we weren't happy man? Not all teachers are like this. Go screw yourself and your assumptions.

Jun 29, 2017 18:09 Report Abuse



"The odds of a person falling victim to this kind of corruption is very low compared to the number of teachers that work in this country every year. As I mentioned, more times than not, it is the foreign teacher who is to blame for not doing their due diligence in research, or they are just a douche bag to begin with. In most cases, we only hear one side of the story. We usually hear from the complaining foreigner and never get the story from the school's side" Very very true. It's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. There ARE a large number of good teachers here who do come in and plan to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. There are also a very large number of illegals who come here solely to pick up a paycheck and party. Education takes a very distant back seat to their concerns...or is left out all together. To be sure, many schools contribute to this general malaise, but that's not an excuse for not trying to do your job properly.

Jul 05, 2017 11:47 Report Abuse



Don't forget about the biggest and worst story of all: Hangzhou DD Dragon school refuses to pay transport fee for dead American teacher's body. 64,000 RMB is so easy to come up with.

Jun 28, 2017 19:17 Report Abuse



Hi all, My 18 year old son has been contracted by a "recruiter" offering him a teaching job in China.He will pay for my son's flight there, and my son will be given a English teaching job at Bond School with accomodation. My son does not have a teaching degree or any teaching experience. Is this a scam, and what are the dangers?

Jul 14, 2016 19:49 Report Abuse



It would have been good if someone warned you guys before you came. Well today there are many sources. for the niubis coming to china

Feb 23, 2016 21:51 Report Abuse



Okay. I have taught TEFL and TESL since 1998. I earned teaching credentials in the US (long since expired), in addition to a CELTA. I have taught in Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia, and China. Far and away, the worst teaching experience has been in China. Whether it is requests for additional teaching hours, late payments, shifty contracts, abusive and inept management, or a variety of other issues: there is always a headache. While it is problematic for teachers, the ones who truly suffer are the students. Students are routinely overpaying for a slip-shod education. No matter if the blame rests completely on the schools, or on the shoulders of the teachers, the results are the same. When one attempts to make improvements, schools are resistant, even if students are supportive. When a teacher arrives in China, he may be a happy, dedicated and able instructor, but within a few short months, one of these characteristics will disappear. After a year, teachers are lucky to keep one -- and by the end of two years, all three will have vanished. What remains is usually a bitter, lazy, and lackluster teacher: One who is more interested in updating his WeChat's Moments, than being productive at work.

Jul 13, 2015 15:52 Report Abuse



Any disrespect of Contract should be reported to SAFEA (Foreign Expert Bureau) in the city/Province your school is located. Address and contact numbers are available through SAFEA's web link posted on Answers site. Enter 'SAFEA' in the search to get the web link for SAFEA's offices around China. I contact SAFEA at every Contract disrespect (fairly often), and I always got advice and help, either with Release letter and FEC Cancelation Certificate or with last salary. If you'll call Gov. (SAFEA) the best is to be polite and ask for advice and help.

May 21, 2015 19:00 Report Abuse



I just read all the comments, though took me a while ;) It's is very helpful of you guys sharing your comments and ideas, it really something to be aware of before applying to any job out here in China. I know most of these agents would do anything to get their dirty hands on your pay or whatsoever. I am glad that expats out there are sharing such comments. Keep it up guys !!!!

Dec 10, 2014 23:30 Report Abuse



this is a scary article, true though, I have heard many stories like this. there are good schools in China, but also a lot of recruiters, prepared to make dodgy offers. I have had several very dubious offers of work recently. some comments seem to suggest that there are problems, but the same problems encountered in any job abroad. this is untrue, I have worked abroad many times, many in the EU. there are some problems , but EU law is applied and native laws, this tens to protect most workers who are under contract and leads to closure and prosecution of fraudulent schools or recruiters.

Oct 28, 2014 20:51 Report Abuse


deb t

My step-son has just informed me he is moving to China to live with and marry his girl friend. She says he can teach English in the local university. He has 2 years college and no experience. He wants to marry her - have a baby there so her Mom can help and than move back to US. I'm afraid he'll disappear and I'll never see him again. Comments? Would he have trouble getting the baby out of China?

Dec 05, 2012 09:23 Report Abuse



I'd just like to say that if you've had experiences such as this one in China then you clearly deserve it. The thing I love about China is it's filled with so many terrible things like this that when all the sheltered children looking for easy money and sex come here they get taken. I've lived here for years and I haven't had any of these experiences, I have a work Visa, make a large salary and work with great people.

