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What We Use in China

Summary of Readers’ Survey Responses


In July 2008, we introduced a survey for our readers in order to receive feedback about the usefulness of the guide and for soliciting suggestions for improvement. From July 23, 2008 through December 5th, 2008, we received a total of 44 responses from our readers and thought this would be a good time to report the survey results and respond to some of the very useful feedback our readers have provided us with.


Respondent Demographics

Three-fourths of our respondents were men (N = 33) and about 61% hail from either the United States or Australia (N = 16 and 11, respectively; Chart 1, bottom-right). The age groups of our survey respondents were fairly evenly distributed with about 32% comprising 18 to 29 year olds and, on the older end, 34% from the 45 to 59 year old age groups.
Guide Reader Survey Respondents by Nationality
Fifty percent of our survey readers indicated they hold a bachelor’s degree (N = 22); about 25% have an associate’s degree or less (N = 11), and another 22.8% report having completed either a master’s or doctoral degree (N = 10; missing values = 1).

Approximately 45% of our respondents (N = 20) were thinking about teaching in China, 36.4% (N = 16) were already teaching in China, and the remaining 18.2% (N = 8) were either in China but not as foreign teachers, or had been foreign teachers but had already returned home.

Half of our respondents were first time visitors; 38.6% had visited two to five times and three respondents (6.8%) had visited 20 times or more before taking the survey. Slightly over 43% were referred to the guide via search engines, 36.4% from an ESL/EFL website, and the remaining 20.5% were sent to the guide by either an expat website or another foreigner (N = 4 and 5, respectively).


Satisfaction with the guide was measured across six dimensions on a 5-point Likert scale with “5” indicating extreme satisfaction: 1) Useful and up-to-date; 2) Sufficient topics; 3) Clearly written; 4) Information easy to find; 5) Webpage load time, and; 6) Would recommend guide to a friend. For the purpose of conducting statistical analyses, a “satisfaction index” was calculated based on the average of the ratings from all but the question on webpage load time. Webpage response time was excluded from the final satisfaction index because this is not a factor we have any control over but, nevertheless, one that could affect satisfaction with the overall experience.

Readers’ overall satisfaction with the guide is extremely favorable as indicated in Figure 1 (N = 44, <"\bar{x}"> = 4.37, SD = .76). Ten respondents (22.7%) evaluated the guide with a perfect score of 5. Just slightly more than 61% of our survey respondents (N = 27) can be categorized as “highly satisfied” with the guide as indicated by a satisfaction index of 4.0 to 4.8. Eleven percent of our readers expressed moderate to moderate-high satisfaction with the guide based on an overall index of 3.0 to 3.8, while one respondent indicated complete dissatisfaction with the guide on every dimension including webpage response time. However, her written comments were in contradiction with the guide’s actual content suggesting her responses were based on a fixed and predetermined response set irrespective of the actual questions (for example, it is highly unlikely that the webpage response time would be extremely poor only for her).

A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to determine if there were any differences in satisfaction associated with our readers’ sociodemographic variables (with statistical outlier removed). Only one variable proved to be significant in its association with satisfaction: age group. Generally speaking, older respondents reported a significantly higher degree of satisfaction than our youngest readers, F(2, 40) = 5.213, p = .01, r = .45. A Dunnett T3 post-hoc test revealed that this highly significant result was entirely accounted for between the 18 to 24-year old and 50+ year old age groups, i.e., there was no significant difference in satisfaction between the 30 to 49-year old age group and the younger and older respondents, respectively.

Overall, differences in satisfaction with the guide were minimal, tightly clustered in a negative skew, and cannot be accounted for by any sociodemographic variable other than age in the limited context already reported. Restated, the vast majority of the survey respondents were highly to totally satisfied with the guide, and whatever minimal differences did exist between respondents were not associated with gender, nationality, educational level, teaching status, number of visits, or referral source.

Written comments.

Thirty of the 44 respondents (68.1%) chose to leave written comments for us. All but one of the comments (i.e., the one from the statistical outlier) were extremely complimentary. Of particular interest were those comments that offered suggestions for additional material or improvements and those will be summarized here.

Additional content.

Survey respondents asked that the following types of information be included in future editions:

  1. Home ownership (buying a home).
  2. Provincial cultural differences.
  3. Teachers’ responsibility to the school/employer.
  4. Information tailored more towards the career EFL teacher.
  5. Church weddings and extended family issues (e.g., dealing with Chinese in-laws).
  6. Special section on Chinese youth.
  7. More information about cost of living, especially cost of entertainment and what types of entertainment are available in China.
  8. More personal stories.
  9. Job listings, especially those geared towards professional EFL teachers.
  10. Information geared towards women and gay issues, especially in regard to dating and relationships.

Constructive criticism of the guide.

