In China, for many years, travelling abroad was not a feasible option for ordinary Chinese people; it was a luxury that was reserved for only a select few who a) could afford it and b) had permission from the Chinese government. However, nowadays, Chinese holidaymakers form a significant percentage of international tourists; the European and American tourism industries in particular, have benefited from the increased monetary and political freedom that Chinese travellers now have access to.
Similarly, in the past, emigration for Chinese citizens was simply out of the question. Under the strict communist rule of the mid-late 1900s China was cut off from the world, and remained one of the mysteries of the East. However, since the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, China has seen a significant growth of its middle-class. As a result, during the past ten years, the demand for emigration through investment or employment has rapidly ascended to higher levels than ever before. This is arguably due to greater access to the individual wealth through a freer market economy and a broader knowledge of options available overseas. As a result, families with money and who are discontented with the Chinese economy and society have chosen to move their money abroad, and start a new life in a new culture. This may, to some, sound like an abandonment of country and cultural identity, but for others it’s a doorway to a different way of life, although it is in many cases often no easy feat to move money abroad.
As it stands, only a small percentage of Chinese citizens are exploring emigration options, yet this number is on the rise, especially in more developed cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. Having worked in the investment immigration industry in China, it appears that the majority of investors are seeking to move to more developed Western countries such as America, Australia and some larger European countries. The more apparent reasons that more Chinese people are choosing to leave China and live abroad are two-fold; China’s internal restrictions on individual freedoms and the contrasting economic security provided by foreign countries.
Seemingly, many Chinese immigration investors are also looking to enhance stability for their children’s future and have financial security for their private assets. With private education abroad roughly amounting to the same cost as moving the entire family overseas, emigration has become an appealing option for a lot of middle-class families. Especially those who want to remove their children from the Chinese state education, and the tough gaokao 高考 examination system, and provide them with an international education. Also, for parents who don’t want to send their children abroad by themselves but would rather maintain the family unit, emigration often works out to be cheaper long-term and means children can remain with their families during the initial cultural transition.
Further, restrictions on freedom of individual wealth and the right to own private property in China have long been an issue for Chinese citizens. For instance, the Chinese government has control of the real estate market and the stock market, therefore the seeming lack of stable market control in China makes offshore investment much more appealing, if not necessary for those seeking a reliable financial future. Therefore, the opportunity to invest money abroad, and at the same time receive immigrant status, has become increasingly attractive to many Chinese people.
Another popular method of emigration other than investment is employment. As growing numbers of China’s youth are choosing to study abroad at foreign high schools or universities, the result is that more of these students desire to remain abroad and pursue international work placements. As one Chinese graduate from the University of Sheffield, UK, described, though her family encouraged her to return home after her studies abroad, she still views emigrating to work abroad as an ‘opportunity to get a higher salary with paid overtime and experience a better working environment.’ Though obtaining work visas abroad is often a lengthy and complicated process for Chinese workers, it is also a viable option that many Chinese youth, especially from Shanghai and Beijing, pursue.
Ultimately, emigrating to a foreign country is rarely a straightforward decision for nationals of any country. However, with China’s rising middle-class and educated youth seeking opportunities abroad, emigration has rarely been this popular or this accessible for Chinese citizens.
By Nadine Golding.