All it took was a little reading beforehand on my part. Too bad most of you fake English teachers can barely read let alone spell.

Nov 07, 2012 09:40 Report Abuse



Well after reading all of that, Ive DEFINITELY got my eyes wide open! I appreciate hearing your stories and even better getting advice on what to do if it all goes BAD!!!! And i agree that is does seem like a wonderful fairy tale job on holiday, reality is a Bu*()*()!!!! THE ONE THING I DO LOVE is working with the children, the majority of them are great!!!
so far for me I am getting what I have been promised, but from what I can tell they have some Illegal things going on, and had me come in on the L visa which we know is a "NONO:"
my biggest complaint so far is getting NO lunch break??? working straight thru the day without a break, Hmmmmm, that sounds a bit strange!! definitely was not in the contract!

Sep 01, 2012 07:32 Report Abuse



In my case, I first fell the victim of a classic bate and switch. And when I say classic I mean one where they switched everything, from location to pay to every single thing agreed on contract. And the second time I was deceived with the number of hours I would be working. It went from over 16 hours a week before arrival to only working weekends upon arrival, and after extensive negotiation on my part, since upon arrival they actually wanted to put me on a unpaid probationary period of 3 months!!!! And, I am not kidding either! And mind it may be China but the bosses this time actually were Americans. A month into putting up with it I realised that teaching English in China had simply been the worst idea I had ever have. Nothing can protect you, and it doesn't matter how many contracts you sign, you are still completely and utterly exposed and at the mercy of the worst scams! I am now in Hong Kong where I did manage to get myself a serious job working for serious people!!!

Mar 31, 2012 19:22 Report Abuse



Don't study GAC at Xian Jiaotong University. They hire unprofessional foreigners without teaching degrees, their Chinese teachers of English are young and inexperienced, and they charge substantial fees for the subjects that students don't need to study.

Nov 28, 2011 09:33 Report Abuse



Wow! I'm really surprised this sort of stuff is still happening so regularly.

Not because there aren't those shady Chinese who want to right-royally F-you over... but because ppl wanting to come here DON'T DO THEIR HOMEWORK!

Months before I came here, I was on the international ESL forums asking questions, getting advice, doing searches on the internet. When I did decide on my job, I googled it - found the place was 'legit' (not great, but at least legal, and with a long history). I had DIRECT contact with 2 teachers who were there (and, btw, one was very very honest - including about the crap he had been involved in) - and was written in such a way as to be obviously from native speakers (ie, no local trying to dupe you).

For those who have read these stories, and STILL haven't taken the advice given, then I have one last piece of advice (and, take it anyway, regardless of how good things seem to be) - when you get here, find a kung fu teacher, and start practicing - out in the open for everyone to see! Practice with weapons. Make sure they all know! It's a subtle, but effective, form of intimidation! If they know you've got the skill, and the willingness, to end a confrontation (verbal or otherwise) physically, they'll be more likely to acquiesce. Also, just per chance, if that's not enough, you know you'll have some very handy friends - if needed!

Sep 30, 2011 21:48 Report Abuse



"when you get here, find a kung fu teacher, and start practicing - out in the open for everyone to see! Practice with weapons. Make sure they all know! It's a subtle, but effective, form of intimidation! If they know you've got the skill, and the willingness, to end a confrontation (verbal or otherwise) physically, they'll be more likely to acquiesce. Also, just per chance, if that's not enough, you know you'll have some very handy friends - if needed!" Very very dumb advice. Who do you think you are? Bruce Lee? If there are any problems and you start any intimidation, they will simply call the cops and have your butt deported out of China. As for your "handy friends" are they going to stand up for you against the cops? Never get involved in a brawl in a foreign country. Worse yet it is foolish to practise martial arts with the goal of picking a quarrel with your employer. That just reinforces a 'me against them' mentality, making it more likely for misunderstandings to occur, than if you had kept an open mind. Yes I DO realize this was written a few years ago...but I just want to warn anybody else who is new to China and might be reading this for the first time.

Jul 05, 2017 11:38 Report Abuse



I think people get swept up in the feeling that coming to live in China is like a holiday or because they are foreign certain things wont happen to them and they then tend to let their guard down.

I got extremely lucky with my company, they had someone meet me at the airport, i got placed in a lovely school and have had loads of support and always been paid on time. I know this doesn't happen to everyone, but when i was first looking for work there were definitely some dodgy people out there contacting me and my spidey sense told me to avoid them.

I also think people tend to forget that if you're working illegally on a L or F visa and your school/company is screwing you can just walk away. Sure that doesn't work in every circumstance such as if you are waiting to get paid, but the contract is worthless if you're here illegally. In a city like Shanghai you can just walk away and easily get another job.

