Everyone is leaving China

Or so this article claims, rather dramatically.

But I am here to refute that claim.

Because I am not leaving. Oh, no, I am staying put. I’m so staying put that I just signed a lease for two more years. #notalleveryone

In all seriousness, though, the author does have a point. The recent crackdowns on speech and expression are indeed alarming and ominous (and annoying*). But are they really the reason why everyone is leaving? For some people, the attacks may be pushing them toward leaving. But they were probably already considering leaving, because let’s face it: There are a lot of reasons to leave China. This “one-man rule”** is not the reason people are throwing in the towel. They are leaving for a variety of reasons, such as better opportunity elsewhere, looking for a change, pollution, health, being closer to family, natural point in their career to move. You get my gist. One of those reasons for moving could be “freedom,” but it’s more like an incidental benefit to leaving than an actual reason many people are using to leave.

Thing is, this type of claim is always being made, especially over the past three to four years. The government has been fixing its policies, and no, they have not been favorable to expats. It unified the tax system for domestic and foreign companies in 2010, unified the Chinese social insurance contributions system for local and foreign employees in 2011, placed greater restrictions on getting a visa in 2012, made it harder to get a work permit in 2013, and this year placed higher qualification requirements on English teachers. And those are just the policies. So for a lot of people, the benefits — and ease — of living in China are just no longer there. Of course they’re going to leave. But they are leaving for practical reasons, not ideological.

There are also many social reasons (such as the rise in the number of qualified, educated Chinese who want jobs) and cultural reasons (such as how foreigners — no matter their contributions to China — will never be Chinese). Also, if you haven’t heard already, the air here is terrible. Pollution is the reason that middle-class Chinese people leave. (The rich leave because of better education and work opportunities for their children and economic security.)

Lastly, China is a terrible place, but it continues to do well in expat rankings. HSBC just released their annual expat survey, and China placed third, mostly on the strength of its economic benefits. Because despite all those reasons to leave, many people are still able to find reasons (money***) to stay.

* Just as I was about to post, I saw this article about Beijing banning the annual Halloween tradition where a bunch of expats dress up and take a loop on the Line 2 subway. It’s a little silly, but good fun. It certainly isn’t anything dangerous or subversive. But this is more to do with the upcoming APEC summit than speech.

** I don’t even know what she means by “one-man rule.” If she thinks Xi Dada is calling all the shots, she’s kind of not learned a lot in her four years here.

*** In this year’s expat survey, China came in first on the economics front, up from second place last year. Meanwhile, China went from no. 3 to no. 26 in “expat experience”. It seems that HSBC may have revised its methodology, however, so it’s unclear what this sharp decline is about (political ideology was not a metric).

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