Light a Candle: Overcoming Discrimination in China’s ESL Market

Light a Candle: Overcoming Discrimination in China’s ESL Market
Jun 01, 2016 By jasonnc87 ,

When I arrived in China many years back I was shocked at the prejudiced ads online with phrases like 'whites only' 'No Africans please' 'you must be American, or British.' Even with five years of ESL teaching experience before arriving in China, I felt like a fish out of water. I called my mom and told her I wanted to go back home because I felt like an unwanted person. My mom felt so bad that she talked to my dad about it. My dad on the contrary was not that worried. I remember his words so clearly: "Son, if you meet darkness, do not run away, light a candle." He said and hung up on me.

I was still in Guangzhou, my one month L visa was running out. The guy I was staying with temporarily was putting pressure on me to leave or pay rent. In this desperate situation I fell into a trap. I got duped by a visa agent who promised both a job and an F visa. That's how I found myself in my first teaching position in China—a small village school in Xi'an.

“Say You’re From New York”
At first things looked promising. I was sharing a two bedroom apartment with a fellow teacher Tony from the Philippines. The students loved me. Soon the enrollment doubled. Then came the bomb. The boss asked us to lie to the students as well as their parents. Tony was asked to say he was from New Zealand and I had to say I was from New York. In fact the boss had already lied to the students and the parents. He was just telling us to be sure his lie would work.

As the enrollment rose students started asking us to tell them about our respective countries. Tony knew nothing about New Zealand I knew nothing about America let alone New York. I managed on for a few months and quit after six months without telling the students the truth for the sake of the school and my friend. Tony accepted it and stayed on. The boss was red when he received my resignation letter. He promised me hell in China. He said I was never going to get a job in China with the mentality I had. Tony also warned me because I told him I was heading to Beijing. As he saw me off at the bus station to Xi'an city he said I could get a job in the smaller cities but asked me to put Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen off my list.

“I Am From Cameroon”
The city of Beijing fascinated me. The hustling and bustling, the nightlife and everything else. I spent every day in the internet cafe next to the small place where I was staying responding to ads online. I got calls every day from schools but who all hung up on me after the first question "Where are you from?” Frustrated, I rewrote my CV. (My first CV had the nationality line omitted deliberately as advised by friends in Guangzhou). This time I included the following lines after the introductory paragraph in bold: "I am not from America, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, I am from Cameroon— Africa. I am a trained ESL teacher, give me a chance in the classroom and watch what I can do." Four days passed, no calls from any school. I was sure that was it. I was ready to leave.

Then one morning I got a call from a Canadian, Chris Carter. He was in charge of recruitment at the Aihua Foreign Language Academy. My CV had struck him. He also give me a site called where I could upload my video along with other information. My video had an impact. They hired me. At the end of the summer camp they asked me to sign full time. I turned down the offer because my resume with the bold lines was still circulating and calls were still coming in. I got a few more calls but turned them down. They were all part time hours.

Widespread Discrimination
In China, Africans are not just discriminated against by recruiters. They face issues with against visa agents, Chinese women looking for a date, and in many other areas of Chinese society.

Prejudice is a social evil. Think of all the Chinese investments in Africa, all the Chinese living in African countries (7000 in my country—Cameroon), think of all the diplomatic ties that have been made with numerous conferences and friendship slogans and then think about the way we are regarded here; the cold stares, remarks, mockery laughs, etc.

In China foreigners who are white are referred to as 'wai gou ren' while foreigners who are black are referred to as 'hei ren.' It hurts to be reminded all the time of one's skin colour and the fact that one is a foreigner here.

• Imagine you are in a foreign country sitting on a seat on the bus or on the train with the two other seats to your left and to your right deserted even though the bus is packed.

• Imagine you walking in the park just to relax, a little child sees you and says 'hello' happy to meet you and the mother grabs him and carries him away in her arms as if to say "how dare you go near that .... (I don't know what).”

