Podcast #27: One Month in Chinese Jail

On this episode of the podcast I’m joined by Doug, who just emerged from nearly one month in a Chinese jail due to a visa law violation. As is the case with many China expats who’ve been in this situation, Doug believed himself to be acting in accordance with China’s regulations, until the PSB begun investigating details surrounding his Chinese study in Chengdu. Misled by the Chinese language school providing his visa, Doug regrettably walked right into trouble. Doug tells his story and offers tips for staying out of trouble and preparing for the worst.

Topics Discussed

  • The Chinese language school which provided Doug’s visa
  • Interrogation by local PSB
  • Chinese jail culture
  • Befriending cellmates
  • Illness in jail and the role of the U.S. Consulate
  • Doug’s feelings on China

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20 thoughts on “Podcast #27: One Month in Chinese Jail”

  1. I’m not in the habit of listening to podcasts because they take way too much time and tend to ramble, but I’m going to bet dimes to dollars this had nothing to do with his student visa, and everything to do with Doug illegally working as an English teacher at a training school.

    In fact, I would be doubtful if Doug ever spent a day in that language school and instead just used it as a license to work. I’ve certainly known plenty of foreigners who have done exactly that, and not just in China.

  2. The truth of the situation is not quite as simple as you describe. Which makes sense because you evidently did not even listen to the podcast. But many, like Doug, are deceived into believing their visa is legitimate when it is not. I’d venture a guess that most foreigners in China exist within a legal grey zone, as Doug did. Unfortunately, the grey zone turns into the red zone whenever China decides to enforce the law. In the end, it is Doug’s responsibility and he acknowledges that. He is a good person for being transparent about his mistake and sharing his experience for others to learn from.

  3. Great episode. I heard about Dougs situation in Chengdu, but also there had been a lot of Chinese whispers regarding why he was in Prison. Good to hear the true story.

  4. Super interesting listening to this, particularly the points where it seems he wasn’t even provided appropriate attire for the weather, perhaps leading to his getting sick. On top of that, the lack of stimulation besides Chinese television almost makes it feel like a mental facility more than a jail…

  5. I believe Doug was arrested because of his trip to the Tibetan area of Sichuan. The regime does not welcome any expats who is interested in that politically sensitive area for any reason. Immigration document is just an excuse to get him booted from China forever.

  6. Is this the whisper, he went to a Tibetan area?
    Or doing something else in those areas?

    I agree that these areas are politically sensitive and have been for a long time, but to be arrested just traveling there?

    • While possible, I’m skeptical also. A lot of travelers head to that region, it feels unlikely that they are all being targeted for investigation or expulsion. It’s possible though.

  7. It seems that his “sin” was lying to the big chief? I suppose that could have been it, while the others spilled the beans from the get go?

    Either way, great talk, good warning, and good interview skills charlie.

    Now lets here the “transition to america” podcast… 🙂

  8. I was really shocked to hear about this. My husband and I studied at Mandarin Club for years (although we didn’t have visas through them), and count Tina as a really close friend. I can’t believe she’d have knowingly misled students like this, and hope you can share more from her perspective if it’s possible.

    • I don’t know Tina and she is supposedly still unavailable so it’s hard to imagine the circumstances of that, but I am happy to share any information I come across which is helpful. I’ve known about Mandarin Club for years and it came highly recommended, so surprising to hear about what happened. Nothing I’ve heard about the situation convinces me that she was necessarily acting maliciously. I’m guessing she was just operating in a legal grey zone, as many do, which was suddenly and specifically targeted by authorities.

      • They really were all excellent teachers, very conscientious and lovely, hands down the best we’ve come across in China. Thank you anyway for sharing this and to Doug for being so open about his experiences.

        • That’s what I’ve heard. Shocking that this happened to Mandarin Club and not one of the many much-more-suspect Chinese teaching outfits here. Thank you for listening to the podcast and giving feedback!

  9. I feel bad for Tina and all involved. I too studied at Mandarin Club, back when it was owned by Cici, but I have also met Tina, who I’m sure was just doing things the Chinese way and never intended any harm to anyone. When people ask about the preponderance of rules in China, I always explain that China is full of rules that almost no one follows.

    This was just one of those ways around the rules where everyone looks the other way, until the day they don’t.

    For the record, when I studied there and asked about a visa I was told that because they are, technically, a business and not a school, they can not sponsor visas. So I had to fly to HK every 60 days. This can be quite a hassle/hardship and it looks like they found a way around this… for a while. The real solution is to allow small language schools to sponsor student visas.

  10. So this guy lies to the cops, keeps lying then snitches at the end. I mean what could go wrong. At least if you’re going to lie keep your story til the end.
    Talks about making a run for it? but the cops had their passports… I mean how are you going to escape China? By sea as a stowaway? lol This is why these things happen to these guys. They think they’re above the law and keeps taking things as a joke thinking nothing will happen to them cause theyre from the civilized west. Pretty much sums it up right here.
    You think people from anywhere else in the world pulls this kind of cra.p?

    • He lied upon instruction from his school, and admitted it was a mistake. If you have lived in China you are probably aware that much of Chinese society operates within a legal grey zone.


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