“The Chinese Dream Is to Leave China”

When I wrote my book The Chinese Dream eight years ago, I observed an extreme optimism and anxiety among the newly-bred middle class in China.

middle class mediocreAt that time, although many were anxious, there was still a fair amount of optimism. Even a Pew Global Attitudes Survey said that more than two-thirds of Chinese expected their personal position to improve in the coming years.

Only a few years later, things have changed substantially. According to a New York Times article, middle class Chinese are anxious to move their money out of the country. Although the government has tightened the control on capital flight, people find ways to get around the restriction. The article indicates that in the last year and half, individuals and companies have moved about $1 trillion out of the country.

And, more people are trying to leave the country:

In fiscal 2014, 76,089 Chinese were awarded permanent residency status in the United States, up by 4,291 from the previous year. Of the 10,692 investment visas provided by the United States in the 2014 financial year, 9,128 went to Chinese nationals, up about 30 percent from the previous year. Meanwhile, 88 percent of Australian “significant investor visas” have been given to Chinese citizens.

More and more Chinese students are studying overseas and many of them are looking to stay abroad:

In the 2014-15 academic year, at least 304,040 Chinese students were studying in the United States, up about 110,000 from 2011-12.

The economic slowdown has certainly caused anxiety. But lack of confidence in one’s own country goes far beyond economic reasons. As I have said and written many times, without the rule of law, the Chinese middle class will never feel secure in China.

This reminded me of a conversation I had with a professor in China early this year. While attending the Stanford+Connects event in Shanghai, I shared a taxi with a Italian professor who leads the China program at Zhejiang University. Naturally, we had a discussion about China. When he learned I wrote a book called The Chinese Dream, he asked what is the Chinese Dream, and what’s the difference between the Chinese Dream and American Dream. Before I elaborated, he said something that took my breath away:

“I think the American Dream is that everyone wants to go to America; and the Chinese Dream is that everyone wants to leave China.”