Matt and Jian’s English class 6: Let’s talk about Chinese migration (part two)

Ninmen Hao,

Welcome to class six. This is the second of two classes where we are going to use the topic [huàtí 话题] of migration [yímín 移民 ] (particularly the migration of Chinese people within China and internationally [guójì 国际]) to work on our ability [nénglì 能力] to think [sīkǎo, 思考] and express ourselves [biǎodá zìjǐ 表达自己 ] in English. In this first

In the last class(class five) we discussed migration and citizenship (gGuójí 国籍) and migration within China. Let’s continue now with a discussion on international (guójì de国际的) migration, and think about how migration is viewed and discussed (lùn论) in China, and how we might express our views in English.

Chinese international migration

If the rural migrants experience economic and social inequality in the cities, that may acts as one factor in the decision some of them make to migrate overseas, if possible, where there may be greater opportunities to overcome social and economic inequalities.

Chinese migration and emigration (migration away from one place, leaving that place) also involve many of its increasingly large and well-educated middle class (zhōngchǎn jiējí 中产阶级) and elite (yuán zhǒng原种, or jiéchū rénwù 杰出人物) Chinese.


Many of China’s elite are reportedly (jùshuō 据说) considering (kÇŽolÇœ 考虑) or actively arranging migration:

elite exit strategy

Most of them want to go to the North American countries. China’s poor may want to emigrate primarily (zhÇ”yào主要) to escape inequality (jÄ«nglì 经历). The migration of some of China’s middle classes and elites also suggest the importance of economic factors (jÄ«ngjì yÄ«nsù 经济因素), although in different ways (yǐ bùtóng de fāngshì 以不同的方式) from the rural-to-urban migrants, and the importance of self-development (zìwÇ’ fāzhÇŽn 自我发展), as well and other issues.

Many middle class and elite families use temporary student migration (línshí xuéshÄ“ng yímínas 临时学生移民) as a way to advance (cùjìn 促进) their children’s future prospects (ertóng wèilái zhÇŽnwàng 儿童未来展望). In some cases, the hope is the child will go on to work and settle overseas (zài hÇŽiwài gōngzuò hé dìngjÅ« 在海外工作和定居), or at least work with a good international (guójì 国际) or national (guómín 国民) company (gōngsÄ« 公司), or public service (gōnggòng fúwù 公共服务) in China. The choice of overseas university (guójì dàxué 国际大学) and the university course (dàxué kèchéng 大学课程) are very important, and often only the well-known (zhÄ«míng 知名) prestigious (shÄ“ngwàng hÄ›n gāo de 声望很高的) universities — like Oxford and Cambridge in the UK, and Harvard and Yale in the US — give graduates a career advantage. These days there are many “sea turtle”s (hÇŽiguÄ« 海归 ) who have returned home from less prestigious universities to face the difficulty (miàn duì kùnnán 面对困难) of trying to earn enough to pay for the expensive (Ángguì 昂贵) overseas education while working for quite low wages (dÄ« gōngzÄ« 低工资).

The overseas study route (xuéxí lùxiàn 学习路线) can be risky financially and professionally (cáiwù hé zhuānyè fÄ“ngxiÇŽn 财务和专业风险), and not always provide the security (tígōng ānquán 提供安全)  that families hope it will. There are other risks and benefits (fÄ“ngxiÇŽn hé lìyì 风险和利益). Some students praise their overseas experience (zànmÄ›i tāmen dì hÇŽiwài jÄ«ngyàn 赞美他们的海外经验) as a time of self-development (zìwÇ’ fāzhÇŽn 自我发展) and learning about other cultures (liÇŽojiÄ› qítā wénhuà了解其他文化). Some find that they didn’t get to know much of the overseas culture as their social world (shèhuì shìjiè 社会世界) consisted primarily of other Chinese students. Some have worried (dānxÄ«n 担心) about delaying their age of marriage (tuōyán jiéhÅ«n niánlíng 拖延结婚年龄), having spent time overseas without finding a suitable boy or girl [héshì de nánhái huò nÇšhái合适的男孩或女孩]  (preferably [yōuxuÇŽn 优选] from their hometown [jiāxiāng 家乡).

Others find themselves caught between cultures [jiā zài liǎng zhǒng wénhuà zhī jiān夹在两种文化之间], and some receive criticism (shòudào pīpíng 受到批评) for taking on foreign views (cǎiqǔ guówài guāndiǎn 采取国外观点) of China. For example, one Chinese student in America received a lot of negative comments (fùmiàn pínglùnon 负面评论) on Weibo for her graduation speech (bìyè yǎnjiǎng 毕业演讲). She said:

People often ask me “why did you come to the University of Maryland?”

I always answer “fresh air”.

