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Will The Last Expat In China Please Turn Off The Lights?

Posted in Recommended Reading

Every few months I read a post that beautifully encapsulates and sums up a festering hot button China issue.  I read such a post today on the Richard Burger’s Peking Duck blog.  Burger himself describes his post (on Facebook) as “A bit of a hodgepodge of a post, but the topic of Westerners’ losing their attraction to China is a fascinating one.”  I agree.

The post is entitled, Leaving China, Westernizing, Playing Victim, etc., and to grossly summarize it, many prominent Westerners who have spent many years in China and know China well have become fed up with it and are leaving in very vocal ways.

I honestly do not know if this disquiet is a growing trend or if this is just a one time blip of articulate people leaving and writing about it, but either way, the post and the links within it are well worth a read.

What are you seeing out there?  And whose fault is it anyway?  Expats who were too idealistic? Expats who are too inflexible? Expats who misunderstood China or where it was going? China itself? Has China changed or is it a lack of change?  Or is this really just a small meaningless blip?

  • Ethan

    I wonder how many of the frustrated expats he talked to can speak Chinese fluently.  

    In my time here, there is a marked difference between expats who can speak Chinese fluently and those that can’t.  It goes much deeper than just the language capability.  

    The trend is clearly heading towards more expats that can speak Chinese.  

    I would say for every non-speaker that leaves, two speakers (or future speakers) come in.  

    • http://erwin.co/id/ Ryan in Shanghai

      Agreed. And how many people are here because it’s “easier” as opposed to here to compete. If you came for an easy ride, it’s time to go.
      If you came to kick ass, it’s difficult because the system is somewhat closed to non-locals.

      • Chuck Norris

        I came to “Kick ass”. 

    • http://twitter.com/copdaman Thomas R

      The two expats mentioned in the article, Mark and Custer, both speak Chinese quite fluently. 

      • Ethan

        Then that’s a bummer.  

        Maybe they will get the China itch again after they have been away for a few years.  

  • joopdorresteijn

    I think it’s a combination, CN policy changes and expats suddenly having enough.

  • Patrick Lim

    meaningless….with social media, the vocal minority seem to get attention now…which is good in a way, but i feel do skew perspectives a little bit. it is silly to expect china to change as fast as some of us want to. china never had the record of fast changes and unlikely will. in my opinion, it is good. we dont want reckless decisions that can bring “changes” to a large population and an economy that has so many implications to the world. i agree with ethan on the language but more importantly, much better understanding of the cultural and historical background is needed at individual level who wish to do well in china….

  • Tseren

    I don’t think its all doom and gloom, you’re being too negative. Some are leaving simply because they’ve been there a very long time, others (I suspect Mark Kitto in reality) because they want their kids to have a Western education. Some are leaving as was predicted because they can’t get jobs and are not qualified or experienced enough to go far in China, others have made millions and presumably now want to spend it. Others want to try other countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, sort of professional tourism.
    All sorts of different reasons, but it is true some prominent China hands are moving on this summer. Peking Duck is not representative of the majority of professional expats I have to say as well, its a lot of trash talk there and not much content from people who are actually successful. 

  • Carrie Nooten

    Interesting. Having stayed in China (2 years in Beijing, 4 in Shanghai) in two different stays, each time I miss the country and try to go back. I am in Singapore now, not particularly exciting compared to China, but from the outside, it doesn’t seem a good time to go back. Mark Kitto’s point of view could sum up what you’re trying to understand. http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/mark-kitto-youll-never-be-chinese-leaving-china/

  • bcheng

    I don’t think it has anything to do with speaking Chinese, as Ethan mentions, as the two articles Richard quotes are from fluent Chinese speakers. I think what it comes down to is that life is getting harder for expats here.

