This week’s New Yorker has an in-depth article about the habits and preferences of wealthy Chinese students who have come to the West for school. The article explains how many young well-heeled Chinese no longer see the United States and Canada as merely places to spend a few years and study; many of them expect to stay and raise their children. Why don’t they want to go home?
Moneyed people leave China for various reasons. Some are worried about pollution. Others want to secure a good education for their children. Zhou Xueguang, a sociology professor at Stanford who received his bachelor’s degree in China, told me, “The competition in the Chinese school system is known to be brutal.” He went on, “There are only so many slots in good schools, and, at a certain level, it doesn’t matter how much money you have—you won’t be able to get in.” But, for affluent Chinese, the most basic reason to move abroad is that fortunes in China are precarious. The concerns go deeper than anxiety about the country’s slowing growth and turbulent stock market; it is very difficult to progress above a certain level in business without cultivating, and sometimes buying, the support of government officials, who are often ousted in anti-corruption sweeps instigated by rivals.
If those Chinese who have the means to choose where they live are deciding not to go back to China, that tells you something, not positive, about how appealing China is as a place to be right now. And wealthy Chinese expatriates aren’t just a bellwether for the present; they could spell trouble for the future as well. If China’s privileged young people don’t return to invest in their homeland, that won’t be good for country’s future, raising the specter of a downward spiral.