Chinese University Professors Work Humble Jobs in United States

September 7, 2006 12:00 am Last Updated: September 7, 2006 12:00 am

TAIPEI—In order to stay in the United States, many Chinese professors and professionals are willing to let go of their high social status and income to work as housekeepers or servants, or take other low-status jobs. Out of embarrassment, they conceal their identities after taking on their new occupations. Based on a survey reported by Beijing's Global Times, there are three types of Chinese professors working as housekeepers. The first type is considered transitional, only working as housekeepers until they find a new job. The second type is temporary, with the goal of working for half a year and saving up money, then going back to China. The third type is permanent, and they are forced to keep working as housekeepers until they retire.

Global Times interviewed a former professor from Beijing University, Chen Wei, who said that like her, there are many high-level intellectuals working long-term as housekeepers. According to Chen, these intellectuals include professors, scholars, doctors, musicians, and dancers, and come from various parts of China, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Chen came to America as a visiting scholar in the early 1990s, and decided to stay because she hoped it would help her children to be able to study abroad in the future. Because Chen failed to obtain a work visa, she had to work as a housekeeper for ten years. Compared with others, Chen was lucky, as she met reasonable and fair employers.

Chen admitted to having psychological obstacles about her job for a very long time. She never told others that she used to be a Beijing University professor to prevent making her family and Beijing University from losing face. As time went by, she got over it and made the sacrifice because she had to make a living and support her children. Chen said, “There is nothing to be ashamed of, because I earn money through hard work, not through robbery and theft.”

Her income became her family's financial backbone, and she supported her children throughout their college. Her children did not know she worked as a housekeeper for ten years until they arrived in the United States for graduate studies. Chen said, “They hugged me and cried bitterly. My kids vowed to finish their studies as soon as possible and let me enjoy a better life.”

Another example is Yi Hua, who immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s in her fifties. Yi was a rather well known physics professor in a Beijing university because of her outstanding teaching and scientific research achievements.

Due to Yi's lack of proficiency in spoken English and her older age, she was unable to find a job. When an employment agency notified her that a Chinese couple needed a babysitter and English was not required for the position, Yi was humiliated. She thought, “I had a housekeeper back in Beijing, and I am a professor—how can I fall to become a lowly babysitter?”

Yi decided to take the job since she needed to support herself. After she worked as a babysitter for three families, Yi opened a store with the money she made and some financial aid from her daughter. Yi now often helps newcomers and provides opportunities for them. She has now retired and lives a peaceful life in retirement by enjoying her pension and health insurance in the United States.