In China, Pulled by Opposing Tides

The Washington Post looks at how Chinese who have been living abroad face the changes at home when they visit for Spring Festival:

Huang, 36, is a “sea turtle,” one of the thousands of students who return to China each year after spending time abroad. For many of them, a visit to their family villages during the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, is near mandatory. But such visits also force them to confront changes in modern China — changes that may prompt them to swim away again.

More than 1 million Chinese have studied abroad since this country began opening up in 1978, with just over a quarter of them returning after their studies. As the number of Chinese studying in the United States has risen over the years, so, too, has the number of , so named because “overseas returnee” in Mandarin sounds like the word for the animal. According to the official New China News Agency, 42,000 students came back to this country in 2006, up 21 percent from the previous year.

But the China those students return to is not always the China they left. The phenomenal economic growth here has led not only to the development of villages and towns, but to a shift in Chinese values and priorities. Meanwhile, the sea turtles have experienced changes of their own.

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