Yet more on expelling China's long-time foreign teachers

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Below and after the jump, reactions from readers in and around China to some reports (here, here, and here) about foreigners who can't get teaching visas to China renewed, and therefore must leave the country, because they have reached age 60. To boil down the themes that recur in messages I've received:

1) Circumstances naturally vary place to place and institution to institution. Some people say they're having no trouble staying on, at whatever age; others, that a crackdown really does seem to be under way.

2) Lots of other countries have mandatory retirement ages of 55, 60, 62, etc; and if visas there are tied to jobs, foreigners sometimes have to leave.

3) Historically Chinese institutions have used age brackets, or other "categorical" exclusions, as an excuse to move out people they wanted to expel for other reasons.

4) What seems to be an age-related crackdown might actually be aimed at people who have been in China for a long time -- a related but different objective.

Details and testimony below. What this all amounts to I can't be sure, but FWIW many people have reported hearing of a new emphasis on enforcing the letter of often-ignored laws about visas.
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-- About the bottom-line practicality of many institutions, a reader in Vietnam writes:

"We taught for three and half years on a series of extended student visas in China.
"We were also paid in cash once a month.
"There is always a work around in the PRC if there is sufficient guanxi." ["Connections" -- for more, see here.]

-- More on exceptions and practical reasons for the policy; a reader in China writes:

"I am not an English teacher in China, though I have lived here for 11 years and have known several. As everything else goes here, there are exceptions to the sixty rule. I know a man who is 65+ and teaching in Shandong. He has been in China for longer than I have been here, and I assume that he will be here a lot longer too. I cannot imagine that he is the only one.

"My understanding is that much of this depends (surprise! surprise!) on who know, how well you know them, and how much your university is willing to fight for you to stay. Also, being good at your job and being high profile is not necessarily the best thing to be if you want to continue on past sixty. That sort of 'success' draws attention....
"China is not the only country that has age limits on foreigner visitors on extended working visas. Singapore also has a 60-year-old cutoff for teachers, as do many countries throughout the world. I would assume that the rationale has to do with the perception that those over sixty are potential medical liabilities that the host country does not want to deal with. In my locale [major first tier city along China's east coast] I am aware of a couple who have been here for many years and who are bumping perilously up against the limit. They had their company extend their contract to cover them until they are sixty-two, which is when they can draw on their retirement benefits in their home country. I have been assured by their boss that they have been grandfathered in, and that staying beyond the sixty barrier should not be a problem. Will it work? We'll find out come August 2010, but my feeling is that it will...."

-- About other signs of crackdown, an English teacher in Hong Kong writes:

"I met an English acquaintance a couple of months ago here in HK. He lives in Fuxin in Liaoning up in the north. He's married to a Chinese lady and has been teaching there for a 3 or 4 years I think. He's almost 60 and has run into the same issue, of not being able to teach there when he turns 60. I was a bit surprised since his wife is a native of the city. And I would have thought he has the proper visas, etc." More on this theme at China Law Blog, here.

-- About "categorical" bans as a convenient excuse, a reader with experience in China writes:

"From my experience, I suspect that part of the problem with the banning of older teachers may have to do with cases of sexual misconduct on the part of the older American teachers.  We have found a small percentage of older men  go with the purpose of finding young, small, cute, Chinese girls.  You'd think it would be younger men being the problem, but the opposite has been true.

"The Chinese way would be to ban the age group as opposed to making a "scene" over a few foreign sexual predators."

Let me specifically emphasize that this is not the case whatsoever as it involves the people who originally raised the issue, a married couple with whom I have corresponded for a long time. I mention this theory only became it came up as a matter of past practice in so many messages.

-- Similarly on the convenient excuse front, from someone who operates a language school in China:

"Yes, there is an over 60 rule that is applied whenever it is needed as THE excuse for getting rid of a problem without direct confrontation.

"There was a 61 year old man in Dalian who was not retained after 10 years of teaching in China . There was a 63 year old woman in Shanghai who was not retained after 8 years. Each of them was fluent in Chinese and they taught just like Chinese teachers of English.
 
"Look deeper for why someone is not retained and you will find that the over 60 rule is just a convenient excuse."

-- About even larger "convenient excuse" reasoning, arising from misbegotten Chinese concerns over "image," reader Joshua Davis writes:

"I'm currently an American teaching English in China. For the first year and a half of my stay here, I was living in Tangshan, about 3-4 hours from Baoding, also in Hebei province. I just read your blurb about Mr. Bishop and his experience in Baoding. While it is certainly impressive that he has contributed so much to the university he worked for, what I'd like to say is possibly more impressive is that the university he worked for listened to his ideas for the upgrades to his department. One thing that I've noticed about working in a public university is that the administration often turned a deaf ear to any and all comments or suggestions I had to make. Perhaps this was because of my age since at the time, I was 22. But given what Mr. Bishop has reported about being told to leave the country (and what I've been hearing in the past year as well), I'm not surprised and would call this another example of "deaf-earedness" -- given the obvious advantages to hiring retired, experienced teachers, the bureaucracy ignores those benefits in favor of something that, to them, is supremely more important: image.

"Now, I haven't gotten these words straight from the horse's mouth, but what I suspect is the reason for the sudden purging of retired teachers is purely because of foreign perception of China. I noticed when I was living in Tangshan, that whenever I was sick, the staff were deeply concerned for my health. I thought it was cute at first until they began telling me that I should be careful because there was an American man stabbed in a bar in Shijiazhuang or an African man who jumped out of a window in Wuhan because of a fire in his room and his resulting inability to escape. Soon after that, the door to my school dormitory was being locked at 11 PM until 6 AM. The initial reason given was the Olympics and that they thought that if anything happened to me during the Olympics it would reflect badly upon China as a nation. After the Olympics, the door continued to stay locked, and additionally, the school informed me that I should request permission from them before I travel anywhere, again, all in the name of my safety. When I told them I didn't appreciate their restrictions on my personal freedoms, I was ignored. In the end, I finally got a key to the lock from a friend who worked in the building. However, the reason that I was always given -- my safety -- was finally elaborated on when the person who I can only describe as a liaison to the foreigners told me that there have been numerous instances where a school that was employing a foreigner was shut down or penalized after something happened to the foreigner and he died or was seriously injured. It is for these reasons that I think one possible reason that Mr. Bishop is being denied a visa after an extraordinary contribution to his university is simply because of China's overall fear of having foreigners become sick or die on its soil and the resulting bad press they (most likely erroneously) feel they would get in the west.

In other words, the new policy might by for the veteran teachers' own good. Think how bad it would be for them if they died in the traces! For now, that is all on this theme.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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