Friday, October 11, 2013
Self-Obsolescence, Chinese Style
I got a call a week or so ago from a Chinese administrator in my department, asking if I would be willing to join my good friend Jim in teaching an oral English class to Chinese teachers from all across the university, not just my department. The job pays a fair bit of money (about $100 a week for three teaching hours, not bad for China — though not at the top of the scale).
A little more information has come in since Jim and I agreed to teach the class. As it turns out, the university wants to train its Chinese subject faculty (i.e., those who teach accounting, management, finance, and subjects) to teach bilingually.
When we learned about this, both Jim's and my alarm bells went "Ding-Ding-Ding." Spidey sense is tingling, big-time!
Here's the scoop: Our university wants to provide some form of international education, but foreign faculty are at least three times as expensive as Chinese faculty. A foreign Lecturer might be paid $2K a month; a foreign Assistant Professor, $3K and up. A Chinese Assistant Professor might be paid $800 and think she's just won the lottery. Even if the Chinese has a PhD from the same university in America where I got mine, he or she will be paid as a Chinese.
So to put that in the starkest of terms: I cost my university between four and eight times what an equally-educated and equally-qualified Chinese-born person would cost.
Can you blame the university for wanting more bilingual Chinese teaching their classes?!
So here I am, the foreign teacher, being asked to sign on for $100 a week in order to train-up the very people who would kick me to the curb if they could. I am training my own replacements. I am hundred-dollar-a-week executioner. I am a mercenary killing my own. I am Uncle Tom.
Jim isn't in quite as absurd a position as I am, because he is an English teacher. The people we're training are professors of business and related fields, hence my direct competitors, not his.
But you know, I am for capitalism. I am for competition. I am okay with people looking for the best for themselves, and I don't mind losing out if someone else can do the same work for less money. If I lose, I lose.
Don't cry for me, Argentina. It's not actually as bad as that.
I teach really well, better than most Chinese faculty, and my students appreciate it. So do the administrators.
Furthermore, I've got a pretty high-quality PhD, so I provide my department a lot of "face." I look good on their press-releases.
I'm also infinitely team-spirited, so I've built (I think) important friendships within the department by helping out when help was needed. I don't complain and I don't demand and I don't make trouble, so I'm pretty sure I'm valued.
My students love me and sing my praises to the administration — so I hear consistently through Ma Lei's Chinese spy network of friends in the administrative staff.
And of course, if the university in one swipe threw out all foreign faculty including those with impressive foreign PhDs, I could always go out to the outskirts of Dalian where there aren't very many foreigners. I could teach classes for children twenty hours a week and make two or three times my university salary.
Nevertheless, I fear that things overall are tightening for foreigners in China.
In a country that's not known for its love of outsiders or trust for those countries that invaded it and picked it to pieces 150-ish years ago, there are plenty of people in positions of power who would happily flick the whole lot of us off their back as a dog shakes off its bathwater. Gone, for sure, are the days when one could hop a plane over here with nothing more than an American passport and a clean criminal record and make a good living teaching English or other subjects. Make no mistake about it: China would like to get rid of us all and replace us with its own citizens.