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35 2 International Migration from China U nder Mao Zedong’s rule, China, like other state socialist regimes, restricted travel abroad to high-level government delegations, sports teams, and art troupes (although a small number of individuals with relatives abroad were permitted—or forced—to leave China to join them even at the height of the Cultural Revolution). After 1977, however , this policy changed. Deng Xiaoping declared that “foreign connections ,” condemned during the previous decades as “reactionary political connections,” were a “good thing” (Renmin Ribao 1978). At first, four categories of individuals were permitted to go abroad: “experts”—largely in engineering and the natural sciences—who were to study and bring back advanced technologies and set up cooperation projects to aid modernization ; workers going abroad on government-brokered contracts, mostly in construction projects; students, many of them government-sponsored to undertake advanced degrees in the natural sciences and engineering; and overseas Chinese who had moved to China after 1949 and wanted to go back, or family members of overseas Chinese sponsored by relatives abroad. Students and Contract Workers Although at first family migration outnumbered other categories— between 1978 and 1996, 378,000 people migrated abroad from Guangdong , the home province of the largest number of overseas Chinese (Nyíri 1999:23)—the rapid rise in the number of students going abroad was no less striking. When the TOEFL examination—necessary to be admitted to a university in the United States—was offered in Peking for the first time in 1981, 285 students sat for it. By 1987, this number had grown a hundredfold to 26,000. At that time, only nine years since the first students had left mainland China, there were already 30,000 in the United States alone (Hu and Zhang 1988). The “study abroad fever” was so high that in 1988 and 1989, much to the consternation of city authorities, students in Shanghai demonstrated in front of the Japanese and Australian consulates , protesting new restrictions on student visas (Fang and Chen 1991). According to a study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, more than one million Chinese went abroad for study and research by 2007, and only 276,000 have returned (Watts 2007). When obtaining student visas to the United States became difficult after 2001, more Chinese students went to Australia, Germany, and Britain. In Australia, by the early 2000s, student migration significantly outweighed other channels. The country received just under 60,000 skills-, investment-, and family-based settler immigrants from China between 1995 and 2004, but almost 50,000 Chinese students in the 2003–4 academic year alone (Hugo 2005). In Britain , the number of Chinese students rose from under 3,000 in 1997–98 to 50,000 in 2006. The United States, despite stagnating growth, continues to have the highest number of Chinese students: 93,000 in 2006 (Campus France 2008:6–9). In all of these countries, Chinese are the largest group of foreign students. Theinitialdominanceofscienceandengineeringstudentsinadvanced degree programs on government scholarships gave way to a majority of self-financed students, largely in business, and in the 2000s, to a rapidly International Migration from China 37 rising contingent of secondary-school students as well. (Australia alone received nearly 27,000 pre-tertiary students from China in 2003 [J. Gao 2006:155]). According to a 2001 household spending survey in four Chinese cities, 0.7 percent of households had a child studying abroad (Ma and Zhang 2004:15).1 Ironically, while most of the government-sponsored students who were sent abroad with the injunction to bring advanced science and technology back to China did not return, more students going abroad now do so as a means to social advancement in China rather than with the intent to settle abroad. I have often heard Chinese parents explaining why they sent their child abroad to study say that the child was unable to enter a “brand-name” university in China, and a degree from a “common” university—not to mention no degree at all—provides little in terms of opportunities. To have a graduate “degree from an overseas university is going to be a basic requirement in China’s job market in the future,” wrote He Jianming (2000) with some exaggeration. As the competition to enter “brand-name universities” expands overseas, wealthy parents are increasingly sending their children abroad while still at secondary school, in the words of one father, “in the hope that [they] can later get into Harvard or MIT” (He Jianming 2000). This would...


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