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Black Teachers In China: A Definitive Guide



Black teachers in China face unique challenges compared to other foreign educators in the country. Discrimination, finding jobs and language barriers are common concerns for black teachers abroad. This blog addresses all of this and more. It is the only definitive guide you will need to start your overseas teaching adventure in China.

"Do not run from the darkness, light a candle"

Those were the wise words from one black ESL teacher I met in China. Those were also the words she uttered to keep herself motivated after facing discrimination in the country when trying to find recruitment. Her optimism paid off. After 6 months, she was flooded with offers from recruiters offering her a position in China. That was back in 2015, when seeing signs saying ‘whites only’, ‘no Africans please’ or ‘British or American people only’ was commonplace. Back then, there weren’t many black teachers in China.

Unfortunately, signs like those are not unheard of in China because there are no laws specifically banning racial discrimination against minorities.
This means that foreign minorities in China are even more likely to face prejudice.

While China has laws against gender discrimination, it still has a long way to go before true equality is achieved.

Table of Contents


How Easy Is It For Black Teachers In China To Find Jobs?

black teachers abroad

So let me start by saying that if you have the right qualifications and experience, you are almost certain to find a job.

However, I’d be lying if I said that racial discrimination in recruitment was not a problem in the country. While this type of discrimination is present everywhere, it tends to be more overt in China.

For example, some employers may ask for a photograph before they hire you. This is sometimes used to filter out black TEFL teachers. There are other black teachers in China who have been openly told that the school has a policy against hiring black people.

On one TEFL forum, one man known only as ‘Mark’ had this to say: “I taught ESL in China for a while, and I was amazed at how racist it is. As I am white, this was not an issue for me. But the lengths language schools go to ensure white teachers surprised me. Employers insist on seeing a photo.

“Jenny, who ran the language school, was struggling to find staff. She told me that she could get as many black tefl teachers as she wanted at half the cost. But parents wouldn’t accept it. There is the perception amongst Chinese parents that a black person couldn’t possibly teach English. Don’t know where it comes from.”

In fact discrimination is so widespread, that it has not escaped the attention of Western news outlets such as the Global Times in Canada. Some of the racist comments written underneath demonstrate just how pervasive racial discrimination is for black people all over the world.

Keep Going

black teachers abroad, black TEFL teachers

However, don’t let this put you off.

There are still plenty of opportunities for black teachers in China, and for every negative experience encountered, you will find many more that are positive.

It would be so easy to let the experiences of a minority of black teachers abroad sway us from stepping outside of our comfort zone. However, there is no country in the world where employment discrimination and racism are not present. You may even find this in African countries, where the majority of people are black. In some African countries, black TEFL teachers are passed over in favour of those with lighter skin.

Heck, even second or third generation Chinese people who travel to China to teach English face discrimination. More about this later. I only mention it here because it would be remiss and very misleading to pretend that no discrimination exists in China. But it would be equally as misleading to assume that there are no worthwhile opportunities for black teachers in China.

Who Is This Blog For? 

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This blog seeks to address the unique challenges faced by black teachers abroad who are thinking of teaching in China. It is also useful for black teachers in China who are seeking new employment or who want to explore other opportunities in the country.

However anyone who is thinking of living and working in China will get value from this blog.

For example, if you are
not a person of colour and you are thinking of teaching in China, you may find the sections on TEFL courses, jobs, visas, accommodation and ‘Why China?’ useful.

This blog is designed so that anyone who is reading it can skip to the parts that interest them the most. Be sure to use the Table of Contents (above) as a useful guide to help you navigate to the relevant sections.

Don’t Let The Bigots Get You Down!


It is easy to read the horror stories faced by black teachers in China and other parts of the world and be discouraged by it. That’s why it is important to take a balanced approach.

I know from many years of journalism that the horror stories and negative news are prioritised in the headlines. For the most part,  stories of happy black TEFL teachers do not seem to generate quite as much interest.

Of course it is important to be aware of the problems that exist. That is one of the reasons I document them here. If you were to travel to a country without being prepared for the issues that are sometimes encountered, it might put you off for life. However, if you come prepared, with an open mind then you will very quickly discover that the good heavily outweighs the bad.

Why Is There Prejudice Against Black Teachers In China?

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What I have found living in China is that the type of prejudice you are likely to face is mainly ignorance. It is extremely unlikely that you will face violence due to the colour of your skin. That tends to happen in Western countries.

But what causes discrimination against black TEFL teachers in a country which has had less exposure to black people than the West?

The Media – I’d argue that the media is responsible for the majority of ignorance, fighting and bigotry in the world. How else are people persuaded to hate others that they have never met? Perhaps some people learned it from their parents. But where did their parents get their views from? Somewhere along the line, they have heard or read something in the news that confirms their prejudice. Movies also depict minorities – particularly black people in a negative light.