    I don’t mean hard as in the way migrant workers have it, but it “ain’t like it used to be.” The job market is tighter, things are getting more expensive, attitudes toward foreigners are getting harsher, and the daily hassles seem to be getting worse. A lot of mid to longterm expats who came here in their early to mid 20s are now in their early to mid 30s and facing more difficult choices and just aren’t having the same amount of “fun” or willing to put up with things like they were when they were younger. Over the past few years I’ve said myself that having a child would probably be one of the few things that causes me to head back home, considering how corrupt and stressful local schools are and how insanely expensive international schools are (think a year’s college tuition every year from first grade on).

    At the same time, the China blogsphere is very clique-ish and pretty much everyone knows everyone else, the newcomers don’t seem to be entering the clique. And that’s my point, there are a lot of newcomers replacing the older expats who are going home. I’ve interviewed well over double digit numbers of expats who’ve just graduated university in the US and are now in China. I just don’t think they’ve entered the online conversation yet.

  • Chinese Netizen

    If anything, long-term expats that can speak CN fluently, maybe have married locally and produced offspring and are entrepreneurs with their own businesses are the ones finally realizing what the Chinese themselves knew all along: Can’t trust the government…can’t trust food sources…ever degrading environment, right in front of your eyes…less civility (esp in the big cities)…can’t trust the law…lack of true, accessible cultural diversions…daily life sucks in dreary conditions that grinds one down.

    At least the expats (Western) that are realizing this can go somewhere. The Chinese are trying to: proof being ever increasing numbers of students going overseas not just for post grad education, but now for even high school!

    Granted China is heaven for Africans, Middle Easterners and now South/Central Americans (witness the booming population of these expats in places like Guangzhou) but do you really want to live in a place overloaded with hookah joints roasting lamb 24-7, being confronted by drug touts or going to an Irish pub where virtually every night is “Latin Samba Night”???

  • Jimmy75

    For SMEs there is an intimate and constant struggle to maintain a coherent SOP with respect to any gov related processes that usually change on a whim from whoever happens to be behind the desk on any given day + the opaque nature of said processes

    Add that to the minute but ever going struggles in ones private life – and this can be anything that “sets you off”, i.e.: half functioning web that is in need of constant circumnavigation, perpetual redecoration noise…

    Its known medical condition “Chinitis”

  • Homer

    “And whose fault is it anyway?”
    I don’t know.  Beat me….

  • Barney

    I see that Richard Burger has written a book about the history of sex in China. Apparently, he spent 10 months researching it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=595065770 Richard Burger

      I spent 10 months researching, writing and endlessly editing the book. I conducted all my research from the US; interviews in Chinese were conducted in China by my publisher. 

    • Harry Potter

      In an authoritarian,  male-dominated, dominant-submissive culture like China’s in which there is an extreme maldistribution of power, there will exist a very high degree of sexual perversion, a la Jerry Sandusky.

  • http://www.qq.com/1325279774 Kedafu

    I was taught x2 things about china, when I first came, 12 years ago

    if it is too hot in the kitchen, get out!

    and my favorite 

    If you get too close to the fire, you burn!

    Song of the Article

    Nowhere to Run to….
      -Martha and the Vandellas 



  • http://startingupinchina.com/ Sameer Karim

    It certainly seems like there’s growing discontent among many expats, especially those who have lived in China for a while. I first lived in Beijing from 2002-2005, and moved back to China a bit over a year ago. While during my first stint here people left because they wanted to go back home, I now hear of many more people leaving because they no longer want to be in China. I don’t think we’re seeing a massive exodus yet, but this could be the early stages of it. 

  • Grits

    Whatever happened to that U.S. law school that was set up in Shenzhen to prepare Chinese students to sit for the U.S. bar exam?

    • HI

      The ABA just refused to grant them accreditation.

  • Eric

    I’d guess it’s not a trend.  Mark’s main reason for leaving seems to really come down to education for his children. Lots of good points, but he’s made the decision, and he perhaps overemphasizing the negative to justify the decision to himself.   

    Expats have been leaving China for decades.  Some had planned to stay, and others always planned to move on.  I also know people who left a few years back, and now are back in China.  