• Imagine you walking on the street and every time you approach people someone is saying "Kan kan. Kan yi xia" or elbowing the other to see what kind of person is coming.

• Imagine students' parents saying "My daughter's teacher is black but he can teach well."

• Imagine all the ads online carrying hurting phrases like: 'we don't do visas for African countries,' 'teachers from Africa— don't apply please' 'I want a boyfriend—no blacks'

I could go on and on naming them and may be you will just say like some friends have said to me before: "This is China, you cannot change it. If you are not happy go back to your country." No. I am a teacher and I am an educator.

Educators, it is our challenge to mould society. Dear black brothers and sisters. Do not run away from the darkness, light a candle.

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Keywords: Discrimination in China China ESL


All comments are subject to moderation by 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.

Guest15078096 This online institute discriminates against non-native speakers. They claim to be the first online education company to have aligned with TESOL China. In other countries TESOL degree is explicitly against nationality discrimination. I didn't comment here because I expect something to happen. I just want them to know that they shouldn't waste their time with institutes who will discriminate against non native speakers. Don't apply to their school if you are non-native. They are a fraud. If someone from their school sees this comment and tries to verbally abuse me, do not believe them. Apply and see for yourselves.

May 16, 2017 04:32 Report Abuse


"We may finally cease seeing some people raping women in the streets of Beijing because of their sense of entitlement" "Yeah, there has been rape on the streets of Beijing by a British citizen, take that and desist from being a moral Ayatollah" (quotes by Firefighter) When you can't tell the difference between singular and plural nouns, you really should desist from posting on a message board and inflicting your ignorance on the rest of us.

Jul 08, 2016 15:01 Report Abuse


Jun 14, 2016 11:41 Report Abuse


His father should have told him, "boy if yo azz broke the laws, blow out that candle and get the fuk back home."

Jun 12, 2016 17:16 Report Abuse

Guest14480640 This is a good example of racism in India. Not being able to teach ESL in China because you don't meet the qualifications is not racism.

Jun 11, 2016 14:38 Report Abuse


Jun 11, 2016 13:19 Report Abuse


This is the same thing with Africa or any black owned companies in America. They will hire only blacks. If a non black has a PhD and a black has a bachelors or only a high school diploma. The black will get hired.

Jun 07, 2016 13:29 Report Abuse


Anyone who says "this is China" is a dumbass.

Jun 07, 2016 14:17 Report Abuse


As a Chinese,I can't help wondering what's the reality..In fact,Discrimination is everywhere,if you're weak,you feel the whole world dislikes you,while stronger wouldn't post such things..Every country has stupid and smart,well-educated one wouldn't judge a man from his skin color.But the lower level will do the pathetic thing to protect his miserable dignity..If this comment offends someone,I make my apology. What's your opinion about if someone is weak,introvert,hatred,inefficient,will you still love him?

Jun 04, 2016 22:09 Report Abuse


Yes, discrimination is everywhere. Racism is everywhere. Uneducated folk are everywhere. And so are thieves, liars, smooth-talkers. Every place has them, and China is no different. We get that. However, when subject to these things, some folk can ignore it and move on. That doesn't make these things less bad. Others can't because if they try to just move along, they discover there aren't many other places to go. So, Others HAVE to say something about it. Others WANT things to be done about it. And if others can't do anything about it right away, others will promote awareness about it to incite change because all of these things are rooted in ignorance.

Jun 05, 2016 07:58 Report Abuse


Is firefighter a troll? At first I thought he was the writer but the whole raping women in Beijing and saying everyone is a slave owner, that smells Chinese.

Jun 04, 2016 21:39 Report Abuse


My thoughts exactly.

Jun 04, 2016 22:02 Report Abuse


you mean he might be a Chinese? patriotism?For his hard endeavor to protect China?

