[Note: This article was first published on eChinacities.com on June 17, 2018.]
When looking for work in your home country, you might review a few things on your resume. You’ll update it, check it for errors and make sure it’s formatted correctly. When looking for work in China, however, your resume will be viewed through a whole new set of parameters.
Instead of dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s, you’ll be wondering whether your failure to declare your marital status might affect your chances. You’ll also be wondering if your non-white-sounding name might tilt the odds away from your favor.
In China, it’s not illegal to ask a potential employee about these topics. In fact, if you fail to disclose them on your resume, it might be assumed that you’re an “undesirable”.
A Chinese resume often includes a photo and details on age, race, marital status and the number of children. These five things are either chiefly illegal or very much taboo to ask about in most Western countries.
The Race Card
Chinese ID cards, of which 95 percent read “Han Chinese”, already indicate what race you are. Hakka brethren or Zhuang folks might not find an employer reads too much into their race. For Hui and Uyghur minorities, however, the discrimination can be very real.
Foreigners looking for work in China may also face discrimination on the grounds of race. There have been some rather alarming recent examples of bias against foreigners of non-Caucasian descent.
A pamphlet on an Air China flight en route to England sparked outrage in 2016 when it warned passengers to avoid areas of the UK populated by Indians, Pakistanis and black people. An advertisements for washing powder from the same year saw a black man bundled into a washing machine to emerge as a pale-skinned Chinese man much to the delight of the young lady doing the laundry.
If you are dark-skinned you may experience some serious discrimination when looking for jobs in China. Many ESL roles are outrageously listed explicitly as for “Caucasians only.”
As for marital status, this information is used to guess which women are likely to have children, and therefore take maternity leave, soon. Although the circumstances are now changing slightly, China’s recently disbanded One Child Policy meant that your first (and only) child was a monumental event (as it should be). Many couples would therefore waste no time and have a child very soon after marrying.
This means that if an employer sees that you are a woman, have just married and have no children, he or she is likely to place your resume in the “out” pile. Age also goes hand-in-hand with this concept.
What can you do about it?
In short, at the moment not a whole lot. A job listing I once saw specifically requesting white folks was rightly barraged with disapproving comments. The listing was then defended by the employer as “just the way things are”. It doesn’t seem like change is on the horizon just yet.
The best you can really do to change this way of thinking is by calling out racism where you see it and outlining through daily conversations why you find it unacceptable. Minority populations are tiny in China and so there’s not a huge movement or willingness to change discriminatory practices.
As a foreigner looking for work in China, you should always seek to uncover whether a company has sexist and racist employment policies. It’s usually fairly easy to scout out their stance after searching onlineforeigner forums or chatting with current or former staff.
Blatant vs Hidden Discrimination
The biggest difference has already been stated: it’s illegal to disclose certain information, such as your race and martial status, on your resume in many Western countries. But we all know Western countries aren’t devoid of prejudice. So how does discrimination manifest itself in China versus, say, the US?
In China, there’s a very overt system of discrimination. It comes as no surprise to anyone if a newlywed woman isn’t hired right away. The employer knows why. The applicant knows why. There isn’t much more to be said.
In the US, however, discrimination is perhaps just better hidden. A 2004 study sent various American companies resumes that were identical apart from one thing — one was given a typical white name and the other a typical African-American name. They found the phone numbers on the white-name resumes received 50 percent more call backs than their black-name counterparts.
What does this have to do with looking for jobs in China? While I can speak of acism on a personal basis only somewhat, many black Americans have recounted to me how in some ways they feel it’s easier to navigate a society that is patently racist than one where racism is hidden. If you know there’s overt racism, you’re prepare for it and can try to fight against it. If racism is below the surface, it’s difficult to uncover and remedy.
Then again, even in the US it’s not always that hidden. At a 2017 baseball game in Boston, both peanuts and racial taunts were slung at Adam Jones, an African American player. And in the era of President Trump, Americans seem much more comfortable airing their politically incorrect laundry.
Am I saying it’s better to have a blatantly discriminatory hiring process like China’s? No, but in some ways discrimination is easier to identify here than in the US, where employment policies are shrouded in a politically correct pretense.
The first time I experienced discrimination in China was during a phone interview for a job. The employer had seen my picture through the job site I was using and was clearly intrigued by my resume. All the boxes had been ticked except one, apparently. A long, awkward pause came before an even more awkward question: “So what race are you?”
Coming from a country where asking that question would be expressly illegal, I figured he was just curious and making small talk. After all, my grandparents came from a foreign country to the US. Who wouldn’t be interested? At least, that’s what I thought he was after.
Full disclosure: I’m white. Very much so, although I do have curly hair. Dozens of people have thought I am black, from my inner-city classmates when I was a child, to a South African freedom fighter, to numerous college teammates I’d known for years. I am not.
After I told the employer I am white, he seemed genuinely relieved – I heard a massive sigh on the other end of the line. It was then that I realized how systemic racism in China is.
The second time I experienced this bias was with a company I’d been working with for a while. They wanted me to fly back and forth from Shenzhen to American college campuses recruiting recent grads. It seemed like a perfect opportunity at the time, until after the hour-long interview for the new role I heard the punchline: “You may not hire African Americans.”
To add insult to injury, this employer kindly added that I could accept applications from African Americans and forward them on to the company, but it would simply be a pretense. They would never be hired. So I could just tease them. Great.
Do these conditions make it impossible to find a job in China if you’re a non-white recently married female with no children? Certainly not, as the Middle Kingdom is home to the largest labor force on the planet.
Further, as a foreigner, the scenario is decidedly different from that faced by the native population. Many who immigrate to China already come with favorable situations in regard to marital status, children and age in the eyes of Chinese employers, and you don’t have to divulge any such details on your resume anyway.
When foreigners come to China as ESL teachers or as smaller entrepreneurs, the barriers to entry on the grounds of race, age and gender also seem to matter much less. However, you should always be aware that discriminatory hiring practices exist and do your best to stand up to them.
China can be a wonderful country to work, but like everywhere on earth, it’s not without its problems.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Have you had similar experiences? Did I miss something?
Like what you’re reading on China? Check out some other related articles in: The China Chronicles!!