Opportunities and Challenges

Since China first began to open up to the outside world after 1978, Christians from many nations have seized the opportunity to teach there. While some have been highly-qualified, others have had minimal qualifications; even being a native English-speaker has sometimes been enough to gain employment. There has been a similar diversity of approach, varying from holistic professionalism to using teaching merely as a platform for verbal witness. Whichever approaches have been taken, Christian expatriate teachers have been a major feature of the Chinese educational scene for nearly forty years.

Times are changing. Increasingly, higher qualifications are expected of teachers, especially in major universities, though exceptions may still be found. China is more assertive on the global educational stage, and foreign teachers are generally expected to make broader contributions than in the past. At the same time, there is increasing political hostility to perceived Western ideas, with growing restrictions on what is permissible for foreign teachers to say. In this context, the purpose and potential of future contributions by expatriate Christian teachers requires further clarity.

Against the changing background, this edition of the ChinaSource Quarterly examines the role of expatriate teachers in China. Our approach is not primarily theoretical but practical, seeking to learn from experienced practitioners and to understand approaches that will stand the test of current trends. Rather than propose a “roadmap,” we seek to inspire and encourage with a vision of what is possible.

Lead writer, Bradley Baurain, directly tackles key issues of professionalism and witness. Insisting on high professional standards, he highlights the complex and holistic nature of witness, avoiding the need for striving.

New teachers coming to China are well-advised to understand the context in which they will be working. Rose Cheng and Henry DeYoung helpfully survey China’s educational history and related cultural background, providing valuable insights for expatriate teachers.

In “Views from the Classroom,” four teachers from different educational sectors, with over sixty years combined experience in China, briefly explain some of their priorities and the lessons they have learned. Their testimonies serve to highlight both what may be possible and the importance of respectful partnership in the work of teaching.

It is important for foreigners to understand how they are perceived in China. We interviewed Professor Wang Wanxin who has worked with many foreign teachers. Her answers help to clarify where contributions of Christian expatriate teachers can still be very valuable.

Mabel Anderson, who taught in China in the early 1980s, paints a fascinating picture of those early days of “opening up,” showing a China significantly different from today’s, yet with clear continuities. Some things may change quickly; others do not.

Finally, Nessie Jones reviews a book which helpfully focuses on a key issue: the challenging interaction between professionalism and Christian witness.

From these diverse sources, a picture of effective, expatriate, Christian teachers emerges: rooted in professional knowledge, skills and approaches; seeking to contribute to the good of their schools and colleagues as well as their students; prepared to be there long-term; caring for individuals; willing to be learners themselves. From this foundation, being “the salt of the earth” and “light of the world” can emerge naturally, with powerful effect and surprising opportunities, whatever developments may come in the political and social environment.

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George King

George King (pseudonym) has taught in colleges and universities in both the UK and China for nearly 30 years.View Full Bio