Rise of The Sea Turtle

A Newsweek article discusses how Chinese living outside of China can be just as nationalistic as their mainland counterparts, in part due to the internet:

Charles Zhang . . . says the anti-Western backlash that erupted in China this spring—after pro-Tibetan demonstrators disrupted the Olympic torch relay in London, Paris and San Francisco—was entirely justified. He himself called for a boycott of French goods and media after an unruly scrum broke out over the torch in Paris. “That was the first time Chinese people as a whole stood up to the world,” he says. “It’s good for Chinese people … That incident proves that when Chinese are upset, they can find their voice.”

Such sentiments are common on the mainland. But people like Zhang were supposed to be different: he’s what Chinese call a hai gui—”sea turtle”—referring to someone who has lived overseas. (The phrase is a pun on haiwai guilai, meaning “returned from overseas.”) Their numbers are growing by the tens of thousands every year, and as the sons and daughters of the elite, they have an outsize influence once they move back to China. In the West there’s long been an assumption that this cohort would import Western values along with their iPods. They were envisioned as the bridge to a more open, liberal, Western-friendly China.

. . .Some of the nationalism exhibited by Chinese living abroad might also be sustained, rather than diluted, by the Internet. “As soon as they get online they can be totally immersed in a Chinese environment,” says Zhao Chuan, a novelist who lived in Australia from 1987 to 2000 before coming home to write about Shanghai. “When we were studying abroad … occasionally you went to Chinatown to read a Chinese paper. Now if you’re in the U.K. you can easily not read English papers or watch English TV.”


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