Date
17 November 2019
A sign outside an English language school in Beijing. Chinese authorities have been pushing for 'eradication of foreign influences' from the nation's schools. Photo: Reuters
A sign outside an English language school in Beijing. Chinese authorities have been pushing for 'eradication of foreign influences' from the nation's schools. Photo: Reuters

Surge in arrests of foreign teachers in China: report

Arrests and deportations of foreign teachers in China have soared this year amid a broad crackdown defined by new police tactics and Beijing’s push for a “cleaner”, more patriotic education system, Reuters reports, citing lawyers, schools and teachers. 

Four law firms told Reuters that requests for representation involving foreign teachers had surged in the past six months by between four and tenfold, while teachers and schools confirmed that arrests and temporary detentions for minor crimes have become commonplace.

Switzerland-based Education First (EF), which runs 300 schools across 50 Chinese cities, has seen a “significant” increase in detentions in China for alleged offences including drugs, fighting and cybersecurity violations, according to a June 27 internal notice sent to employees and seen by Reuters.

It said EF staff had been “picked up by police at their home and work as well as in bars and nightclubs and have been questioned and brought in for drug testing”. The notice said the school had also received warnings from embassies about the rise in arrests.

An international school in Beijing and a teaching agency in Shanghai separately confirmed that arrests had risen sharply, Reuters said.

“There’s tremendous pressure for them to keep things clean. It’s all part of (President) Xi Jinping’s idea to make sure that China can show a good face for the rest of the world,” Peter Pang, principal attorney at the IPO Pang Xingpu Law Firm in Shanghai, which represents foreign teachers in disputes, was quoted as saying.

The detentions come amid growing tensions between China and western countries, including the United States and Australia, Reuters noted.

China had roughly 400,000 foreign citizens working in its education industry in 2017, the last year for which official figures are available, working in schools, colleges and language institutes.

The industry has long been plagued by abuses on both sides, with many foreign teachers in China working without proper visas and some schools taking advantage of that vulnerability.

Lawyers said a rising backlash against foreign influence in China’s fiercely nationalistic education system means even qualified teachers are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation.

Many of the legal cases involving foreign teachers are linked to new and enhanced drug-testing measures, including testing methods that can track drug use over a longer time, such as surprise inspections at teacher’s homes and workplaces, lawyers told Reuters.

Three former teachers from two schools in Beijing and Shanghai who were detained for between 10 and 30 days before being deported this year say authorities drug-tested teachers multiple times within weeks of arrival and conducted extensive interrogations.

One of the three, a 25-year-old Florida man who was deported in May after a 10-day detention in a Beijing jail, said he and a colleague underwent a urine screening on their first day in China, which came back clean, but were detained after a surprise workplace test two weeks later showed traces of cannabis in his hair.

Hair tests can detect cannabis for up to 90 days, meaning teachers that come from countries where the drug is legal, including parts of the United States, are especially vulnerable.

The behavior of foreign teachers in China was thrust into the spotlight last month when 19 foreign citizens, including seven who worked for EF, were arrested in the eastern city of Xuzhou on drug charges.

The case drew fierce criticism in state media, which echoed earlier calls by Beijing to push for the eradicating of foreign influences from the country’s schools.

Last September, China launched a wide-reaching campaign to remove foreign influences from education, including efforts to ban foreign history courses, outlaw self-taught material and revise textbooks to focus on core Communist Party ideology.

The ongoing effort, which includes follow-up checks and random inspections at schools, is designed to promote “patriotism” and “core socialist values”, reflecting a “love for the motherland”, China’s education ministry said at the time.

Lawyers told Reuters that rising anti-foreigner sentiment in Chinese education and a glut of teachers mean expats are also more likely to be exposed to non-criminal legal issues, including schools docking pay, refusing to provide documentation for visas and changing contracts without warning.

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