N, 33, Xi’an西安


Having met N via couchsurfing, she hosted me in her apartment for one night. We had pre-arranged to meet at a central subway. Upon meeting, N apologized for running a little late as she had apparently only just recovered from her rather raucous lunchtime work meeting, apparently involving numerous bottles of baijiu (Chinese rice wine often between 40-60% alcohol content by volume) Flustered and still a little rouge, N took me to the Muslim street food market, and then the South gate which was spectacularly lit up for the forthcoming Chinese New Year. The following day was N’s last day of work, so I visited the Terracotta Army and then strolled around Xi’an before jumping on a night train to Shanghai.

N works in sales for an International Pharmaceutical company that requires her to travel extensively within Asia. Having worked in many Chinese cities, N often relocates in order to chase a higher salary. Given that Xi’an is a 2nd city, the salary is typically lower than that of a 1st city (Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou), with Guangzhou apparently attracting the highest salaries[1]. Nevertheless whilst there remains a clear disparity in income within mainland China, salaries as a whole are increasing. According to the 2016 Hays Asia Salary Guide, “44 percent of Chinese employers plan to raise salaries by 6 to 10 percent”[2]

I asked N if she worked with any international colleges in her Xi’an office. She bluntly told me foreigners cannot understand the depth of Chinese business even if their Chinese language is nearly fluent. What’s more, as far as sales are concerned, local partners are more likely to trust a native Chinese as opposed to a foreigner. Disconcerted by this stance, I researched whether this was a recurring sentiment directed not only at non-Chinese workers, but at international companies as a whole. My brief research indicated that international presence in China is retreating. One of the reasons indicating China’s decelerating GDP in recent years has made foreign companies nervous. Furthermore, government reassurances of equal treatment with “politically well-connected domestic ones[3]” seems unlikely.

Yet other foreigners have been entirely undeterred; many are still attempting to participate in Chinese business and opportunity. The website LaiwaiCareer[4], established by an individual named Yuri Khlystov from Belarus offers advice for foreigners embarking upon a career in China. “The Chinese stereotypes on foreigners are not always negative, but the increasing interactions between them and foreigners make us wonder how they will inform and define the growing marriage of convenience”[5] From what I have experienced in China, if you can grasp the cultural differences and speak Mandarin, you are well on your way to launching a successful career in China. Yet until China becomes fully integrated with the outside world, such polar cultures will surely find it difficult to cooperate and fully understand one another.

At the age of 33, N is still single with no plans to actively search for a partner any time soon. Going against the social norm, N had a very unconventional Chinese outlook on marriage and considered it ‘unnecessary’. Impressed N had not caved at the incessant demands by her family to find a partner, it soon became obvious that N was thoroughly independent. She told me being dependent on another person emotionally, financially or socially frightened her. During her early twenties, N hitchhiked around Asia for six months whereby she relied entirely on the trust and compassion of total strangers. When asked if she was ever scared or lonely, N replied that she was lucky to have met wonderful people along the way who only ever had genuine intentions. Despite being lonely at times, the thrill of depending exclusively on herself and no one else was thrilling.


Several years ago N purchased her Xi’an apartment in which she lives with a friend and her sister who is heavily pregnant. N is unique for her generation in that she has three siblings. Her parents paid a hefty fine to the government after having their second, third and then fourth child. N couldn’t give me an exact figure, (whether she didn’t know, or didn’t want to tell me I am unsure) but she confessed her parents have been struggling financially ever since. They own a small restaurant on the outskirts of Xi’an and try to support each of their children until marriage. N spent the Chinese New Year with her family in their home village three hour’s drive from Xi’an. She told me she felt happy she had the opportunity to see her relatives, but was already anticipating the amount of work she would have to catch up on after the holiday.



[1] http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1022100/guangzhou-has-highest-average-salaries-cities-mainland-china

[2] http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2016-01/21/content_23183484_2.htm

[3] http://www.economist.com/news/business/21640329-countrys-leaders-seek-reassure-nervous-foreign-businesses-youre-still-welcome

[4] https://www.laowaicareer.com/

[5] https://www.laowaicareer.com/blog/what-its-like-to-be-the-only-foreigner-in-a-chinese-company/

Image 1&2&3. Own; taken at the Muslim Street Markets in January 2017

Image 4. Own; taken from N’s apartment in Xi’an in January 2017

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