China's Super-Rich Buy a Better Life Abroad

As China’s rich continue to get richer, their affluence often comes with a desire for geographic mobility. CNN reports:

“As of April this year, China has 960,000 millionaires with personal assets of 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million),” says Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman of the Hurun Research Institute, which compiles China’s rich list.

“It has 60,000 with 100 million yuan assets, and their numbers keep growing,” he says.

The newly affluent are getting more outwardly mobile, too.

Nearly half of them are thinking of emigrating overseas, according to a Hurun Research Institute report. About 14 per cent of them have or are in the process of applying for emigration, it said.

Most of these affluent Chinese nationals aren’t looking to abandon their homeland, and are careful to keep their connection with the motherland. From Bloomberg’s Businessweek:

About 80 percent of the wealthy Chinese emigrating don’t plan on giving up their passports, according to an October survey by the Bank of China and Shanghai-based Hurun Report, which publishes an annual ranking of China’s richest people. Instead, the most common model is that of Li Weijie: Wife and child get foreign passports and live abroad, husband gets a residency permit but spends most of his time in China. “If you think of emigrating like Russians, it is because they are afraid and so are leaving their country,” says Hurun’s founder, Rupert Hoogewerf. “This is not true of the wealthy Chinese at all. They still have their businesses in China and most of their assets are in yuan.”

Some of the major factors motivating China’s affluent to seek a second life abroad are better educational opportunities for their children, clean air, food safety, and the desire to secure a safe haven if frustration from the poor and working class ever materialize in mass social movement. An article from Reuters explains that policies narrowly pointed at economic growth – the very policies leading to the emergence of the super-rich – also help to create an incentive for life abroad:

China’s leaders have pinned the legitimacy of one-party rule on delivering quick economic growth and higher standards of living to spread more widely among the population.

But the Communist Party has not succeeded in tackling problems that have long plagued the nation, including its rigid education system, worsening social environment, high living costs and food safety concerns that have led those with the means to consider leaving.

“To buy a house in Beijing, the price now is the same as that abroad, but you enjoy no other benefits,” a woman surnamed Luo, who has emigrated to Britain, was quoted as saying in a recent issue of popular magazine Lifeweek. “To live abroad, the cost is not higher, but you definitely enjoy it more.”

Much in the same way that a middle-class desire to study abroad has resulted in opportunities for profit on either side of the Pacific, Chinese and western entrepreneurs are finding economic opportunity in catering to migratory cravings. From the aforementioned Businessweek article:

The drive to emigrate makes for brisk business for people like Jason Zhang, a broker at Realty Direct Boston, a branch of a nationwide chain. Zhang’s office specializes in settling Chinese in the Boston area. He says this year he has already helped dozens of Chinese families purchase homes and cars (the émigrés often pay in cash, he says) and find the right schools for their children, up from just two or three families in total a few years ago. Wealthy suburbs like Weston and Lexington are top choices.

[…] In China, more than 800 licensed emigration service companies (and possibly hundreds more without proper government approvals) coach applicants for visa interviews, help them fill out forms, and identify possible overseas investments. Beijing-based Well Trend United, one of China’s oldest and largest emigration service companies, charges up to $30,000 per client.

For a glimpse into the world of China’s nouveaux-riches, check out Rupert Hoogewerf’s Hurun Report. Also, see “The American Dream of the Chinese Rich,” via CDT. For more on the Chinese diaspora (and a bit on diaspora communities within China), see “Chinatowns and ‘Chocolate City’: The Magic of Diasporas,” via CDT.

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