Thank you for this very thoughtful question.
You are right that the sentence in question was written prior to the collapse of Merrill Lynch and the Lehman Brothers in September 2008. However, the particular point that is being supported by that statement is, without a doubt, far truer today than it was when I wrote that chapter back in the first quarter of 2007. You can most definitely (and at the very least) expect “psychological insult” on top of economic injury: not just back home but in China as well as the cost of groceries here exceeds the price of, for example, milk, eggs, and bread anywhere in the United States.
This is something going on today that wasn’t nearly as true (or as apparent) when I wrote that statement some four years ago: For the past two to three years, China has been experiencing a resurgence of pathological nationalism, referred to by some as Han Chauvinism, that is reminiscent of—both in intensity and aggressiveness—the Boxer Rebellion circa 1900.
The principal targets of this aggressive nationalistic movement are, not surprisingly, Americans. While a recent college graduate who is currently unemployed may consider the quote in question to be entirely ludicrous, the reality is, from the perspective of the Communist Regime and Chinese military, America is the only country left to beat. Chinese military officers are in fact trained to think of Americans as the enemy they will be fighting in the next war.
I worked with two young American men, both married to Chinese girls, who came to see me professionally in Guangzhou due to severe stress resulting from chronic harassment and overt threats. One patient was so anxious, he required neuroleptic medication until such time that he was able to flee (and I use that word advisedly) the country and return to the States.
I have another very close acquaintance in China, an American, who (up until quite recently) ran a very successful business together with his Chinese wife in a second-tier city. He was routinely harassed to the point of being forced to close his doors. He is now making plans to leave the country within the year. In fact, I too permanently left China, a couple of weeks ago to be precise.
My former dean, who I do consider to be a friend, invited us out to lunch a few days before I was scheduled to leave the country and asked me what my most unpleasant (negative) impression was of China after having lived and worked in the country for more than seven years. I required absolutely no time whatever to respond and the spontaneity of my answer surprised us both: What I told him was that in all the time I had been in China, not once did I ever feel truly welcomed. There was times that I felt begrudgingly needed, but at no time did I ever feel that the people who were paying my salary really wanted me here (and, obviously, this does not include my students). When you think about it, this is a profoundly disturbing statement to make.
A necessary corollary of this resurgence in Han Chauvinism is that fact that the English language, as well as anything Western, is viewed as a potential threat to the purity and preservation of the Chinese culture. The English language is to most Chinese what a good life insurance policy is to most Americans: It’s something you’ll hopefully never need to use but it is something you should most definitely have in case you ever do need it.
Quite tragically, most foreign English teachers do not know this but—as the result of a recent mandate from Beijing—the use of the English language is strictly forbidden on national television in China, including the use of common acronyms such as “NBA” and “WTO.” The fear is that routine use of such acronyms would eventually make their way into the Chinese language itself, the way many French and Latin words are now an integral part of the English language, e.g., fait acommpli, folie à deux, curriculum vitae. The Communist Regime will never allow this to happen to the Chinese language.
The use of the English language in China is only acceptable for communication with Western people and other foreigners. Consequently, outside of the foreign teacher's classroom, there is no English language environment, by design, and there never will be. For example, two Chinese adults caught routinely speaking English to each other (for whatever reason), outside the context of a foreign-owned company, would be viewed as engaging in anti-nationalistic behavior and would be destroying their careers.
Regardless of how bad things are financially back home, virtually anything else would be preferable to teaching oral English in China—including pan handling and living in a homeless shelter. For one thing there is more dignity and personal integrity in begging for money than in prostituting oneself as a white native English speaker in a country that deeply resents Western people and views the English language as a potential contaminant and national threat. Related, there is undeniably far greater hope for one’s future in the United States as a homeless person than in voluntarily becoming an economic and vocational prisoner of the China EFL industry.
Please Lydia, and anyone else who might be reading this, do not move to China to teach oral English unless you are doing so for a time-limited period and as a very specific means to an end, e.g., to subsidize Chinese language study, to have a short-term working vacation.
Do NOT move to China to teach oral English in response to unemployment back home or other personal problems such as bankruptcy and legal difficulties. While there are always exceptions to the rule, most do live to regret it.
Finally, if Congress does pass legislation imposing punitive import duties on China (as it is threatening to do so) such that it ends China’s free ride and holds them accountable for the incredible trade imbalance and the artificially depreciated renminbi, I guarantee that China will not be a physically safe place for any American national.