    Personally, I find the pollution and food scares the hardest.  I’m not sure things are really harder now than when people were being shot in the streets (I left then), or when the US bombed the Embassy in Kosvo, or when we had to buy everything with FEC, there were money changers lying in wait on many street-corners, and the response to many questions was ‘mei you’.  

    The eighties in China weren’t easy, but when I read Mark’s piece, I also wondered if part of the decision to leave is that it isn’t the 80s anymore, and they aren’t coming back.  Or maybe I’m just projecting.

    • SMERSH (KNR)

      It was the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. 

  • R. S.

    As a 15 year expat who has lived in several Chinese cities (and with no kids by the way) I would say the main problem is overall the quality of life is getting lower and lower. Other then having Starbucks, Walmart and Ikea, a lot of things which made life in China enjoyable or at least bearable have actually deteriorated rather then improved.

    – The pollution just gets worse and worse. Leave China for a day or even go to the countryside for a wake-up call. In Beijing, most “overcast cast” days are actually simply pollution. Its off the charts. – Speaking Chinese and living full time in China, accelerates this process as you are able to come closer to the culture with a deeper understanding and at a faster rate. Unfortunately, whats underneath is not very pretty. China today is (sadly) fast becoming rotten to the core.
    – Doing business, especially when its your own money also accelerates the process. The constant stream of headaches, mafan, chabaduo, ineptitude and dishonesty just makes things all the more unpleasant and challenging.
    – Traffic is out of control. A 15 minute trip can take two hours at the wrong time of day. And getting taxi’s in Beijing is now much more difficult.
    – We have all known for a long time that the food is poisonous. There is a new food scandal every day. At least the Chinese themselves are now waking up themselves to this fact which is positive.
    – Unless you use Baidu, Tudou, ren ren and weibo, the internet is completely useless without a VPN. 
    – For Beijing, the weather is horrible. Short/non-existent spring and fall and very hot summer/cold winter. Shanghai’s humidity and lack of heat in the winter is not that much better. This isn’t anyone’s fault but over time it does get to some people. 
    – Attitudes towards foreigners started changing around the time of the Beijing Olympics and have continued to deteriorate. Previously the common man had a certain polite curiosity and open mindedness about the world, even regarding topics they disagreed on. Now its become more of an arrogant “chip on the shoulder” which leaves us with the impression something is going to boil over sooner or later.
    – Rents are out of control in most major cities. Landlords generally are still horrible to deal with and renters rights are non-existent. Purchasing is an option only for the rich. And that new complex you live in which was built only a few years ago has now become an un-maintained falling apart slum.
    – Costs of labor (and just about everything else) are skyrocketing and good labor is hard to find. 15 years later and most people still have an attitude of “chaobaduo” + how much are you gonna pay me? At some point it doesn’t seem worth it.
    – Most Chinese today have become focused exclusively and only on one thing: money. This supersedes face, national pride, family and just about everything else. The end game is always about money. It was not always this way. Unfortunately, the longer you are here, the more ethics, professionalism and honesty become alien concepts to you which is not necessarily a positive thing.
    – Laws and regulations remain confusing and frustrating and may have gotten even more confusing since this “China has laws” idea started taking root (something which is often promoted on this blog and understandably since the authors are lawyers – no ill ill meaning intended). The reality is, rule of law in China is still mostly a myth. All Chinese know that law in China still remains primarily a tool to be selectively used by the authorities when needed and when its to their advantage.

    The more you localize and the longer you are here, the more you become somewhat Chinese. Which means you start to hate many of the same things they hate themselves. The only difference is we discuss it openly and with a foreign passport, we can pack up a leave, something even most mainlanders aspire to. Most of us came here because we loved China and Chinese culture (and likely still do). But at some point, enough is enough. Couple that with the fact that many things foreigners hoped would gradually improve have either not improved at the rate we had hoped or instead actually deteriorated and it makes for a very depressing outlook. 

    However, with that said, I think China’s greatest success has been in creating a perception that China is “the place to be.” Which means yes, a new stream of naive foreigners will continue to arrive every day.

