Working in China as an English Literature Lecturer

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With over 2,000 universities and approximately 5,000 years of written history, China offers many opportunities for academics, particularly early-career lecturers.

This post is based on my own experience of working as an English literature and culture lecturer in one of China’s top universities. My experience may not be the same as those in other universities or regions.

My role as an English literature lecturer is much broader than it would be at home. I, therefore, suggest that English lecturing is possible for English-speaking PhD-holders from across the humanities.


To enter university, most students have to complete the gaokao examination, a section of which is usually on English language. As a result, students who achieve a place at the top universities have a high level of English and are able to tackle the same texts as native-speakers, although they may require more time and teacher input. Students can have up to ten hours of classes a day, so they are often unable to put in the same amount of preparation into your class as you would expect. Likewise, English majors often study literature, culture, language, and translation. Therefore, you may also have to teach some language classes.

Generally, the students are hard-working and interested in the texts they study. In my department, lessons are two hours long and are expected to include both a lecture and an interactive tutorial. Students expect a good balance between teacher-led and student-led components.

The Department

Non-Chinese-speaking lecturers often have an ancillary role in their departments.  This has both benefits and disadvantages. Foreign lecturers have few administrative duties within the department, and usually are not subject to the same REF requirements as Chinese lecturers. On the other hand, the teaching load is comparatively high, there is little support for research, and the breadth of teaching may be a challenge.


Foreign lecturers may have a wider range of classes than they would have at home. For example, my specialism is British Romanticism, but I teach general literature, modern American literature, academic writing, culture, and public speaking. Although this can be frustrating, it also gives early career researchers an opportunity to broaden their knowledge-base and skills.


Although it can be difficult to get hold of monographs, the majority of online sites, including jstor for articles, and forums for keeping in contact with academic networks, are accessible.  The Chinese summer holiday coincides with most Western ones, meaning that it is possible to attend conferences and other research events. Despite the high teaching load, the lack of administrative work means that an early career lecturer has more time to work on their research than someone in a comparable role in the UK.


As English lecturers are expected to teach a wide range of classes, academics from across the humanities would be as well suited to this role. PhDs in history, philosophy, modern thought, and cultural studies would be particularly useful.


China offers many exciting opportunities, both personal and professional, for academics, especially early-career researchers or those with a particular focus on teaching.  In addition to work, living in China also provides a wonderful opportunity for learning about an ancient culture, and even learning a new language!

By Anna Fancett, Lecturer of English Literature, Language and Culture at Xi'an Jiatong University

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