The Corner

Chinese Emigration Spikes

An increasing number of high-skilled Chinese workers are emigrating, the New York Times reports. 

In 2010, the last year on record, 508,000 Chinese moved to developed countries — up 45 percent in a decade.

Reporter Ian Johnson explains why:

Despite China’s tremendous economic successes in recent years, [Chinese-born immigrant, Chen Kuo] was lured by Australia’s healthier environment, robust social services, and the freedom to start a family in a country that guarantees religious freedom.

“It’s very stressful in China—sometimes I was working 128 hours a week for my auditing company,” Ms. Chen said in her Beijing apartment a few hours before leaving. “And it will be easier raising my children as Christians abroad. It is more free in Australia.”

China’s high emigration belies its social contract. Post-Maoist China promised citizens economic prosperity if they yielded other freedoms.  Yet many have found this trade-off unfulfilling. China’s economic success has come at high cost:

Few emigrants from China cite politics, but it underlies many of their concerns. They talk about a development-at-all-costs strategy that has ruined the environment, as well as a deteriorating social and moral fabric that makes China feel like a chillier place than when they were growing up.

China’s lack of religious freedom, in particular, may cause more problems than it solves for Beijing. Chinese citizens are increasingly looking to faith to fill the moral vacuum left by Communism (or the decline thereof), but Beijing’s micromanagement of religion is limiting at best, prohibitive at worst. Ironically, many Chinese want nothing more than to serve both God and Caesar — it is the government that’s politicizing religion, not the majority of devout Chinese. 

If China truly wants to become globally competitive, it must treat its moral malaise. Until then, high emigration is only one symptom of a bigger problem.

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