  • http://twitter.com/allroads All Roads Lead to CN


    I’ve been in 12 years, and what I am seeing (and have written about in a few posts ) is that while there has always been a churn effect in the population of expats/ halfpats in China… the churn is changing.

    Part of this is due to China’s market dynamics changing, but the population that is most likely to leave is new families. Food and air being perhaps the most discussed concerns, but the cost of education is off the charts if you are looking at international options.  One school I recently visited was 25,000USD for a TWO YEAR OLD to attend… and that went to 30,000+ for THREE.

    Second factor for long term expats is that there is a growing sense that (1 )China’s market is reaching a limit and that (2) they are more valued outside the country.  This is something I saw through a Facebook post a few weeks back where I asked friends why they were leaving and a number mentioned this.  they do not see the upside (like they did before) and they can get better pay OUTSIDE of China for work INSIDE China.

    Third Factor, something I see in the entrepreneurs more than expats,  is the “was it really worth it”.  All said and done, did anyone make money here?  that is a question many are asking, and more often than many will admit, when you add in the effort, the opportunity costs, etc… financially things don’t add up.  Unless they bought a house.

    Then you just have the general quality of life delta that exists.  For my friends who have returned to the US, life is cheap.  Boring perhaps.  But, when I was recently home I looked at a house that was 4br on an acre of land and next to the best schools in the State (top 25 in country) that only cost 200,000USD … or roughly the cost of putting my lil one through 4-5 years of international school.  Add on to of that they fact that density can drive one crazy, and the desire to experience quiet is very difficult. 

    That being said, where I am more interested is the fact that this is not just an expat thing.  My Chinese firends are speaking about this is far more immediate terms, and many are already making the investments.  Their China investments are being reduced to the bone, and three families that I know are going for US citizenship now (when they were only last year considering giving up green card).

    For the Chinese the equation is a bit different, but the impact is the same.  People are leaving, and many who have been here are talking about leaving. 

  • bystander

    I’m married to a Chinese woman (we’ve been together coming up on 10 years), speak Chinese well enough to get around but I won’t be writing any novels in Chinese.  This is the first time in the 10 years I’ve been traveling to or living in China that I find myself wanting to leave.  To me, it’s above all the lack of hope about the future here.  There have always been difficult (and pleasant) things about being a foreigner in China.  The pollution is nothing new, the flagrantly imbalanced business practices have been in place since day-1, and so on.  But I, for one, always found it possible to convince myself that things were getting better, whether slowly or rapidly.  I find it impossible to feel that way now.  If the gov’t doesn’t show by clear signs that it understands the problems and wants for them to be solved, then they won’t be (how could they be?)  For many years the gov’t did show such signs, and things seemed to inch forward.  Now the gov’t is either paralyzed or in full retreat, depending on the particular issue, and the optimism that used to permeate the place is all but gone.  It’s too bad because there’s so much to like about China, but at some point one begins to feel that it’s simply not possible for a foreigner to do well here, and once that becomes the general sentiment, any foreigner who is capable of doing well (somewhere) will go to that somewhere.

  • Chinese Netizen

    Who’s next…dare I say…[Name removed by editor because the person is psychotic and I don’t want to have to deal with him] ???

    • SMERSH (KNR)

      Are we talking about a blond Englishman with a non-aristocratic feudal title in Scotland? 

  • Tseren

    Many of the longer term professional and successful expats, apart from having their own websites on occassion, aren’t part of the English language China blogosphere. You folk might diasgree, but when it comes to business in China, no-one takes blogs like Peking Duck and their ilk seriously, and many expats don’t even bother with them – or any of the others. There’s only a handful of China business websites that are read by the real professionals in China, and the blogs like PD are not among them. Much of the China blogosphere is toxic, written by people using false names, and the people who really swing the expat dollars know each other very well and don’t listen to China blog gossip. So I’d take everything you read on sites like that with a large dose of scepticism.

