Today, the bamboo curtain parts -- both ways
Wuhan, Hubei, China
For the acadeic year 1980-81, The People's Republic of China has nearly doubled the number of foreign teachers employed in its universities. Last year, 134 "foreign experts" were scattered across the country; this September new areas, such as Chengdu in remote Sichuan (Szechuan) Province, acquired their first foreign teachers, while large groups, numbering up to 10 at Nanking Teachers College, descended on other institutions.
This was a situation far different from 1978, during which one or two foreigners, assigned to provincial cities, found themselves to be the only native speakers of English in the entire region.
The deliverate importation of educational specialists to upgrade certain fields, such as management and engineering, through shortterm seminars has been widely reported. Long-term and widespread appointments of these foreign teachers are a different matter. The designation "foreign expert" dates back to the beginning of the People's Republic in 1949. Employed "friends" of the postrevolution government and foreigners married to Chinese women were so labeled. They were, even then, accorded special salaries and privileges, because their life styles and consequent needs were considered to be different from those of their co-workers. This was not always the case, and not all of them accepted the largess in its entirety.
Today the bulk of these specialists are in the language area. americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders are found teaching English under a variety of programs.
Some were hired by the Ministry of Education from direct application or in answer to appeals for teachers. Others were placed by bodies such as the United States-China Friendship Association, and still others by universities seeking to establish exchange programs.
The result is a variety of contracts, backgrounds, training, screening, selection procedures, and, for students, supervision. The Foreign Language Institute and other educational centers in Peking have absorbed most of these teachers. Provincial universities were supplied more recently.
The numbers of foreign students in China has expanded slowly; some share in the teaching of English while working on their Chinese. This fall, Chengdu not only received its first "foreign experts" but two undergraduates from the University of Virginia. The arranagements were made by a faculty member who had come from the province.
Similarly, an international relations major from the University of Denver is teaching English in Peking, while eight recent Ohio State graduates are in Wuhan for six months of teaching. The University of Pittsburgh has representatives in Shanghai, and four Yale graduates are in Changsha (Hunan) and at the University of Wuhan.
Carefully screened, selected, and trained, even in the teaching of English as a second (i.e., foreign) language, the latter are also supervised and partly financed by the Yale-in-China Association, a modified form of the pre- 1949 activities of Yale University on the mainland.
English is not the only language being upgraded with the help of native speakers. German and Japanese "experts" are in evidence. Russian is taught, but with no Soviet help apparent. Spanish is the only major language not readily encountered.
The French government, long a committed sponsor of French-language and cultural centers in the non-Western world, is establishing a center at the University of Wuhan, in the heart of the country. The agreement was made with then-Premier Hua Guofeng when he visited France. Twelve teachers, paid from Paris, and a new language lab were arranged for. French then became the only part of the Modern Language Department to merit and administrative structure of its own. It not only became a splinter department, but may get its own building.
"Foreign teachers," a designation preferred over "experts" by the participants, are well treated in China. Qualified language instructors receive from 600 to 700 yuan monthly (about $411 to $480), the base for Level 3 experts. The top in the scale would be 1,300 yuan ($890). From $30 to 50 percent of the salary can be repatriated depending upon marital status.
Level 2 salaries, ranging from 345 ($236) to 599 yuan ($410), are for the less experienced. Even the modest 200 yuan ($137) a month paid to students, recent graduates, and teaching wives of "experts" is phenomenal by Chinese standards, particularly as lodging, essential local transportation, medical care , and even some regional tours are provided as well.
"Experts," by government decree, are not charged tourist prices; even so they always pay about double the Chinese cost for a bowl of rice or noodles. The government regulation is enforced irregularly, because some restaurants and hotels in provincial areas have not heard about it. As of July, these teachers were to pay 9 yuan ($6.15) for a room and the same for board at a hotel. The tourist price is about double this.
Chinese instructors, at the bottom of the faculty hierarchy, receive only 48 yuan ($39) a month, but their expenses are substantially lower. They live and eat in teachers' dormitories. If married, their spouses usually bring in a similar sum from their own employment. Although Chinese living conditions remain austere, they are decidely better than before the Revolution for some 80 percent of the population, and they are improving.
The normal teaching load for foreigners is about 18 hours a week. This is accomplished usually within five days, although the Chinese work six. Like professors everywhere, both are busy on weekends grading papers.
As long as an "expert" fulfills his contract, his round-trip transportation is provided. Visiting specialists, however, lecturing on short- term programs, must usually pay their own or gain outside funding.
The lodging provided for "experts" is a major benefit. The Friendship Hotel in Peking, a huge hostelry for 3,000 guests, includes buildings for longer-term residents. These have two or three heated rooms with baths and cooking facilities. Many universities are nearby.
This year saw the construction of guesthouses for foreigners at several major provincial institutions. A Hong Kong visitor reports that the one at the University of Wuhan is among the nicest. It is on university land overlooking East Lake, a regional beauty spot, and has 20 steam-heated units, 12 with two rooms, bath, and kitchenette for singles, and 8 with extra room for families or couples. In a land where four or five individuals, spanning three generations, frequently live in two rooms, sometimes with outside latrines and only bathhouse facilities, the "ex
A central recreation area and a dining room, along with quarters for the workers, complete the layout. Residents wishing to cook in whole or in part can do so in their minuscule 3-by-3-foot kitchens. One- and two- burner propane stoves and countertop-level refrigerators are provided in the living room. Food and beverages can be bought at cost from the kitchen, which also permits use of its oven for baking cakes or other goodies. Food served in the dining hall is 90 percent Chinese and costs $2.75 a day per person.
Before this guesthouse was completed, American teachers lived in faculty housing with toilet facilities but without heat or hot water. Unlike their Chinese colleagues, they were provided with a stove to take the edge off of the freezing temperatures, but they bathed in the local bathhouse.
The comfort of their guests, rather than any attempt at isolation, appears to motivate the ghettoizing of the "experts." Chinese of all levels seem genuinely to expect that foreigners of all nationalities should live better than they do themselves.
Food is the only necessity that visiting teachers pay for in China. Whereas a professional-level Chinese family of four claims to eat well on 100 yuan ($69) a month, a frugal Americal couple paid about twice that at a dining room for foreigners. Another couple paid 240 yuan ($164) for Chinese food cooked for them at a university, while a single person, eating two-thirds Western food (which means more meat and is therefore more expensive), paid 180 yuan ($123) a month. The prices cited for meals are not those of the hotels usually visited by American tourists.
Many run their bills up further with the purchase of orange soda (7 cents at cost, 15 cents in a foreign restaurant). Chinese rely upon soup for liquid, with meals, or tea between meal. Cola is available only for foreigners. It is sold solely at the Friendship Stores or at bars in tourist hotels and by special currency cerificates obtained when tourists exchange money. A 12-ounce can imported from San Francisco costs 69 cents.
Traveling is the major expense of the "experts." They pay Chinese prices on trains and buses, but receive only a 30 percent reduction on air fares. Exemption from customs duties on food and clothing packages, which run between 100 and 150 percent, is a further benefit. Without this, the mailing of out-of-season clothing would be impossible.
Because the Chinese are generally of a slighter build than Westerners, this ability to buy abroad is a blessing for long-term reisidents whose jeans are wearing thin. Nothing thin has any appeal in most of China in the winter, as classrooms, as well as most homes, have no heat. A Mongolian girl described the students as "round balls in winter," a new expression for the multilayered look to which even the "foreign experts" must subscribe.