I grew up in a city where I had to wear a face mask everytime I went outside. Otherwise I might get sick.

However, the moment I inhaled and exhaled outside the airport I felt free.

No more fog on my glasses. No more difficult breathing. No more suppression.

Every breathe was delightful.

As I stand here today I cannot help but recall that feeling of freedom.

children in smog masks

Was the student mixing the ideas of breathing (hÅ«xÄ« 呼吸) with a feeling of freedom (freedom from “suppression” [miÇŽn yú yāzhì 免于压制) that suggest more than just “fresh air”?

This student raised two of the issues (tíchūle liǎng gè wèntí 提出了两个问题) that are influential (yǒu yǐngxiǎng 有影响) in middle and elite Chinese families desire for migration — the environment (huánjìng 环境) and a sense of freedom (zìyóu 自由). Many parents do not want to see their children grow up (zhǎng dà 长大) in cities where it is dangerous (wéixiǎn bùjiànkāng 危险不健康) to breathe the air, or sometimes dangerous to drink the water.

China’s economy is still reliant (réngrán yÄ«lài 仍然依赖) on industry (gōngyè 工业)and its use of coal (méitàn 煤炭) creates a heavy fog (nóng wù 浓雾) in places like Hebei province, just as it did in English cities during the first and second Industrial Revolutions (Gōngyè gémìng 工业革命) .

hebie steel factories
The Guardian online: Thick smog (yānwù 烟雾) covers the sky from Yuanbaoshan steel plant (gāng chǎng 钢厂). Hebei produces about 190 million tonnes of crude steel a year, about twice as much as the entire US

Some migrants are attracted to the cleaner environments and the idea of freedom they perceive in American and other Western cultures. Also, many middle class and elite families consider emigration because of economic opportunities (jīngjì jīyù 经济机遇), including investing in property (wùyè tóuzī 物业投资) in places like or Sydney or Los Angeles, where you can buy a good-sized house (dà fángzi 大房子) with a garden for the price of a nice apartment (gōngyù公寓)  in China.

Vancouver property Chinese invest
So many wealthy migrants have invested in property like this one in Vancouver that the housing has become extremely expensive and beyond the means of many locals

All in all (zÇ’ng’éryánzhī 总而言之), the decision of Chinese people to migrate is influenced by what migration academics (xuézhÄ› 学者) call push and pull (tuÄ« hé lā) factors (yÄ«nzǐ 因子). Push factors are those that might cause you to want to leave a place, like the injustice (bù gōngzhèng 不公正) of inequality (jÄ«nglì 经历) or a bad environment (huánjìng èliè 环境恶劣) or social or political oppression (shèhuì huò zhèngzhìYāpò 社会或政治压迫). Pull factors are those that attract people (xÄ«yǐn rénto吸引人) to other places, like economic opportunities (jÄ«ngjì jÄ«yù 经济机遇), chances for self-development (zìwÇ’ fāzhÇŽn 自我发展), more space (gèng duō de kōngjiān 更多的空间), fresh air (xÄ«nxiān kōngqì 新鲜空气), positive social and political environments (hèhuì hé zhèngzhì huánjìng 社会和政治环境).

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Western Views of Chinese and other foreign immigration 

On the Chinese side of my family, Jian has encountered (yù dào遇到) the less open (bù kāifàng不开放), less welcoming (bù huānyíng 不欢迎) side of Anglo (ÀnggélÇ” 盎格鲁) countries’ immigration regime(yímín zhèngquán移民政权). When Jian and I applied for family and residence visas (Jiātíng hé jÅ«liú qiānzhèngin 家庭和居留签证)   in Australia for Jian, we found out (liÇŽojiě了解) that Chinese spouses (Àirén爱人) were categorised (fÄ“nlèi 分类) as ‘high-risk’ (gāo fÄ“ngxiÇŽn 高风险) in the Australian immigration points-system (yímín diÇŽn zhìdù 移民点制度). This system awards (jiÇŽnglì 奖励) points based on the advantages that migrants would bring to Australia, and takes them away for the risks that they think migrants may bring. The Australian government wants to restrict (xiànzhì 限制) some kinds of non-European migration, particularly migrants who it perceives as low-skill (dÄ« jìshù 低技术), poor (pínkùn è´«å›°),  as being from cultures that may be different (bùtóng de wénhuà 不同的文化) and therefore whose migrants may be hard for national citizens to integrate (zhÄ›nghé 整合) with. These may be some of the reasons that Australian catogorises Chinese spouses as high risk.

