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Challenging Intersectional Racism: A Women of Colour Feminist Account of Chinese Teachers in the Private ELT Industry



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Wang, Shuling 


This Women of Colour feminist research illuminates Chinese women teachers’ experiences and understandings of how intersectional racism has produced and sustained a “chain of contempt” (bishi lian or 鄙视链) in China’s private English language teaching (ELT) industry. This research examines the lived experiences of 18 Chinese women who teach English in China alongside foreign White teachers. They reported being subjected to this hierarchical chain established through differences of race, gender, nationality, and language. Foreign White teachers occupied a dominant position due to their perceived desirability whereas Chinese female educators occupied a subjugated position due to both being demanded and disdained. Through critically discussing the affective dimensions of Chinese women teachers’ experiences of this chain—such as fear, anger, and exhaustion—I argue that Chinese women teachers’ experiences of subjugation in the ELT industry are forged through constructions of racial knowledge in China which imagines whiteness as profitable, desirable, and powerful. Over the past three decades, China’s ELT industry has experienced a significant increase in its number of international teachers, who are referred to as foreign teachers (外教, waijiao). A rising body of scholarship reveals the perpetuation of whiteness within this industry, examining how race intersects with gender, nationality, and class to disproportionately impact English teachers’ professional lives. However, these studies predominantly focus on the experiences of White teachers, particularly White male teachers, with limited attention paid to how whiteness, as a position of structural advantage, impacts teachers of Colour. This research addresses this gap in knowledge.

The study employed diverse and innovative data collection methods. For example, the researcher created and developed Tucao (吐槽), a feminist interviewing approach that is culturally sensitive to the Chinese context, and also used an innovative emotion-map-making method, which allowed participants to visually represent their emotions they associate with particular school spaces. Through a feminist grounded theory analysis, this research amplified these women teachers’ voices, constructing theories around their words and ideas. Consequently, the research provides significant insight into the power hierarchies shaping Chinese women teachers’ felt experiences within the ELT industry.

The study’s core findings revealed how Chinese women teachers felt like alienated and dehumanised second-class citizens due to institutional ELT practices, which constitute these teachers as exploitable in racial and gendered terms by “capitalist” school managers who make whiteness as profitable. The study also illustrated how these teachers felt dismissed by the mothers of their students, whom they disparagingly referred to as braindead mama fans who idolise, and even desire, White, foreign, and preferably male teachers. These same mothers treated Chinese women teachers more like nannies or caregivers than English-language instructors. Third, this study found that Chinese women teachers felt threatened when dealing with unqualified foreign teachers, whom they characterised as “time bombs”. These indigenous theoretical concepts reveal the critical intersection of race and gender that determines Chinese women teachers’ positions within the ELT industry’s power dynamics, a hierarchy shaped by knowledge around the transnational value of whiteness in China, a product of colonial legacies and China’s emerging position within global capitalism.

By amplifying the voices of marginalised Chinese women teachers, this study validates and legitimises women’s experiences and feelings, contributing to the formation of political solidarity amongst Chinese women teachers and their allies. The research sheds light on the challenges faced by these teachers, as well as the strategies they devised for addressing discrimination in their field. A heightened understanding of these women’s experiences can also draw policymakers’ attention to pervasive inequalities in the ELT industry, potentially changing its current status quo by advocating for changes in hiring practices, workplace policies, and regulations. Most importantly, the study highlights the urgency of the need to disrupt intersectional racism in China’s ELT industry, thereby contributing to broader academic discussions on education institutions’ commitment to social justice, diversity and inclusion in the global English-language education sector.





Denmead, Tyler


Intersectional Racism, Whiteness, English Language Teaching, Tucao, Emotional Map, Feminist Women of Colour Critique, Chinese Women Teachers, English-language Education in China


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge FfwG Foundation Grant