Related, we paid very close additional to those comments that offered constructive criticism of the guide. They were limited to just a couple of main categories and can be summarized as follows:

  • Guide is oriented towards heterosexual men.
  • Guide does not instruct about how to teach oral English in China.


The responses indicate that we are accomplishing the guide’s main goals: namely, to inform and advise prospective foreign teachers about what they can realistically expect as Westerners in China.

Unfortunately the guide cannot be everything to everyone because the content is necessarily directed and limited by our areas of expertise, the research literature and, predominantly, by the guide’s explicit purpose.

Admittedly, the guide is not devoted to specifically instructing readers how to teach English as a foreign language, and I suspect it never will. There are hundreds of other good websites on the Internet already devoted to this very topic, not to mention an abundance of TEFL and TESOL certification programs that are designed to do just that. However, we do devote an entire unit to oral English curriculum content in China in order to orient prospective foreign teachers about the type of material they will be teaching. In fact, most of these EFL textbooks incorporate the teaching methodology right into the books’ content and how to teach or present the material is often very clearly laid out in the teacher’s editions.

We are aware that the guide is silent in regard to specific issues related to women and homosexuals. This is necessarily dictated by the fact that the guide is written by two heterosexual middle-aged White men and, more so, because there is a complete absence of any research literature devoted to these issues. However, in the interest of thoroughness, we have invited several women and gay men to contribute special sections to the guide (in regard to dating and relationships) and all have declined. If the number of gay Western teachers in China (who also read the guide) is consistent with global statistics on homosexuality, then approximately 10% of our readers are affected by this absence. We make only one reference to homosexuality in the guide and that is in the context of its relative intolerance in China based on a literature review and in consultation with several Chinese psychiatrists.

It is interesting to us that overall satisfaction was so highly associated with the age group of the respondent and that the effect was moderate in size (r = .45). We expected those who are thinking about teaching in China to be more satisfied with the guide than those who are already in China and although there was a moderate pattern that emerged to this effect, the association between teaching status and the satisfaction index was not significant at or below the .05 level of probability (p = .182).

Why older respondents (50+) would report a statistically significant higher degree of satisfaction than those in the 18 to 24-year old age group is unclear. Perhaps this is due to the relative dearth of topics that might be of greater interest to our younger readers, such as an extensive discussion of the bar scene or nightlife in China. It is also possible that this is accounted for by some age-specific and unconscious difference (bias) in writing style that appeals more to older readers, as both authors are in the 50+ age group themselves. However, the differences—although statistically significant—are not necessarily phenomenologically meaningful: We are talking about comparative means of 4.11 and 4.76 for the younger and older respondents, respectively. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that younger readers are dissatisfied with the guide: It’s just that the middle-aged and older readers are more satisfied with it.

In regard to personal stories, we have invited everyone who has included an e-mail address to contribute a personal story and all but one have declined. For us, there is something ironically peculiar in receiving a suggestion for more personal stories from readers who have been teaching in China for years, fail to voluntarily contribute one, and then even decline our invitation to write one. Obviously, personal stories have to come from people other than the guide’s authors. We suspect (although we don’t know for sure) that this reticence to contribute personal stories is at least partially accounted for by an insecurity in regard to writing skills or, perhaps, a fear of being identified by the details in one’s story.

Nevertheless, we will incorporate many of the suggestions for future content in later editions of the guide, especially a unit on buying an apartment, more cost of living information, as well as several “mini-guides” on special topics of interest. In addition, Ken Hayes is very eager to start posting recipes for delicious Western dishes that can be made with ingredients easily obtained in China—so that is on the list as well. We will be releasing a major revision to the guide over the next month that will incorporate many of the great suggestions we have received.

As for job listings, again, we feel there are more than enough websites already devoted to selling job advertisements and we just don’t see the need to delve into that area. We will, however, start including advertisements that offer services that would be helpful to foreign teachers, such as from national moving companies and the like.

In closing, we’d like to thank everyone who took the time to complete the survey and provided us with very helpful feedback. Your heartfelt thanks and encouragement have been more than sufficient reward for the time we have invested in this project and will result in the guide’s continued success and overall usefulness.

Some representative comments from our respondents:

  • I think the guide would benefit from a female foreigner’s perspective on dating, interacting with Chinese men, etc. Likewise gay and lesbian perspectives, as well as something from the point of view of a non-White foreigner.
  • More stories from real expats.
  • I would be interested in learning more about China from a woman’s perspective.
  • Plain and simple, I’m so thankful I came across you folks.
  • Wish I’d read through this guide before volunteering to teach.
  • This is an absolutely marvelous site, very nicely done!
  • I wish something like this was available when I came here.
  • Thank you very much for the detailed insight into working and living in China.
  • Well-written, lucid guide. I read almost all of it in one sitting. i hope more information will be added. Thank you.
  • I am thoroughly impressed by the information presented on this site.

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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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