C&B Notes

China’s Migrant Wave

Market forces are difficult to suppress.  This trend of emigration among China’s wealthy is something to follow, as a country losing its merchant class has been a dramatic headwind for millennia.

The movement represents the fraying of an unwritten social contract between the Communist Party and China’s citizens that has held the nation together through wrenching changes since Deng Xiaoping launched market reforms in 1978: The rulers deliver economic growth; the ruled make few political demands.  The underlying message seems to be that after three decades of rising prosperity, wealthier Chinese are either looking beyond their economic gains, or taking them for granted, and now crave improvements in their quality of life.

It is happening just as the ruling Communist Party prepares for its once-a-decade leadership change in October or November, when a generation of leaders led by current President and party chief Hu Jintao is expected to start retiring.

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A survey published in November found that 60% of about 960,000 Chinese people with assets over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) were either thinking about emigrating or taking steps to do so.  The U.S. was the top destination, followed by Canada, Singapore and Europe, according to the survey by the state-run Bank of China and Hurun Report, which analyzes trends among China’s wealthy.

Most people cited their children’s education as the main reason, followed by concerns over air quality, food safety and financial security.  Another survey last year, by management-consulting firm Bain & Co. and state-run China Merchants Bank, showed similar results.

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The current migrant wave is different in that they are escaping neither poverty nor political unrest — and many say they are leaving for good.  The Hurun survey showed that the average respondent had 60 million yuan in assets and was 42, old enough to remember the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, but young enough to have learned how to prosper in a market economy.

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