Workplace Face Off: Chinese vs. Foreign Employees

Workplace Face Off: Chinese vs. Foreign Employees
Dec 05, 2016 By

Over the last few years, China has seen an influx of foreign talent wanting to gain experience in the world’s fastest growing economy, explore China and its culture, and take some time away from life at home, if only for a year or two. As the popularity of joining the workforce in China has increased, so has the competition for jobs between both foreigners and Chinese alike. Not only are there more and more outsiders looking to make it big in China, but more and more Chinese are educated in the West and becoming fluent in more languages, only making the job market here in China that much more competitive. Who is better off? Who has the advantage? How has it changed? And what can you do to make yourself more competitive in the ever-expanding China.

Photo: gruntzooki

How it’s changed and still changing
Foreigners who have been in China five or more years agree that the workplace landscape has changed dramatically. And as more and more companies expand in China, the need for talent who are competent in both English and Chinese is essential. Relying on your “foreign face” in modernized cities like Shanghai and Beijing won’t cut it with the real jobs. A Chinese woman, who has been working in advertising in Shanghai for over five years, said, “The platform for foreign and Chinese talent is starting to level out.” Because of the need for talent who can work in both languages, “Chinese are starting to have an advantage in that way over foreigners whose Chinese is not above a conversational level.” Particularly for those in the communications and media world, finding an entry-level or even middle management position can be tough when competing with Chinese talent.

As those looking to make it in China’s business world are struggling to compete with home-grown talent, another profession is also taking a hit: teaching. There are a lot of opportunities for foreigners in China. However, most of these opportunities are in the education arena for teachers at all levels of expertise (and the sometimes suspect “English factories”). However as competition has grown for non-teaching professionals, the result has led to increase competition for teaching jobs as well. As one teacher who has lived and been teaching in China for four years said, “There are more foreigners competing for teaching jobs – especially in the big cities like Shanghai.”

The case for the Chinese
Westerners in China are up against a large work force. With millions of graduates entering the workforce in China, it’s intimidating to think of just how many others are applying to that job you saw posted online. Not only is there the risk of not enough jobs for all of China’s workforce, but there are a few advantages that Westerners just can’t compete with.

First of all and most obvious is the issue of cheap labor. The difference in pay between Chinese and Western staff is dramatic. Where an appropriate salary for a Westerner would be 10,000 RMB a month, their Chinese equivalent could be making as little as one third of that amount. Another cost factor is that Chinese staff do not need visas paid for, housing accommodations or stipends, travel allowances or any other the other additional added costs that generally come with hiring a foreigner. Similarly, a factor in favor for Chinese is that they from China – they’re not going anywhere. While Chinese seem to jump around from job to job, they still have the advantage that they are not going to leave China at a moments notice, whereas foreign employees may seem less committed and have less incentive to stay in China.

Language abilities also come into play as an advantage for Chinese. With more and more mainland Chinese going aboard for semesters, years, or even for whole degrees, the number of Chinese with competent, near-fluent second language skills is growing. While not native, their ability to work in an environment using their first and second (or third language) is an attractive quality – especially considering how much they cost a company.

The case for the foreigner
There are a few obvious advantages that foreigners, particularly those from English-speaking countries have with the most obvious being native language abilities. No matter how long one lives in another country, it’s hard be able to write, speak and use a second language like a native speaker. This is particularly helpful in the area of English education but also in non-teaching professions – for example, a consultancy-type role. As foreign expansion in China continues to grow, there is still the need for a familiar face who knows how things run at home. And while translating and editing Chinglish can be painstaking at times, there is always a need for a native English (or other language) speaker to fill the role of polishing reports.

Another advantage for Westerners is their education background. There are apparent differences in the Chinese and Western Education system which can be especially noticeable in the workplace. Things like problem solving and critical thinking are not taught as heavily in China as in Western countries and creativity in ideas is not terribly common. So when its crunch time and your boss is asking for quick solutions or new ideas, Chinese coworkers may be struggling to come up with “outside the box” ideas while the Westerner could provide a different perspective. While one’s way of thinking and working may not be better than the other’s, it is a definite advantage to have the skills not found so readily in Chinese employees.

How to compete
A common question among foreigners is how to compete in the job market. And it is definitely different in China. It’s challenging enough to compete with people who all speak your language – but in China you’re in a much bigger pond. An important resource to take advantage of – for teachers and other professionals alike – are networking events. Many top-tier Chinese cities have at least one foreign chamber of commerce that host various events. Just as networking is crucial at home, it’s important in China as well. It’s a way to learn about new opportunities, potential employment opportunities and new business to be won. Building a strong network in your community will only benefit you.

It’s important to know your strong points and the advantages you have against local talent. While keeping an updated resume is essential, it’s also important to be well versed in your skill set. Being able to demonstrate your work experience, the results you’ve produced or the problems you’ve solved will most likely set you apart from your home-grown competition.

