Fleeing the People’s Paradise – Published on Spiegel Online International, by Wieland Wagner, February 24, 2012. (Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein).
Despite their country’s stunning economic growth, many successful Chinese entrepreneurs are emigrating to the West. For them, the Chinese government is too arbitrary and unpredictable, and they view their children’s prospects as better in the West.
Though the room is already overcrowded, more listeners keep squeezing in, making it necessary to bring in additional chairs for the stragglers. Outside on the streets of Beijing, the usual Saturday afternoon shopping bustle is in full swing. But above the clamor, in the quiet of this elegant office high-rise, the audience is intent on listening to a man who can help them start a new life, one far away from China.
Li Zhaohui, 51, turns on the projector and photographs flicker across the screen behind him. Some show Li himself, head of one of China’s largest agencies for emigration visas, which has more than 100 employees. Other pictures show Li’s business partner in the United States. Still others show Chinese people living in an idyllic American suburb. Li has already successfully arranged for these people to leave the People’s Republic of China.
Li’s free and self-confident way of speaking precisely embodies the Western lifestyle that those in his audience dream of. Originally trained as a physicist, Li emigrated to Canada in 1989. In the beginning, he developed microchips in Montreal, but he says he found the job boring. Then he found his true calling: helping Chinese entrepreneurs and businesspeople escape.
Of course, Li doesn’t use the term “escape.” Emigration from China is legal and, with its population of 1.3 billion, the country certainly has enough people left over … //
… In reality, though, the children of those who have prospered in China’s economic revolution also dream of Western freedoms. Latent cynicism toward the party has spread well beyond the wealthy, becoming prevalent among the emerging middle class, as well.
Anxious to Get the Whole Family Out
For a 36-year-old man we will call Wang Qiang, it’s the beginning of one of his last days working in Beijing. He also plans to permanently emigrate to Canada with his whole family, in this case to Quebec.
This morning, Wang once again battled his way through city traffic for an hour and an half. Now he’s at work in a skyscraper belonging to a state-owned telephone company. Wang is part of the upper management, is popular among colleagues and essentially has his job for life. Yet, he and his wife think about nothing but how they can get away from here — and as soon as possible.
It started, Wang says, when his daughter was born and he held her tiny hand for the first time. “I suddenly realized that under no circumstances did I want to raise her in China,” he recalls.
Soon, Wang plans to apply for immigration at the Canadian Embassy. He’s kept quiet about his intentions so far at work, but says that each day only strengthens his resolve.
Wang tells of a colleague who bragged about having sent his child to an expensive elite school. “Where’s the fairness in that?” Wang asks. “Without connections, children don’t have a chance in China’s education system.”
Wang glances around to see if any of his colleagues are nearby. For the time being, he needs to remain cautious, but he’s finding it increasingly difficult to keep his dissatisfaction to himself. Each day, his life strikes him as more pointless than the day before. As an example, he mentions elections for the local People’s Congress, a farce held by Beijing over the past few months in a storm of propaganda. “They let us vote,” Wang explains, “but we don’t know a single one of the candidates.”
Wang says that several of his friends have already emigrated to Canada and that “None of them has tried to talk me out of my plan.” He eventually wants to bring his parents to Canada, as well, so they can benefit from a Western welfare system.
Party Leaders and the American Dream
Li, the emigration coordinator, is finished with his seminar for investors and sitting contentedly on a red-brown leather couch in his office. “Every time the media reports something on successful emigrants, we get even more requests,” he says.
Even many Communist Party functionaries send their children to study abroad. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, for example, who is tapped to become the country’s next leader and visited Washington last week, has a daughter studying at Harvard University. Another example is Bo Xilai, a prominent politician and party head for Chongqing, a major city in southwest China. Bo may drive his citizens into the city’s parks in the mornings to sing revolutionary songs, but his son, Guagua, attends Harvard.
The fact that so many leading party members dream the American dream for their children has given rise to a new joke in China: It’s a good thing, people say, that parents’ days at elite universities such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton don’t coincide with the Chinese Communist Party convention. If they did, half the seats in the Great Hall of the People would be left empty. (full text).
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