Haigui: A New Area in China's Policy toward the Chinese Diaspora?
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Journal of Chinese Overseas 2.2 (2006) 294-309



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Haigui:

A New Area in China's Policy toward the Chinese Diaspora? 1

Introduction

Since The Mid-1990s, Overseas Chinese consisting mostly of students abroad have returned to mainland China in large numbers. These returnees are called haigui. In Chinese, hai means "sea" or "overseas," and gui is "to return."Literally, the term haigui refers to those who have returned from overseas (excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan). As gui has the same pronunciation as the word for turtle, these returnees are nicknamed "turtles," symbolizing a movement from the sea to the (home) land.

Haigui was at first used as an ad hoc expression in newspapers, TV broadcast and other forms of media reporting. However, with the continuous arrival of haigui and their growing impact on Chinese society, haigui has rapidly entered policy discussion and academic research as a special term. In 2002, it was for the first time used as an official category in a report released by People's Net just before the 16th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, marking the emergence of the haigui groupas one of the key indicators of the major achievements that China has made in the past five years (Zhang 2002; Xu 2003: 17).

The influx of haigui has presented a challenge to the government's existing categories in the Chinese diaspora, and in particular, China's qiaowu policy (measures and strategies to deal with the Chinese diaspora). The traditional framework of China's qiaowu policy is based on four pillar concepts, using terms with distinct meanings. The first concept is huaqiao referring to Chinese nationals residing outside mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The second is huaren who are foreign nationals of Chinese ethnicity. The third is guiqiao referring to overseas Chinese who have returned to China for permanent settlement. The fourth is qiaojuan referring to relatives of huaqiao and guiqiao including [End Page 294] their spouses, parents, children, children-in-law, siblings, grandparents and grandchildren. All aspects of qiaowu policy were developed out of these four basic concepts (Wang 1985a: 69–84; 1992: 1–10; 1999; Lu and Quan2001: 2–5).

However, with the advent of haigui, three questions have arisen to challenge this framework. First, how does haigui differ notionally from the traditionally defined categories of ethnic Chinese and Chinese nationals, in China or overseas? In particular, how does it differ from guiqiao? Second, is haigui a new element of the policy of "external China" as defined by Wang Gungwu2 or is it a new policy area by itself? Finally, does the phenomenon of haigui herald a new era of the relationship between China and the Chinese diaspora?

To answer these questions, this paper will start from a definition of haigui, including the figures, the reasons for returning to China, their occupations and social groupings. In the second part, it will discuss the problems brought about by haigui, with emphasis on its challenge to the existing policy toward the Chinese diaspora. The third part will draw readers' attention to the experiences of guiqiao in China and highlight the recurrence of old questions encountered by haigui. Finally, it will envisage future interactions between China and the Chinese diaspora.

Sources of Data

The data used in this study are mainly drawn from fieldwork conducted in China from February to April 2005. The aim of that fieldwork was to ascertain the attraction for and investigate the flow of professionals and talents in mainland China3 including both domestic and overseas skilled labor. Among those classified as overseas skilled labor, returned overseas Chinese make up the dominant group.

Our fieldwork was conducted in four major cities in mainland China: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the most important cities in the mainland and major destinations for skilled labor and professionals coming from other provinces and overseas. During the fieldwork, we interviewed a number of officials from the Bureau of Personnel of the Municipal Government of...


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