  • http://DesignatedDrivers.co/ G.E. Anderson

    The expats who are leaving (at least the ones who are vocally leaving) are long-term expats.  China is changing at light speed, and, for the most part, not in a good way.  People who knew China 15-20 years ago (myself included) are mourning the loss of the China they fell in love with.  The new China is money-driven, impersonal, and completely lacking in curiosity.  People who have arrived in China more recently see China for what it is, so they can’t possibly understand what the veterans are talking about.

  • DearestLeader

    R.S. below eloquently outlines many of the reasons this 19-yr China vet is moving on, but for me it’s succinct. It’s time!

    China and I have both moved on from the unconfident and insecure worlds that collided in ’93. Life’s rich tapestry, family and business have added layers of gold to the China experience I’ve had.
    But its not my home, never was, never can be, for me or my kids. After all these years my permissions to live here are few; my recourse to the services of a civil society , sadly limited. When you have ‘more to lose’ this becomes a less attractive gamble to face the China medical, legal or administrative system.

    As China has matured over this period it become more introverted – the Western model has in short discredited itself in the last 5 yrs – and they’re diminishing reasons for China to reach out as its got the organizational, technological, financial and social resources to address its challenges, on its own terms, without Johnny Foreigner (JF). Sometimes this can seem crude or unpleasant to us, but that’s what it is, and its their right to do so.
    In this 20 yr period China has learned so much about the world, but the world has failed to learn much about China (past the age-old stereotypes) and that is the single biggest take-away I have (pardon my final China pun). Language skills are not merely enough to compete in modern China – there’s bilingual overseas MBA local kids aplenty for that. Knowing how China works from the family unit to corporate and administrative level has enriched me, defined me and made me who I am – whether I like it or not.
    I will always be carrying this C+ symptom for the rest of my days.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Harold-Janson/100000792053950 Harold Janson

    I’ve been here for a solid 12 years.  Married, own an apartment have a nice sporty car and am starting a family.  I missed out on the 80s and the fun of FEC, but oh the memories China and I share.  Yes, prices have risen, property has gotten expensive and the little annoyances have never improved.  There is a series of letters by an American in Shanghai that was written a good 100 years ago 
    http://www.earnshaw.com/shanghai-ed-india/tales/library/griffin/t-griffin.htm . It should be required reading for every single expat in China as a primer.  Simple fact is that some things never change, no matter how much you want them to, no matter how much you push and scream for them to change, they just simply will not.  Or they change, but not for the better as far as you are concerned.  And this is China.  Accept it, adapt to it or give up and run away.  

    Do I expect the best schools in the world for my future crotch goblins? No, of course not.  They will be getting a Hukou and slapped into the private schools nearby which are reasonably priced and this will be supplemented by being good parents who give a damn.  The resources are just there for the picking to be honest and they are not expensive.  Want to teach your kid all about electronics? Taobao and the local shops have EVERYTHING you could possibly need.  Art classes in school not up to your expectations? Make connections with a professional artist who can use an eager assistant and some cash… loads of starving artists who would jump at it.  I have done work with the international schools and they are honestly a joke, loads of cash, loads of resources, but they are daycare facilities for lazy expats and the kids don’t come out all that great in the end.  Quite a few just go with homeschooling if the kid has a foreign passport.  When it comes down to it, if you are so busy that you have no time for your own kid and don’t earn enough to pay for an international daycare school, then yep, your time here is at an end.

    Now, my job is flexible as all hell, I can technically live whereever the hell I want to without any real impact.  I can work from my apartment in Beijing as easily as I can work from our house in Shaanxi as easily as I can work from a beach in Thailand.  I choose to live here and continue to choose to live here, not in spite of the random crap that has to be dealt with, but because of all the great stuff living here provides.

    So, some whine about the pollution.  I dont care to be honest, it’s better than it was when I first came.  So much better.  Gone is the black smog-line on white tiled buildings.  Gone is the “death zone” between floors 11-15.

