Given China’s turbulent modern history and the fact it continues to be largely a poor country, there have always been lots of people happy to trade in their Chinese citizenship for a life elsewhere.
Traditionally, the United States has been the destination of choice and has benefited enormously from the legions of smart Chinese immigrants it has welcomed. By some accounts, as many as 70 per cent of the Chinese who study in the US end up living there.
In recent years, Canada has also emerged as a popular destination, and a poll in the Canadian Globe & Mail newspaper shows that 77 per cent of Chinese, when given the choice, would choose to move to Canada over staying in China.
(Over half the Brits they polled also said they would be keen to jump ship)
But is the UK seen as an attractive destination too? We did a very informal poll among some young Chinese living in Shanghai and it seems the answer is a resounding no. Indeed one respondent even studied in the UK but decided to flee, and leave her boyfriend behind too.
Minna, a 34-year-old PR executive said that she had discussed emigration with her husband as recently as yesterday, but had decided to stick to China. Her opinion about the UK? Taxes are too high and the standard of living is just too low.
“A couple that are friends with my husband are living in the UK. The husband teaches at a university and the wife works in a school library. You would think they have a middle-class life, but when they came to Shanghai on holiday they said their financial position was very awkward,” she said.
“They live on the outskirts of London because they cannot afford to buy in the city. I guess they make around £5,000 a month between them, but they have to pay huge taxes. They only get £3,000 a month in total. Any middle class family in Shanghai earns more than that! After paying their mortgage and sending some money to their parents, they have nothing left. And now they have a baby girl but cannot even afford a nanny! They drive a car, but cannot go downtown because the parking costs too much.”
Most of the other Chinese we quizzed expressed similar complaints. “The UK is really expensive, for food and everything,” said Ting Ting, a 24-year-old sales person. “The US is much cheaper, has more business opportunities and is much better. Japan is also quiet and has a good living environment.”
Xuemei, a 32-year-old legal consultant, studied law at University College London for a year-and-a-half and said she liked the city, despite the weather and her inability to find a decent Cantonese restaurant. “What I liked the most about the UK was the range of cheap, high-end skin care products, compared to China, especially Burberry. What I didn’t like was the rent–£450 a month for a shabby room–pricey food and fruit and the difficulty in getting a good job. I never even considered staying in the UK after graduation, even though my boyfriend, a Singaporean, was still there.”
So there you have it. In the eyes of young urban Chinese, Shanghai beats London any day.