We encountered (yù dào遇到) similar restrictions (xiànzhì 限制) in England where the non-European family members applying to join British citizens must endure (rÄ›nshòu 忍受) a lengthy and expensive process (rÇ’ngcháng ér ángguì de guòchéng, 冗长而昂贵的过程) and pass an income threshold test (tōngguò shōurù yùzhí cèshì 通过收入阈值测试). If they cannot fulfil (bùnéng shíxiàn 不能实现) the necessary criteria (bìyào de biāozhÇ”n), they may only access temporary visit visas (línshí fÇŽngwèn qiānzhèng 临时访问签证) and have to return to China (or their other country of origin) regularly (jÄ«ngcháng 经常) to reapply (chóngxÄ«n shÄ“nqǐng 重新申请) for additional (Éwài 额外) visit visas (fÇŽngwèn qiānzhèng 访问签证). You cannot use this restricted visit visa system to stay long term (chángqí bÇŽochías 长期保持) the UK will require you stay away for six months out of every eighteen months. That’s more strict (gèng yángé 更严格) than China, where foreign spouses can stay long term as long as they continue to leave regularly to apply for new visit visas.

In Australia, the same points system categorises some kinds of Chinese migrants as highly desirable (fēicháng lǐxiǎng 非常理想), such as students because they are fee-paying (fèiyòng zhīfù 费用支付), spend money in the Australian economy, and return home (they are seen as desirable because they are temporary). Other Chinese migrants seen as desirable are particular kinds of professionals (zhuānyè rénshì 专业人士), and investors (tóuzī zhě 投资者), both of whom are likely to invest in Australian property (zīchǎn资产) and benefit (zàofú造福) the economy.

These benefits may also bring problems, such as creating difficulties in national citizens’ access to affordable housing (fùdān dé qǐ de fángzi 负担得起的房子). Cities like Sydney, and also London in the UK and Vancouver in Canada are all too expensive (tài guìle 太贵了)for poorer residents to afford, in part because overseas Chinese (but not just Chinese) property investment has led to high property prices. In London, that has caused another kind of migration as people dependent (yÄ«lài yúon 依赖于) public housing (housing supported by the government) have been moved out to cheaper areas. London is becoming increasingly global (Huánqiú 环球), but for the wealthy resident and migrant rather than low-income people.

Countries like Australia, England, Canada, New Zealand (xīnxīlán 新西兰) and the US  all categorise potential migrants on the basis of self-interest [zìjǐ de xìngqù 自己的兴趣] (economic, political and cultural self-interest). Non-Western countries are similar in this regard too, and South East Asian countries host large numbers of Chinese who often form highly successful minorities (fēicháng chénggōng de shǎoshù mínzú非常成功的少数民族) in these countries. In each of these countries, there are a variety of views about Chinese immigrants ranging from hospitality (dài kè 待客) and tolerance (gōngchāi 公差) through to resentment (yuànhèn怨恨), hostility (díyì 敌意) and racism (zhǒngzú zhǔyì 种族主义).

Australia and other countries enact restrictions on the basis of perceived poverty (pínqióng 贫穷) and cultural difference (wénhuà chāyì 文化差异). Sometimes this effects people of particular nationalities (guójí 国籍) or religions (zōngjiào 宗教), such as Chinese immigrants, or Muslim (Mùsīlín 穆斯林) immigrants. Sometimes the impact is harshest (zuì yánlìon 最严厉) those kinds of migrants like asylum seekers (xúnqiú bìhù zhě 寻求庇护者) and refugees (nànmín 难民) who the government believe may make demands on the Australian welfare system (fúlì zhìdù 福利制度) and its politics (zhèngzhì 政治) and culture (wénhuà 文化) that governments find difficult to fulfil because politicians believe that the Australian public is opposed (fǎnduì 反对) to these kinds of migration.

In the UK resentment at migrants has not been directed at Chinese migrants (whose numbers are relatively small), but at European labour migrants (ÅŒuzhōu láogōng yímín 欧洲劳工移民), asylum seekers, and Muslim immigrants. This resentment recently resulted in the Brexit vote in the UK, where Britain voted to leave the European Union (ÅŒuzhōu liánméng 欧洲联盟). Most commentators (pínglùn yuán 评论员) believe this was largely because of a desire to stop the European Union’s freedom of movement (xíngdòng zìyóu 行动自由) which was thought to have allowed (yÇ”nxÇ” 允许) and facilitated (cùjìn促进) unwanted migration into and out of the UK.

In America, resentments about unwanted migration may have contributed to Donald Trump’s becoming president, as he promised to build a wall to stop Mexican people migrating to the US, and tried to enact policies to restrict the immigration of asylum seekers from some Muslim countries. Trump is making political use of anti-immigrant resentment among some of the American public, but that resentment is not generally directed at Chinese immigrants. That’s lucky because the US is the favourite destination for many Chinese emigrants.

No to scale studio mexico wall dinner table
The artists Not to Scale Studio reimagine Trump’s Mexican wall as a dinner table where people from both sides sit down and eat together

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