Jun 04, 2016 22:16 Report Abuse


Trolling who? We are in a legitimate debate where a group of foreigners like you eats their decency and deliberately and shamelessly fight tooth and nail to throw another group under the bus. It was a debate and you saw me answer to issues raised. The administrator of the site knows where I'm writing from and where the author wrote from, why not ask him to expose me? My bottom line is that don't second-guess other foreigners like yourself because you want to cover your own tracks. I'm done with this, but I reserve the right to retort at my own convenience. The talk about rape in Beijing was to counter the mudslinging and belated attempt at purity and innocence. We all have skeletons in our cupboards as demonstrated. No one has the right to take on themselves the duty to describe other groups in unflattering terms and expect others to applaud them. We are all foreigners and we should not meddle in China's internal issues. If there's a ruling that will send home all teachers and traders from China tomorrow, let it be. Thanks for the debate, and cheers!

Jun 04, 2016 22:36 Report Abuse


Dude, you need some help! The topic of this article is how Africans are not able to get z visas to teach English in China due to the laws and not because of discrimination. Why are you talking about foreigners (which includes many races other than Chinese) raping women in Beijing?

Jun 04, 2016 23:27 Report Abuse


Foreigner raping Chinese girl gets penis cut off by angry mob

Jun 04, 2016 23:36 Report Abuse


Saying everyone is a slave owner just sounds like firefighter is assuming everyone here is a white male...

Jun 05, 2016 07:41 Report Abuse


A new article needs to be written to counter this stupid article, lets title it "Turn on the lights: How to become a Qualified ESL Teacher in China and Earn a Z Visa"

Jun 04, 2016 15:40 Report Abuse


You idiotic troll, you spend countless hours rambling through practically every topic here on daily basis. It's not because you removed the picture of your old bald head and stopped boasting of having three degrees. Try as hard as you may want to, you remain a foreigner in this China. If you are too mad about the Z visa thing go jump off a building! Envy and selfishness have consumed your bitter soul. Why should I be so worried about what another man earns, if that person can do the hours as demanded by the employer? I'll-natured folks like you are the reasons the Chinese take you for nothing. It is that opening up and giving a chance to others that is driving some of you insane. China has a long history and does things in a very measured way. This is the reason it has pulled more than 300 million people out of poverty for the past 20 years. The country has differences with some groups but prefers dialogue. It is in this wise that some of the disgruntled parts of China have seen unprecedented development. China has a whole province, Guangdong where blacks, especially from Africa are involve in petty trading and we don't hear about Police shootings every day. Compare to the bad blood and blame game over in you so called western world. You think you can transpose that situation here and people will bow and let you play your evil ways. You can never empower anyone, never. You off rooted people from Africa during slavery, stole during colonialism, but there's no single thing you can say you built in Africa. Immediately you discovered that China and Africa were getting on well, you first rushed to Africans and asked them to bar the way for Chinese, but failed. But now you have crept over to China to make intelligent argument against minorities in the ground. I can promise you, you will fail again. Even with all the stealing from Africa, you still ran your countries to the ground and had to come and prostrate in front of China to bail you out. It is the same China you introduced opium into and whose palaces you ransacked. You shouldn't be the people playing mind games about small teaching positions. As I mentioned earlier, Aftica outlived slavery, colonialism and bro-colonialism, but some of you haven't judging from your killing spree in the streets of your cities and your knack for intrigues. That is the bitter truth, deal with it!

Jun 04, 2016 16:46 Report Abuse


"Hating people because of their colour is wrong. And it doesn't matter which colour does the hating. It's just plain wrong." Muhammad Ali 1942-2016

Jun 04, 2016 17:55 Report Abuse


Jun 04, 2016 06:26 Report Abuse


I can't believe I'm reading this in 2016.

Jun 03, 2016 22:55 Report Abuse

nzteacher80 The new policy wasn't thought through too well. Looks like China might need all those non-native teachers after all.

Jun 03, 2016 22:42 Report Abuse

Guest14480640 They'll use non-native teachers who come from Taiwan.

Jun 03, 2016 23:06 Report Abuse


Doesnt mention Taiwan. Written by a moron. See the comments beneath article. That article is also a month old.

Jun 03, 2016 23:26 Report Abuse