JISHOU, HUNAN — If all goes to plan, I’ll be in the USA for another summer vacation on Monday. Now is as good a time as any to catch everyone up on what’s been happening here.
The spring term basically finished for me last Friday. I gave my final exams the week before, and handed in the grades on the 6th. Since that time, I’ve basically just been cooling my heels here waiting to get my passport with a new residence permit back from the Public Security Bureau (PSB). Until then, I can’t leave town.
Two years ago, the PSB almost did not renew my residence permit because they thought I had been teaching at another school, which is against regulations. My foreign affairs officer was able to persuade them to grant me my residency, though.
Last year’s renewal went off without a hitch, but this year not so much.
See that photo above? I visited a combined primary-secondary school in Huayuan County in May, where a graduate student friend of mine teaches English. He thought I could visit the school’s English classes to encourage the kids to learn English better.
I visited three classes in the morning. It was pretty exhausting work. I didn’t ask for compensation, but the principal of the school gave me this traditional Tujia batik print as a thank you present.
Well, to make a long story short, the PSB was not happy about my visiting the school. Officer Yang told me it would be better not to make any more visits to schools, because it would look like I was working two jobs.
She also had some worries about a trip I made to Chongqing last April, as it seems the PSB never got word that I had returned from the trip. I had to explain that I went with my students from the university for their junior class trip (aka “practical experience”) and was only gone three days. It seems the PSB suspected I was teaching in Chongqing as well as Jishou.
Well, there was an investigation into all this, which delayed my residence permit by a week. So, I’ve been stuck in Jishou with basically nothing to do while I wait.
Two years ago, I wrote that China seemed to policing foreign workers, and foreign guests, more closely than before. Until 2014, I was reasonably free to visit other schools, and even teach a few lessons now and then, without running into trouble. My college and university really don’t mind, as long as fulfill my contractual duties.
All foreigners, including tourists, have to report their whereabouts to the local PSB whenever they travel in country. By the terms of my contract, I also have to tell the Foreign Affairs Office whenever I leave town and I return; the FAO then forwards that information to the PSB for me.
Tourists staying in hotels and hostels don’t need to worry about this formality, as the hotel staff does the reporting for them. A private citizen hosting a foreigner is obliged to report the visit to the PSB within 24 hours. Similarly, a tourist who goes camping also needs to report his presence to the local PSB.
Why? Aside from the obvious fact that China is to some extent a police state, even for its own citizens, the government is worried about foreign “influence” here, namely, religion and “Western values.” The administration of President Xi Jinping seems to be very concerned about foreign influences on Chinese society and politics, so everyone has to toe the line carefully.
Effectively, this means I cannot visit any more schools, even as a non-paid guest, and I have be extra careful not to give the impression I am working another job. [I’m not sure how my acting gig for the Internet movie two years ago would be perceived, and I didn’t ask.]
On one hand, I can understand the purpose for the “one job only” regulation, as it would prevent both foreign workers and employers from abusing the system. On the other hand, it seems an awful waste of available manpower and educational value to bar a university teacher from at least visiting local schools for no pay. There is an acute shortage of foreign English teachers in China. Surely, an occasional visit would not compromise the intent of the regulations.
I had fun at Paibi school, and the kids seemed to enjoy my visit. They even wanted to come back, but now it semms that’s going to impossible.
A few words about the print: it represents a Tujia marriage custom, the crying bride. By tradition, a bride (center left in the print) cries to represent her sadness at leaving her family, her love for her parents (center right), and the end of her girlhood. Tujia and Miao people are also known for their handmade batik prints, which can sell for as high as several hundreds of dollars in local shops.