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Politics: Chinese migration

Chinese organisations increasingly operate across the borders of China, and growing numbers of people from outside China are coming to live there. Professor Frank Pieke believes these movements have a significant effect on central and local government policy in China.

The Chinese trading city Yiwu encourages the presence of foreigners (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

With globalisation, China has been confronted with developments in the area of migration and transnationalism. Chinese students and tourists travel abroad, and Chinese businesses are often active beyond the borders of China. The opposite is also true with increasing numbers of non-Chinese migrating to China.

The people who enter China are a particular problem for the central government, the Communist Party. On the one hand, new citizens with skills and valuable contacts are welcome. On the other hand, ethnic minorities and Western influences are a dissonant force in the image that the Chinese government wants to convey of a homogenous country.

Local authorities deal with immigrants in very different ways. ‘The city of Yiwu, the biggest market in the world for factory goods for export, greatly encourages the presence of foreigners and helps them as much as possible. It grants them privileges. It does this because it needs these people to keep the market alive. The city of Shanghai, which is a bit further away, only encourages very selective migration. Migrants are welcome if they can find a job and bring money. Everything in the city has to be organised and streamlined.’
‘What was formerly known as Canton has a much larger population of foreigners, tens of thousands of immigrant workers or traders from Africa, South America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. They are increasingly seen as a problem by the province: they need them as workers but they are poor, difficult to govern, enter the country illegally, escape the clutches of the police and marry Chinese women, creating half-blood children. The local government does not want any of this.’

Chinese migrants in Europe

Pieke also researches Chinese migrants in Europe, including Chinese people in the Netherlands. ‘Students are the fastest growing population. What characterises them is that they do not feel ties with earlier immigrants who ended up in restaurants and other shops. They often return to China, or the Netherlands is an interim stop on the way to a career in another country.’

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