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Foreigners get better jobs and a higher salary because for the most part we are PROFESSIONALS!! We understand what 'working; means. We do not look for excuses to have a quick nap during work hours. we do not take off to the toilet for 2 hours, we do not play games on our phone during work hours, we do not spend hours chatting on QQ during work hours..etc etc....the list goes on....

Nov 13, 2012 05:49 Report Abuse



The trend is simple: Learn Mandarin, talk to the people here, if you're good enough to negotiate and close a deal then regardless where you are from, you'd get more then 15K rmb/month. Not about the colour nor fluency in English, but the skills and adaptability to the local business practice.

Oct 05, 2012 07:22 Report Abuse


Emanuel Quesada

Hi, I'm an undergraduate English Teaching student in Honduras CA. I'm already working as an English teacher for a prestigious institution where I make enough money just to pay rent and buy little personal things only working one day a week. I have a very high English proficiency; C . and was hired by a training center in Guangzhou, China to teach English to little kids. Let me tell you that I'm really exited to go work in China as an English teacher, it will be one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. I'll be receiving my graduate degree in September, 2013. Once I'm done with school, I'll be flying to China in January 2014. I'll be making 8000 RMB for the first 2 month each, that is $1280 a month. After the second month of being monitored by the Training Center staff I'll be earning $1600 a month. I have many questions about this teaching position in China, but the most important question I should be asking myself is, Will I make a good and comfortable living making 10,000 RMB a month in Guangzhou, China? According to what I have read from the comments, it seems that 10,000 RMB a month is good enough to make a living, but I'd like to receive more feedback about this issue. Thank you.

Sep 29, 2012 21:02 Report Abuse



Language schools tend to prefer Caucasians over NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS of any other race because Chinese parents really don't trust another Asian looking guy to teach their kids English. (would you trust a white guy to teach your kids Chinese?)

Get real! You are not hired based on English proficiency only, you are also the advertisement for the school.

Jul 21, 2012 12:16 Report Abuse



I read all the discussion topics and wondered how these so, called expert teachers in China wrote so, many sentence fragments in their discussions.
If you claimed native English language speaker, I think you should write well; it does not matter whatever condition that you may have.

The conclusion that reached from reading all the discussions is that wages are low in China, and at the same time, cost of living is equaly the same.

I earned a MASTER of SCIENCE in General Psychology from American University. Is teaching the only common and easy employment available in China? Need a profound feed back people.

May 20, 2012 18:55 Report Abuse



Make a true comment, it gets deleted. Screw this site.

May 17, 2012 22:43 Report Abuse



Local talent? It's not about job competency, it's about the fact that Chinese companies can now only hire foreigners if there is a specific reason why a Chinese person can't do that job. It's not even actually about pay. Sure if a foreigner makes 10,000rmb a month and a local 3,000 - big deal. The company would have to hire EIGHT Chinese workers to match the productivity level of your average American worker. Yep. American workers are 8 times more productive than a Chinese worker. Eight. So, you'd need to pay 8 workers 3,000rmb = 24,000 or 1 foreigner 10,000. It's a no brainer. But you need to PROVE why you can't hire a local Chinese. Usually native English speaker is the requirement used.

May 17, 2012 19:46 Report Abuse



most Americans I see here do about half the work of most Chinese... and I'm one of them.

May 19, 2012 03:32 Report Abuse



Wages and cost of living are issues that are real. Sure you can "live like a local" but I doubt that is the standard many will aspire to. Even at the upper tier of rental property in many cases you are still stuck in what would be the equivalent of an early 1970's apartment in the U.S., and that cost is as bad as NYC or Chicago. And eating in non-Western restaurants? After you chit your brains out for the tenth time you may not find that option so attractive.

Yes as a foreigner you have serious advantages over the local workforce. But keep in mind that those advantages will also be a source of huge frustration. Critical thinking, logic, problem solving, creativity, emotional maturity - so many things that you take for granted are completely absent with your Chinese co-workers. In the beginning you try to train your staff, but the hard reality is maybe 1 in 5 if you are lucky will even bother to remember what you said the day before. And those that show real potential will not settle for RMB10k a month.

If you work in a western company it is one thing, but if you are in a Chinese company it is mind-numbing in a lot of ways. Efficiency, honesty, integrity etc are not valued the same way here. It depends on where you are in life and your career as to whether or not working here is a good choice. The best advice anyone can give you is to make certain you have a back door to get back home if it doesn't work out.

May 16, 2012 01:59 Report Abuse


Bushy Nigger

have to agree that here the attitude of sex workers is spot on, and pretty good value for money too. 100 a hole where i is.

May 14, 2012 20:52 Report Abuse


Marvin Allenson

It seems that everyone posting here is either a teacher or from some other lowly paid profession. I am in finance. I earn several digist more salary per month than any of you guys. I enjoy 100 kuai cocktails and 500 kwai fillets. my kids go to thoes schools youwork at. they are costing me upwards of 20,000 dollars per year per kid - but fortune the company pays.

So just wondering, how you teachers get paid so little if i pay so much for the education?