Ignorance – Neo-Nazi style hatred is simply not common in China. Instead, what is prevalent is general ignorance of what black people are like. For
example, there is still the general view in China that all black people come from Africa. Therefore, all black people must be poor, uneducated or criminal (because Africa is portrayed as a poor, uneducated continent. You also see many media portrayals of violence and war breaking out in Africa). Some people in China (and indeed in other countries) may believe that Africans are incapable of speaking English.

However, when they meet you and they realise that you are neither poor, uneducated or criminal, then those stereotypes start to hold less weight. You see, the good thing about ignorance is that it can often be overcome when people meet you and realise that you are nothing like the stereotypes found in the media.

Just take a look at the race-baiting ‘news’ excerpt below. Headlines like these are boldly paraded in the media either as a direct or indirect opinion. These stereotypes help to fuel the discrimination against black people:

black TEFL teachers, media

Lack of Exposure – China is a 99% homegenoised country. Many people – especially in rural parts of the country have never seen a black person in the flesh. This is why people sometimes rely on media stereotypes.

Backpacking as a right of passage is not as common in the black community as it is in the white community. It is of course changing nowadays. However, the truth is the majority of people who had traditionally visited and lived in China have been white. This is another reason why Chinese people are more used to dealing with white people than they are black people.

Western Stereotypes – Many Chinese people believe that Western countries are as homogenised as China. When I was in China, some people could not believe I was from England, despite me telling them so. This is because many believe that the only native English people in the West are white. Minorities who live in the West must therefore be recent immigrants, according to that viewpoint.

This does not just affect black people. For example, many Chinese schools are just as reluctant to hire Asian people from the West because they think that they are not native either. While I was in China, I remember speaking to an Asian guy from America, who had Vietnamese grandparents. He had a very difficult time convincing schools in China that he was not Chinese.

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Pressure From Parents – Then you have the recruiters who have no ignorance towards black teachers in China. They know perfectly well that your capabilities are not dependant upon race. If it was only up to them, they would pay no attention to racial differences. 

So what’s the problem then?

The problem is that many English teaching schools in China depend upon the ongoing fees paid by the parents. Sometimes many of the parents put pressure on schools to hire a white English teacher – even if that teacher is not a native English speaker. This is because of the stereotypes and ignorance I mentioned above. 

You have to understand that some of these parents may come from parts of China that are simply not exposed to black people. They may not know much about the demographics or history of the West either. But they may very well see the news about various race-riots or immigration problems featured on international news programmes. Think about it. Even in the West, these depictions fuel racial divides. But in China, if parents demand that the TEFL teachers are white, then it would almost be uneconomical of the school to hire anyone else. 

The situation is far from hopeless however. Many international schools set up by foreigners do not face such problems and have other sources of funding. In many of these schools, your race is simply not a factor. They do not go out of their way to avoid hiring black teachers in China. However, the real hope comes from the schools which do come under pressure from parents but still do not take race into consideration when hiring. This is yet another sign that things are beginning to change in China.

What Qualifications Do Black Teachers In China Need?

black and abroad

One of the main qualifications that you will need is a TEFL certificate. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. A standard qualification will include 120 hours of study. This is the minimum requirement from most schools and it is a universal standard on legitimate TEFL courses.

TEFL certificates are accepted across the world but like any qualification, the quality varies depending on where you obtain it. 

So this section will focus on how to know whether your the course you paid for is worth the money.

Common Misconceptions About TEFL Qualifications


You will come across many travellers who will tell you that you do not need a TEFL qualification. They will explain how they were able to obtain a high paid job without a TEFL.

Another common question people ask is ‘Why do I need to get a TEFL qualification if I am a native English speaker?’

Here’s the problem. Yes it is true that you may get lucky and get an awesome teaching gig without a TEFL or similar qualification.

But in a country where black TEFL teachers face overt and widespread discrimination, the more boxes you can tick, the better.

You are much more likely to gain a well-paid job and earn as much as other backpackers if you have the right qualifications. Should you ever decide to teach elsewhere, your TEFL qualification will keep the ball rolling much more smoothly.

Another thing to bear in mind is that a quick Google search will bring up ads promising you good quality TEFL courses for £19. I’d exercise extreme caution when viewing these ads. They are usually poor quality courses that have no practical sessions or inadequate study hours. They are also highly likely to be rejected by organisations across the world.

Types of TEFL Qualifications

TEFL teachers, TEFL qualifications,

Online TEFL Course – As the name suggests, this is a 120 hour course that is done online. It will usually cost between £100-£400. This is an entry level qualification for paid work in TEFL.

Combined/Blended TEFL Course – This incorporates the standard 120 hour course, plus additional modules which usually cost between £200-£500. Unlike the above course, it  offers a mixture of online and classroom teaching. These courses also incorporate advanced grammar or teaching young learners, which can be delivered either online or in a classroom environment.

TEFL Taster Courses – This is an introduction or foundation course. It usually costs between £150-£250. This only gives you a basic introduction to TEFL. An online TEFL Taster Course lasts between 10 and 60 hours and usually costs between £100-£300.

​How Can Black Teachers In China Stand Out From Other Candidates?

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