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Section I: Teaching English in China continued—Foreign Teacher Compensation

Updated January 3, 2012

Days Off and Paid Holidays

Chinese New Year

There is a great deal of variability in how schools define what constitutes a work week and, related, the teachers' days off.

For the most part, working at a university means that you will work Monday through Friday and can count on having your weekends free. However and conversely, private schools have no choice but to offer their classes when the students are available: namely, evenings and weekends. While most private schools adhere to an established work week of (typically) Wednesday through Sunday, there are quite a few that regard themselves as open for business seven days a week on an as-needed-basis. We know of at least one teacher at a private language school whose schedule consisted of teaching one 90-minute class seven days per week. This is something you will need to be careful about. When reviewing your SAFEA contract addendum, be sure to verify if the work week and teachers' days off are specifically mentioned. Ideally, you want to have two contiguous days off per week and in most cases this can be successfully negotiated.

Foreign teachers typically receive the same holiday or vacation schedule as their Chinese counterparts. At public universities, this generally means you will have at least one month off during the Spring Festival (sometime in January through February, depending on the lunar calendar) and as much as two-and-a-half months off during the summer break. Although, years ago, it was standard to pay university foreign teachers for the summer vacation (in what was a 12-month contract), many universities are now attempting to save money by offering 10-month contracts only: This is highly negotiable and most universities, at the very least, will readily agree to pay you for the summer vacation if you renew your contract.  In addition, there have been recent reports of a few public universities requiring foreign teachers to pay rent for their apartments during the Spring Festival break: Under no circumstances should you ever agree to this.

Unfortunately, for foreign teachers at private schools, the Spring Festival usually means extra work (or, at the very least, the opportunity to work overtime) as the schools often run special intensive winter English programs during this school break for primary through senior middle-school students. There is enormous variability regarding paid vacation time among private English language schools and it appears to range anywhere from just a few days to a combined total of about four to five weeks out of the year. However, please keep in mind that these private schools sell classes in package deals that are marketed as X-amount of classes over a fixed period of time, e.g., 12 classes over three months. What this means is that when a scheduled class is interrupted by a national holiday (the week-long "Golden Week" holiday on National Day) or the Spring Festival, the teachers are then required to work on their scheduled days off, in what typically amounts to a harried seven to nine contiguous days of marathon teaching (either during the period immediately before or after the holiday). Some unscrupulous schools, in an attempt to make their remuneration package look more appealing than it really is, will report these mandatory rescheduled work days as "paid vacation days" which, of course, they are not (because you’re working on your normal days off).

Official Holiday Schedule and Golden Week Holiday Explained

Chinese Moon Cakes

Soft and chewy Chinese moon cakes eaten during the Mid-Autumn Day Festival. Expect to receive many boxes of these from your school and students.

Beginning January 1st, 2008, mainland China will have two week-long (five- to seven-day) "Golden Week" national holidays: National Day, which begins on October 1st and the Spring Festival, celebrating the lunar New Year, which can fall in either January or February, depending on the lunar calendar.4 However, these holidays—in actuality—are only three-day holidays that are extended to five and seven days, respectively, to promote and encourage domestic tourism—with the understanding that employees will make up the two or four extra days on their normal days off.

So let's say Wednesday and Thursday are your normal days off and Saturday and Sunday are your two busiest work days. During this Golden Week holiday, you will most likely work your rescheduled Saturday and Sunday classes on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, immediately preceding the beginning of the holiday week. In theory, you could end up teaching for nine consecutive days for the "luxury" of having the following five to seven consecutive days off.

China 2012 Public Holiday Schedule

Mainland China will celebrate seven national holidays, two of which are Golden Week Holidays, distributed over 27 days of vacation time for the year 2012. Of those 27 days, seven days will have to be "made up " (three more make-up days than we had in 2011). The official 2012 public holiday schedule is as follows:

  • International New Year's Day: Sunday, January 1 through Tuesday, January 3, 2012 (3 days). Work make-up day is on Saturday, December 31st 2011.
  • Chinese New Year Day falls on Monday, January 23 this year. The Chinese New Year, Year of the Dragon, and Spring Festival Golden Week Holiday will be celebrated from: Sunday, January 22 through Saturday, January 28 (7 days in total. Make-up days occur on Sunday, January 21st and Saturday, January 29th.
  • Tomb-Sweeping Day/Qing Ming Jie: Monday, April 2 to Wednesday, April 4 2011 (3-day holiday), also referred to as the Clear and Bright Festival. The first day falls on the 104th day after the winter solstice, or the 15th day from the Spring Equinox. Make-up work days are scheduled for Saturday, March 31st and Sunday, April 1st.
  • Labor Day/May Day: Sunday, April 29 through Tuesday, May 1, 2012 (3 days). Make-up day is on Saturday, April 28th.
  • Dragon-Boat Festival/Duan Wu Jie: Friday, June 22 through Sunday, June 24, 2012 (3 days). The first day falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, hence its alternate name "Double Fifth." Celebrated by the eating of zongzi, sweet rice dumplings. Falls around late May to mid-June on the Gregorian calendar.
  • Mid-Autumn Festival/Zhongqiu Jie and National Day/Guoqing Jie: Saturday, Sunday, September 30th through Sunday, October 7th, 2012 (8 days). Falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, usually mid- to late September, a date that parallels the Autumn Equinox of the Gregorian calendar. Celebrated by the eating of Chinese moon cakes [pictured above]). This year, National Day (October 1) falls within the Mid-Autumn Festival schedule. Make-up work day is scheduled for Saturday, September 29th.


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Middle Kingdom Life is the premier award-winning educational website for foreign teachers and Western expats in China. It was founded by an American professor in psychology and sociology for the purpose of disseminating valid and reliable information about living and teaching in China. The site's mission is to protect and enhance the interests and social welfare of foreign teachers and Western expats in China.

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