Thoughts on a China career

Let’s face the truth: most foreigners (by which I mean upwards of 95%) come to China with a plan of leaving eventually. There may be many small reasons to go back home, such as planning a family, the pollution and food safety concerns, expiring work contracts etc. but the overruling truth is that China simply is not as attractive yet as it may perhaps some day be. This is, of course, a comparison game: if for example the western world would blow up in a full scale war, China suddenly would become a very sexy place in the eyes of many. If you, however, belong in the small minority of here-to-stay China players (or are seriously considering it) then here is some advice as to how to plan your China career.

Residence permit for long termers

Think long term

What may perhaps be a statement too generic, holds a lot of merit for the China careerist. Just to give you an idea, let’s start off with a couple things that may be considered short term thinking: not learning the language, not making local Chinese friends, being smug about your quickly fading status as a foreigner in China. On the other hand, if you put in the effort to learn the language and customs and get a proper education, ideally with China relevance, you may be on the fast track to great China success down the line.

China will soon need people who actually have intercultural skills and don’t just pretend to do so, like most you will meet today. While in my estimate most of these positions will be filled with either 华侨 hua1qiao2 or 海龟 hai3gui3 (overseas Chinese and returning Chinese) you may still be competitive if you are actually good at what you do. While this, at the moment, may still not translate into a big paycheck, I am pretty sure it will in the foreseeable future.

Leave your comfort zone

Another generic statement but with oh, so much truth to it. Spending all your time with other foreigners in China may be easy in many ways (culturally, linguistically, or even “culinarily”) but it does not promise the same pay off in the future that making some true Chinese friends does. This is not to say that you must find friends strategically from now on out, but you should also not dismiss any chance to meet some real Chinese people. These people can range from the migrant worker to the son or daughter of a high level Chinese official. Don’t be picky though, a true Chinese friend is a true friend indeed. You will realize as much when you get into any type of trouble or have to get things done the Chinese way. In order to make this work, you must learn the Chinese way, however. It is likely that your Chinese counterpart will do his or her utmost to accommodate you, so you should also try. Therefore, be quick to the cash register and pick up the bill (pretending to go to the toilet is always a nice excuse), get some small gifts when going to your friend’s house and make sure to remember birthdays and say the right things for Chinese New Year. All such behavior translates into your career, too. Work in China goes beyond your time in the office so make sure to treat your co-workers with the same type of respect.

Staying forever? 

Imagine you have found your professional and personal luck in China. Would you consider staying forever? This is not to say that you cannot go home every once in a while but would China, under such circumstances, not be worth staying in? We make these decisions for ourselves obviously, but if I was a betting man, I would think that soon you will have some westerners going China all the way. Good for them!