Jun 28, 2017 By Jessica A. Larson-Wang , eChinacities.com

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

52 Comments Add your comment



That was fantastic%21 You could write half a dozen of these with what turn out to be all-too-common horror stories of teaching here. i found myself relating to far too much of these anecdotes.

Aug 20, 2010 09:04 Report Abuse



its for real..
i am working here for just three months came across so many night mares like this.. this is not the question of naive.
even the experienced teachers get these same treatment..
for some reason they think all foreigners are rich. and thats the problem they want money from us.
and for some other reason they all think getting a visa in a western country is easy through the foreigners who come here
but some of them really seem to be good. exceptions.. but you will get harassed no matter how young or old no matter what race you are black. brown or white%2C no matter you look good or not.
have u ever heard of a teacher getting harassed by a student.. it happened .

Aug 20, 2010 15:19 Report Abuse



Horror stories%21
Yes some would beggar belief but they are true and often have a serious impact on the feelings and mutual trust between overseas people and our Chinese hosts. Some of the disgraceful practices involve so called %22agents%22 who decive the overseas professionals into believing that they must pay a fee to ensure work. often thsi fee is very large and one particular agent in the city close to the Hong Knong border will take 2 weeks from the first month. In other cities they will take X number of hours.
The story they tell is more unbelievable than any fiction writer could concieve. They say the clients do not pay them anything%2C this of course is arrant nonsense as it is well publisised that the clients also pay high fees.

Beware of these agents claiming to be legal services%2C xxxxtuor or some other improbable name. Most of them are simply data base collectors and your name will end up on a file somewhere but no work. Furthermore if you do get work they will dump you and leave you at the mercy of their clients%2C that is when you find the client has also been told incredible untruths
e.g your beginner students can get a degree in 3 months with our teacher%21

The teacher will work any hours you want and you can change or cancel classes if you need to.

The teacher will tolerate bad behaviour and lateness so do not worry%21

The teacher is from overseas so do what suits you best%21

These are ture events from some of my close friends and contacts here in China.
Trust is difficult in such circumstances but be strong and stand your ground%2C spread the word do not support these ruthless %22agents%22

No good professional ever needs to pay to work in China.

Good luck everyone%2C be safe and enjoy the China experience%2C there are some good people here.

Aug 23, 2010 03:06 Report Abuse



china is a good country and wherever and whenever we change a coutry ,we face language problems..but the best thing about china is that it contains a helpfull lots of people, doing a job in china is good if done under a proper field and about the students its everywhere the same, students are naughty they need education and proper teachers to teach....I am student of medicine in china studying here for 5 years and I feel its a very good land , we should learn from this land too..the discipline and morality...

Aug 26, 2010 22:36 Report Abuse



What dream world are you living in?

China is full of corruption and some of the most immoral behaviour you will ever encounter. Affairs are the norm, being propositioned by your boss and work colleagues married or otherwise and divorce and bullying common place.

Lovely people but try to see things as they are and not look through rose (or red) tinted glasses.

Nov 21, 2010 05:47 Report Abuse



KALI i think you are smoking the kali, or have access to some of the meds... at the med school!!!! it's okay to be honest about China, these people and thousands more have experienced some really corrupt crazy stuff living here! It;s okay to "let it out" here is an open forum for venting, connecting, and even helping each other to overcome! I love the honesty of these stories, I have been here one month and just found this forum 2 hours ago and I am on a laughing streak, it actually feels good to know what others are going through, but it is also therapeutic! and anyway share some of the kali with us so we can see your relaxed point of view,
that could help all of the foreigners relax a bit more - and experience a "one love" kind of perspective!!!

Sep 01, 2012 07:06 Report Abuse



I see your medicine includes Opium

Jun 29, 2017 00:28 Report Abuse



After 7 years in China, I would have to say that Suzhou and Mudu High School are at the top of my list for nightmares.... Suzhou has a program called GAC. This program prepares high school students for university life in America. At the head of this shady operation is a fellow named Frank. Frank drives a BMW-X5. He loves to play tennis and he loves cat houses. Moreover, he loves to lie and rip people off... Please don’t misunderstand, the GAC program is great, but Frank isnt....He will tell you anything to get you to teach for him and later you will wake up to the true facts of working for him. Word is, and I believe it after going through 3 months in a nightmare working for him, that he is part of the Suzhou underworld.....He has pull, power and money and no fear!!! Most recently, a group of Canadians from a Canadian High School packed up and left Mudu High School after getting the same treatment as I did.

