Do employment contracts mean anything in China?
April 25, 2013 5:03 PM   Subscribe

The company behind my Chinese summer teaching job unilaterally terminated my contract after several months of using my name and record to advertise their program to students. I need help understanding the situation.

Last November, I accepted a 2013 summer teaching position in Beijing with a Chinese summer school private program (one of the programs this article is about). I signed a contract when doing so, and planned my summer around the trip (I live in the US). including turning down summer teaching opportunities at my home school. Upon my acceptance, the program began using my name, CV, photo, and syllabi on their website to recruit students. Two days ago, the program contacted me to say that my classes have been cancelled. Not all classes were cancelled, and the program is not shutting down. My take is that given 1- the contract, which we both signed and does not have any explicit clause allowing for termination, and 2- the fact that they have been using me to recruit students for months now entitles me to compensation. I have emailed them politely expressing this view, and they have responded with a mild concession (offering to give me a "contract" for next summer) and their take on the validity of the contract, which I quote in full below:

As for the question regarding contract, according to it:
5. Governing law, jurisdiction, and venue All matters relating to the interpretation, construction and enforcement of this Agreement shall be governed by the laws and regulations(excluding choice of law principles) of the People’s Republic of China. Any dispute, controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this Agreement that is not subject to arbitration may be brought only in the courts of the People’s Republic of China, and Parties consent to the personal jurisdiction of such courts over them and waive any objection to venue.
According to the law of China, the contract is provisional, service based contract. Either party can terminate it with three days in advance. The contract is not employment based.

The last three sentences are the opinions of the person emailing me, not language from the contract. Again, there is no clause in the contract explicitly giving the program the ability to unilaterally terminate the contract, and in general, the contract's language is unexceptional. However, it does refer more than once to it being a "provisional contract".

My questions:

1- what legal meaning does "provisional contract" have in general, and bonus if you happen to know what meaning it has in China.

2- I know I need to talk to a lawyer to go any further with this; any idea how to get an English-speaking lawyer, preferably in Beijing or Shanghai (I will be in both cities on unrelated business in June).

3- On a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being a massive waste of time, and 0 being well worth pursuing, what is your subjective impression of my situation?

I can't post the full contract without giving away my identity. I realize this constrains the usefulness of answers. Thank you.
posted by deadweightloss to Law & Government (6 answers total)
I would personally let it go. I'd probably go as far as requesting that they remove my information from their website/etc., and leave it at that. I would rate it a 9 or 10. However, I could see why others might give it a lower numerical rating.
posted by aniola at 5:12 PM on April 25, 2013

This sucks, and I can understand why you're frustrated. But, the most likely reason a school would cancel classes like this (when they're not closing all together) is that not enough students signed up for your classes, and thus it does not make sense to hold the courses you were slated to teach. Keep in mind that in many U.S. states, there's a similar deal - signing an employment contract doesn't necessarily mean that a company can never, ever lay you off if there's not enough work for you to do - even if you turned down another job to take it. But, similarly, say a family member came down with an illness and you decided you just could not be away from the U.S. this summer - presumably you would have quit the job and not expected that they could forcibly ship you to China to work, right?
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

9 or 10 for waste of time. A friend to me who's spent a decent amount of China once told me, "Negotiations in China really start after you sign a contract." Basically, contracts (he spoke of employment and other business ventures) mean very very little and are subject to change on a whim.
posted by astapasta24 at 7:27 PM on April 25, 2013

Contracts mean nothing and the courts are toothless. There is not a number high enough to express how much of a waste of time pursuing this would be.
posted by zjacreman at 8:07 PM on April 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

10. Unless you have more time to waste, money to bribe with than the school, or Chinese networks to involve than they do, and if you had that, you wouldn't be so bummed about losing the work, I'm guessing.
posted by smoke at 12:41 AM on April 26, 2013

Even if there wasn't a lax contract culture in China, you're a still foreign national who (it sounds like) isn't on the ground in China and is seeking some fraction of a summer's worth of collegiate-priced labor in compensation. What possible legal recourse could you have?

On a scale of 1-10, turn it up to 11. Hope they take down your picture and forget about it.

Sorry you got the short end of the stick on this one, unfortunately that can happen when arranging things from abroad. I had a school in Korea break a similar contract and I lost out on weeks of pay at home as a result.
posted by charlemangy at 5:01 AM on April 26, 2013

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