There’s something of an exodus afoot in Asia, as millions of Chinese people are leaving behind the stress and perils of the country’s modern, urban living to reside abroad. 9.3 million people born in China lived abroad last year, nearly double the amount that did so in 2000. The Economist reports:
[T]he greatest and most consequential wave of emigration in modern Chinese history [is underway]: middle-class Chinese seeking not better opportunities or political freedoms but a better quality of life. Chinese emigrants are leaving good jobs, cashing out their high-priced homes (or investment properties) and leaving China’s rat race behind. They are unlikely to find better jobs anywhere else, but the air and water are less polluted where they are going, the social safety-net less frayed and the food safer to eat. And there is no one-child policy. […]In the past decade 1m Chinese have obtained permanent-resident status in Canada or America, placing Chinese migrants first in Canada and second in America behind Mexicans. And the pace has quickened. About 80,000 Chinese every year are gaining permanent residency in America, almost five times the rate of the 1980s. Chinese also made up the largest group of immigrants in Australia with 80,000 arriving in the three years to 2012, just ahead of Britons and Indians (though Indians have surged ahead of late).
There are a wide variety of potential motivations behind such a move, so let’s unpack this a bit. The man featured in the Economist piece identified worries over his daughter’s education as the tipping point for his decision to emigrate with his family. The stress of high societal expectations is certainly part of this, but so too is a more immediate factor, the grit of everyday life in China’s megacities. Oppressive, deadly smog has changed urban Chinese culture. For those with the skills and money to pick up and move—exactly the class of people any nation would be happy to welcome—the hazards of China’s awful air and water pollution are enough incentive to look for better living abroad.Chinese leadership is at least taking the environmental push factor behind this migration seriously, pledging to wage a war on pollution, and just this week codifying more stringent punishments for polluters. But the growth-at-all-costs economic model that Beijing has pursued in recent years has more than just environmental costs, and the fatigue of this fast-paced development is being borne out in these emigration flows.