Aug 27, 2010 15:56 Report Abuse



GAC is planning to set up in Changshu. They are offering gigantic salaries - Maths/Physics teacher, 15000 to 18,000 per month - and no teaching experience required. The word I've heard about the Suzhou district is that GAC likes to attach itself to organizations with a good reputation and then to trade off that. Any words of advice? Can they be believed? I hear Mudu has had a hand in facilitating the proposed Changshu set-up. Should I take employment with this group?

Dec 13, 2010 21:54 Report Abuse



If GAC is going to open in Changshu and Mudu High School or Frank are involved, don't go there... Frank and Mudu are shady at best.... There are good GAC Programs, and a friend of mine is working GAC in Beijing and doing very well. As I mentioned before, GAC is a great program if it doesn't fall into the hands of people like Frank and Mudu High School.

Dec 15, 2010 19:41 Report Abuse



Thanks for the info. Certainly Mudu has been involved. They've been here to oversee the set up. As for 'Frank', I don't know but I'll certainly keep listening.

Dec 15, 2010 20:14 Report Abuse



15k to 18k is NOT a gigantic salary. Over 25,000 to +30,000 is

Jul 04, 2017 10:43 Report Abuse



XD im surprise that most people are surprise about that stuff

this isnt horror sorry thats real life and as i read comments LOL "it can hurt feelings " hahah

use your head and think if something there is ALWAYS a catch
this problem isnt just China’s in every country they do it
all you have to do is read it think about it find some one ( friend ) that has done this or just google the place and see what they say

XD I Love the last part of it "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!" hahahah as if not

Aug 31, 2010 10:05 Report Abuse


Miss Jones

I heard these problems from people I know; well I couldn't blame no one, the crocs doing their freestyle strategy to victimize poor individuals, the ones looking for easy ways to earn money. I am a teacher myself, but never twice in my life been a victim. Sometimes, you just need to know how it rolls in China and not be a victim anymore.
Before you apply or accept an offer, perhaps you would like to know more details of the school; go to their website. Yes, licensed and real schools have one, in that way, you would also know the other ugly infos they might surely tell everyone online. If that scares you, then DO NOT GO.
Next, DO NOT TRUST ANYONE WHO SAYS THEY ARE AGENTS! Not true. They are only friends of friends of people who own a school who happen to know the school is looking for a teacher and want to get share looking for one. Where does the problem exist? When the school does not want you then it 's surely messed up from there and you are done. There goes your delayed payments and "visa" problems and so on.


Feb 20, 2011 02:04 Report Abuse



ok.. reading the stories.. here are my experiences.. I taught for 4yrs in Middle Kingdom (humdrum) ... the experience was overall good to ok. Why.. as you all know.. the Chinese have been repressed for Centuries with only a handful of those to experience Middle or Upper Class privelages. This goes onto to explain a great many things.. the accumulation and need of wealth/power. So, the school Leaders and Top tier teachers often boast and over emphasize their acheivements.. including whether 100% truthful or not. This said... I was repeatedly introduced to "Professors" low level, private schools to learn they had no such right to claim. Further, Foreign Affairs staff were often graduates or partners of the school. I worked in a few colleges (they called/wrote them as, University.. which is not true to the Chinese titles as written and spoken), and a public (state owned/managed) and private Elementary/Middle/High Schools.. plus about 8 Training schools. Nearly 4,000 students in all.. ages range from 4yrs to 52yrs with Training schools often availed to Professionals including Medical/Engineering staff. All said and done.. the students/client/customers were perfectly innocent in paying for services that were promised to rendered by Native English speaking Teachers/Instructors..however, not is the case in numerous instances! Further.. the Schools also imposed stupid/ridiculous/outrageous changes to work agreements/contracts well after employment was underway. Such as ZERO or little maintanence of residence (light bulbs included.. I had over 15 bulbs out of order for 7weeks.. with several never replaced). Air Conditioner damaged for the entire duration of my stay so, I bought and used a personal A/C. Salaries were typically paid.. even a sort of severance after I gave notice to leave from the Public/Private Schools.. however, the Training schools were the most notorious with two owners playing some sort of mental game with me.. well.. this American.. told the shove the money they owed me UP THEIR ASS! And told them to FUKC themselves, NEVER to contact me again! I didn't need the money.. but.. this was how they wanted to play it. Fortunately.. I had a Chinese Executive wife and a well connected family so I was not out but seriously pissed off. Other schools tried hard to adapt to Western Business ideals.. but, often would fail.. including complete satisfaction of contract agreement aluding to the part of paying the full hoiday salaries and travel reimbursements. I had troubles with 2 schools on this issue.. lastily is the corruptness of the Provincial Foreign Affairs... but.. there is an article that clarifies in a Spring edition of the China Daily of 2010. It seems that many payoffs were made to get anyone (especially of English speaking appearance -- yep, targeting caucasins) as to put them in the forefront of advertising as to show their school is sincere about the English Teacher.. except the fact that many Caucasian persons can not speak or use English doesn't matter. Oh.. even a American fugitive lived in China for nearly 7yrs before an angry lover contacted the Police! I had informed the Police of this idiot 2yrs prior to his actual arrest.. but.. well.. I guess no money to be had or just not worth the time/effort? I heard the Idiot was jailed and deported.. after teaching 1,000s of innocent children.. yep, elementary/middle/high schoolers.. as this is how I met this total jerk. But, the Chinese Local Jerks are much bigger problem.. and they like it the way it is.. they love their Cadillac as they are Chauffeured all around. These guys are smart enough to avoid most direct conflicts.. even contracts.