May 14, 2012 03:40 Report Abuse



you certainly sound like a guy I'd love to spend all my time around.

May 19, 2012 03:30 Report Abuse



seems like teacher get really not so much...
I can say as an engineer in Shanghai you have a salary between 30k and 50k per month (usually more then 2 years experiance). If your apartment and insurance is within the 30k then u have a real bad deal!

I know I at almost 10 times more then a chinese but I also know I am worth.
after few years experience in different companies in china I can tell a german student is better then 3 chinese engineers. sorry but thats true.
and as a foreigner u usually have experience in the comapany our at least in the filed u work. chinese change the company every 2 years... that means as soon u teach them what to do they r gone…

last but not least; with a foreigner u don't need to worry that u learn as much as he can and then change to a chinese competitor...

as u see my English ain’t so good and my chinese is much worth :-) but if I don’t get at least as much as at home and much more then a chinese I will go home.

May 12, 2012 05:34 Report Abuse



my chinese is much worse !! :-DDD

May 12, 2012 05:37 Report Abuse



Hi folks, its rather the brain-wash done to the chinese mind that is making all this fuss here, for the fact that every chinese feel so inferior whenever they see a white, and for that matter parents even give their requirement as whom the sch should employ to teach their kids. To the chinese parent as long as its a white, they feel that will make their kid know the english language. Imagine a kid who is not exposed to any foreign language at all and begins learning english from a typical scottish or an americano with slang, do u think the kids get anything out of it? My advice to chns parents is that "charity begins @ home" and therefore they should start learning english from their neighbours like filipinos, indonisian etc and when they get the basics then they can move on to so-called native speakers who are even not qualified to teach but are there bcos d chns see them as Jesus

May 11, 2012 18:10 Report Abuse



Learning English from Indonesians? Right, that's the way forward. Learning it from Filipinos or Indians might make more sense, although they often have ridiculously strong accents, especially Indians, and not all of them know English that well.

May 11, 2012 21:21 Report Abuse



If i want to keep my Chinese staff with overseas degrees no less than 20k RMB per month or they will leave (I have lost a few)- expats are over 30k and I pay their accommodation expats get more as they produce more and set a good standard for the chinese staff but the expat days are numbered. I'm in a 2nd teir city!

May 11, 2012 16:05 Report Abuse



thats how it is

May 12, 2012 05:39 Report Abuse



Chinese with overseas degrees make about 5000RMB/month here in WuHan. Good luck with whatever it is you're doing...

May 13, 2012 04:35 Report Abuse



Oh, I am so ashamed of Shaun's comments. We Aussies are known to speak our mind, sure, but Jesse has hit the nail on the head with her comment.
I am proud and happy to have worked with Chinese co-workers, and I have much respect for not only their abilities, but their ambitions to improve.
Certainly foreigners are, in general, paid more than local-born workers, which I believe, has been to induce them to come in the first place. However, I support any trend to more equitable salaries, regardless of a person's country of origin.
I am actually quite old, but most of my friends in China are quite young, and I see a trend amongst most of them to want to "improve" their education system, their cultural habits and their living standards, by embracing the "better" points of Western systems, but certainly not embracing the whole.
I certainly hope that any need for foreign help will diminish over time, whilst believing that, in general, the foreign help in the past has mostly been advantageous to allow Chinese the opportunity to experience foreign cultures and ideas, when they are not able to travel and experience it for themselves

May 11, 2012 13:04 Report Abuse



This is an old article..... only use now for a survey..... don't respond

May 11, 2012 10:30 Report Abuse


Small dick white

Chinese also succeeds in their own country. Do not make false political statements about your "free" society and how good it is. The fact you people fail in your own country also says how fast you are sliding backwards. The role reversal will be more apparent everyday and one has to wonder who is developing and who is developed and who is retrogressing

Jul 14, 2011 20:47 Report Abuse



"“Chinese are starting to have an advantage in that way over foreigners whose Chinese is not above a conversational level.” Particularly for those in the communications and media world, finding an entry-level or even middle management position can be tough when competing with Chinese talent."

The media world has not been open to foreigners. The reasons given were that there is no demand for foreigners or there is no work visa available. Chinese have almost exclusively been hired. If one were to have extensive work experience, then perhaps you will be allowed to teach that subject to Chinese. Until there are better qualified and more experienced Chinese available for jobs in media, lesser qualified Chinese will be employed. The fact that many Chinese working in this sector speak English, as well as those who have prepared for careers in translation, means that it is not essential to be bilingual.

Seldom do you see foregners driving luxury cars in China. Those salaries are mostly held by Chinese. Go abroad to free nations, and you can find successful Chinese in all job sectors.

Jul 14, 2011 13:00 Report Abuse



The fact that chinese in the west succeeded says more about what immigrants can accomplish in a free and open society. Something that china probably will never bel

Jul 14, 2011 18:20 Report Abuse



Is that the guy come from Australia?

Sep 09, 2010 19:37 Report Abuse