Jun 09, 2011 19:54 Report Abuse



wow you sound really lucky! how did u find that job? i am hoping to go this semester but i'm not sure how to determine the good from the bad job offers! thanks!

Jul 06, 2011 18:16 Report Abuse



I am one of those people who thinks I am on a holiday in China. But I have money and some other reasons. But what you say is true about working illegally. The contract is worthless. People forget that. I have been fortunate that I have run into a situation once. It was already the end of the school year, but the PSB told me I couldn't teach because the school didn't have the proper documents to hire me. I'm sure they were in on it because they let me teach the whole year and treated me like a king.

Jun 29, 2017 01:00 Report Abuse



My daughter is returned after one week of hell in Zunyi. Contract looked good here the states, flat with all utilities, furnished, $ 1000 american per month. When she and her 2 friends got there, the VERY rich owner (Mr. Jo is what he calls himself) of this kindergarten decided he didn't like the contract. If they wanted their electric and water bills paid by the school, they were going to have to work 7 days per week.
There flat had a couch, a broken tv, broken refrigerator, cable that did not work, and one of the beds was just the box spring. No pillows or bedding, and they were told not to answer the door if anyone knocked. They would be picked up in the morning and dropped off in the afternoon, with no interpreterator to help them outside the school building. Luckily they had a Chinese native who lives here in the states so over to China and rip the guy a new one....not sure what the heck happened but on day 2 of the negotiations this lady stood up and said "we are leaving". She immediately took the 3 back to the apartment and drove to airport where they left for Beijing and a flight back to US. Waiting my daughter's arrival tomorrow to find out what the heck happened. These young people gave up a lot, including their US jobs, for what they thought was going to be a wonderful adventure. Turned into the trip from hell !

Jun 09, 2011 14:49 Report Abuse



If your working here legally and your taking crap, you can report problems to your local PSB (Public Security Bureau) and watch as nothing will happen. reporting problems with pay and living difficulties to your embassy will make you feel better, but wont help, most cases they will note it and do nothing as its "Chinese internal problem" and in some cases i know of, when the embassy does get involved it's time for the FT to move to another city, province, country, planet as the boss will have lost face and will hunt you down, seems extreme, it happens here.

Even if you join a big ESL player such as WEB, EF, WALL ST, you will face problems, my advice is cover all bases BEFORE you sign anything, what might seem a simple or even stupid question to ask, may save your time and stress and blood pressure in the long run, avoid recruiters, contact places directly, google the school or centers name, if your not worried about money then the safest option is Government schools and Universities.

I work for a huge corporation in China, i am not treated unfairly, they do nothing to make me feel unsafe or worried about anything, i am paid well and the benefits are excellent, but like with any employment there are personal issues, but they are personal, so before you try to remove your bosses head in any job in China, think about if its you or them thats the issue.

Jun 09, 2011 17:54 Report Abuse


Dav id Embury

I live just outside of Edmonton Alberta Canada. Recently the school that my son and daughter graduated from had a company come into the school and do a presentation to a group of 17 soon to be 18 year old students, mostly young girls. To go to china to teach English. I would say that had my daughter come home from school and told me she wanted to go to China for a year to teach English because of the presentation of this company the very next thing I would do is call my lawyer and start a law suit against the school board. This presentation was done without any parental involvment to a bunch of then minors. What was the school thinking bringing these people into the school to present a slick presentation to a bunch of students that had not even graduated yet.

May 01, 2011 00:41 Report Abuse



So what you're saying is you don't let your daughter make any of her own decisions or have any ambitions outside of being in Canada?
You selfish, over-protective prick.
If you don't like my comments you can file a lawsuit against me; it seems that's how you deal with problems that arise from bad parenting.

Jun 09, 2011 18:54 Report Abuse



His anger doesn't necessarily mean bad parenting - that whole situation sounds suspect. Trying to get 18 year old girls to go to China to teach English? How? They wouldn't be able to get work visas or even foreign expert certificates, having no university degree and/or teaching experience, not old enough, etc. The company's disregard for that little law alone justifies a parent being upset that this idea is getting sold to high school kids.

Would you want your kids to go overseas and work for a company that actively disregards that country's laws, especially in a place with a still-developing justice system? What do you do in case something goes wrong? My parents were excellent parents, and yet I'm pretty sure they would have a problem with a company trying to recruit me to China out of high school. University, sure, but not high school

Jun 09, 2011 20:33 Report Abuse