Feb 20, 2011 07:23 Report Abuse


T. Aams

This reads like a case of someone not qualified to teach, and writing a lot without saying anything.

I worked in China for 8 years and faced the frustrations of a country that has no essential contract laws and much corruption, which often is excused by quanxi; however if one takes proper care and research these things don't need to happen. I had so many responses to my resume, I asked many questions, and narrowed the field down to those that actually answered the questions, and choose the one that answered them most direct. Once there I encountered the frustration of cultural shock and the lack of compliance by the administration. One fact is that the school really does not employ you per se, you are there under the National auspices and have some protection and recourse. There too you deal with corruption but as they don't want attention to their graft, they will usually comply. Chinese culture does not take confrontation well and they will tell you whatever you want to hear regardless to stop it, or they put up their stone wall, but diplomacy and negotiations are not impossible. Just be careful and if there is one visible red flag, do not accept a position with promises alone. Remember their contract laws do not protect you, only the Foreign Expert card received from the government.

Sep 30, 2011 08:55 Report Abuse


I wish people would use paragraphs

So hard to read. I expect many people, who may wish to read what you have taken the time and effort to write, may be be turned off and tune out.
Sorry but I did.

The only reason I have taken the effort to write is that so many people who make long posts fall into the same trap.

Please use paragraphs. Have some consideration for your audience.

Feb 20, 2011 20:33 Report Abuse



YES A RUN ON SENTENCE!!! AND WHAT A PITY, MOST OF US ARE ENGLISH TEACHERS????? SO GOOD AT GRAMMAR ETC. SO BRILLIANT WE ARE` - actually, we're so pissed we are rambling on for therapeutic reasons lady, are you kidding, proper paragraphs?? who cares about proper paragraphs, after what we have been through, we will, talk, write, communicate to anyone who will listen because we feel victimized! who cares about grammar at a time like that!

Sep 01, 2012 07:19 Report Abuse



Many people don't know how to use paragraphs, but I do agree with you. It makes for easier reading and establishes the subjects within the subject. However, most posters here are not Native English speakers. I should also point out that many North Americans also do not know how to write. You will know what I mean if gone to school in North America.

Jun 29, 2017 00:39 Report Abuse



I have similar experiences in the north and hebi province. My agency refused me salary and when I finally left they flooded my apartment, told police stories and forced me out of Changchun. And in Hebi province I had trouble with an agency who even when the contract finished he wanted to keep hold of me. So again he told the police some stories and I got into trouble again.

Mar 13, 2011 18:36 Report Abuse



Does anyone know if there is some kind of agency to go through if you feel the institution you are working is abusing its workers? The treatment I have received has been unacceptable and I'd like to know if there is anything I can do aside from taking it on the chin.

Apr 02, 2011 03:10 Report Abuse


T. Aams

Yes, there is a Foreign Teachers Office that will investigate and mediate any complaints received. Often they are also corrupt, but the greasy wheel proverb comes into play. Be sure you are there legally with a Foreign Expert's card and Resident Permit, if not you are better off leaving on your own because you will be deported...on the spot... I might add.

Sep 30, 2011 09:00 Report Abuse



Oh, how pleasant!!

Sep 01, 2012 07:21 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