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Why Is China’s Middle Class Migrating Abroad?

Why is China’s middle class migrating abroad? (Image:  wikimedia  /  CC0 1.0)
Why is China’s middle class migrating abroad? (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Recent articles about Mainland Chinese migrating abroad have appeared in French and Hong Kong media reports. Despite the efforts by the state to discouraging the practice, the rate at which the middle class in China is either sending its children abroad to study or migrating out of the country is on the rise.

A French report on the situation

A French media source reported that after 1949, the communist regime closed the door on any travel abroad. But after 1978, the door was reopened, and in the preceding 30 years, “studying abroad” was the dream of China’s emerging middle class.

Fast-forward to today, and not only are young people from China attending college abroad in record numbers, but an increasing number are also enrolling in middle and high school programs.

Not only are young people from China attending college abroad in record numbers, but an increasing number are also enrolling in middle and high school programs. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Not only are young people from China attending college abroad in record numbers, but an increasing number are also enrolling in middle and high school programs. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The report cited a popular Chinese television show that aired in 2015 called Small Parting. The program tracked three Beijing families from different socioeconomic classes, but who all shared the same goal of sending their children abroad for a high school education.

In the middle school where three children attended, everyone talked excitedly about studying abroad. One young girl noted that both her parents and grandparents were encouraging her to study abroad.

The show’s intention was obvious; the three families reflected the new middle class in China and its desire to send their offspring abroad for a better life.

The three families in the show reflected the new middle class in China and its desire to send their offspring abroad for a better life. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The three families in the show reflected the new middle class in China and its desire to send their offspring abroad for a better life. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Similar views from a Hong Kong report

A Hong Kong media source noted that:

The article noted that a rising number of middle class families are struggling as competition for desirable jobs intensifies, wages stagnate, and housing costs climb. However, even if the financial situation for a family is stable, a disaster may be lurking around the corner if a family member is stuck by a serious illness or injury.

The article further mentioned that the same rapid economic growth and social changes that have created the middle class have also instilled in it a strong need to accumulate wealth. The article went on to make the point that moving overseas and buying real estate are no longer the privilege of the upper class, for the practice has also permeated to the middle class.

Overseas real estate purchases are no longer the privilege of the upper class, for the practice has also permeated to the middle class. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Overseas real estate purchases are no longer the privilege of the upper class, for the practice has also permeated to the middle class. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Even when wage growth slows, the need to accumulate wealth remains, putting additional pressure on students and families to migrate abroad. Besides money, middle class families in China are also concerned about food safety, personal privacy, and environmental pollution.

Migration has taken root in China

The French article concluded by noting that the desire to migrate abroad has taken root in China, and there is no sign that the situation will change anytime soon. It will only change when the middle class is satisfied with socioeconomic conditions at home, and places the same value on an education in China as one abroad.

Translation edited by David Clapp

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