    Whine about the water.  It starts out fine, the problem is what happens to it once it reaches your faucet.  Surely you can afford 20 kuai for a bottle of nongfu? Or a few hundred for a decent filter system.  It’s also not some magical new thing and people have been boiling and drinking it forever without dying from it.

    Whine about the food scandals.  If anything, it’s a GREAT thing that they are being exposed, do you honestly believe for even an instant that this has not been going on forever? Exposure and press means it’s being cracked down on at least to some degree rather than ignored entirely.  What’s that you say? Buying food out of the back of that van parked by the river to save 3 mao isn’t a great idea?  Gasp!

    Whine about the prices going up.  So on one hand you want to see infinite growth, and on the other you want to see prices stay the same cheap forever, well, that doesn’t happen.  I’m sorry, but those days of eating out for 20 kuai are gone.  Just like those days of fen being useful are gone forever.

    Whine about the traffic.  Blame here is half-half.  Half on the foreign companies marketing cars as the new “must have” and half on Chinese for being first generation drivers.  As a driver in Beijing, I can flat out state for a fact that the majority of traffic jams are caused by utter stupidity, not lack of infrastructure.  In my family, I am 5th generation driver who was taught by a 4th generation driver.  This is a country that until literally 8 years ago had no laws that said you had to pay attention to stop lights and that turning on lights at night going through villages was illegal. The vast majority of drivers here have only picked it up over the last 15 or so years, so yes, it’s chaos, this will not change overnight.  Laws need to be refined, attitudes need to adapt.

    Whine about the economy.  A “hard landing” is 7% growth.  Think about that for a moment before you keep reading.  All that “wasteful spending” in the end has resulted in some magnificent achievements that will stand regardless of what happens.  Yell about ghost malls which popped up once developers were banned from squatting.  They later refined the squatting practice and turned it into golf courses and “parks” which counted as “green space” for the neighboring communities and made local government look good on paper.  Malls are cheap use of large amounts of land for later, actual development.  Ghost cities.  They are not unsold, the problem is that the buyers were all investors with hot money to dump into something and by doing so inflated the prices to a point where locals had no real shot at it.  No longer possible now due to housing purchase restrictions, which is why all that capital is flying overseas to snap up property that can generate rent and produce some possible capital gains.  Rich people losing money isn’t something the government (or society) really cares about.

    More on the economy.  China is stockpiling resources and acquiring hard assets.  After every bust there is a boom again and those who prepare for it best end up on top when it happens.  Economies pouring trillions into sustaining a failing status quo… well, that’s not such a hot thing to think about.  Over here we have a lot of people in charge who really want to stay in charge and as such they will do pretty much anything they can to ensure they stay in charge.  China still has many many more tools in the box and bullets in the gun left.  Elsewhere? Not so much.  Please pay careful note to the way China is developing markets in South America and Africa, they are not simply “exploiting resources”, they are building future markets and bringing stability to places that HAVE been exploited and marginalized since forever.

    Naked Officials.  This is actually a great thing in so many ways.  It pretty much ensures the end of the line for generational dynasties as far as government goes.  Sure, they’ll come back and be handed the keys to industry, but at least they will have actual skills to apply.  The next generation will see the spark of the next great boom.  And for the useless ones, well, they get to go be playboys overseas driving around in super cars and pissing away daddy’s ill-gotten money, at least we won’t have to deal with them over here anymore… good luck rest of the world!

    The “me” culture and money money money.  What the hell did you expect to happen? The west wanted a market to dump their shit on and wanted a market that could afford it.  That was the entire basis of “opening China”.  You get a whole lotta “new money” that acts like “new money”, shock, surprise.  This spending is also the only thing that is keeping a large number of foreign blue chips in business anymore, as if they had to rely on revenue from their traditional markets, they’d have died out long ago.  The old petty corruption didn’t vanish when the figures grew larger, it just grew right along with them. Money buys power, power begets money.  The only difference here is that it’s more out in the open and obvious, while in the US, it’s all codified and legitimized in various ways.

    Oh no, still no democracy.  1.? billion people, foreign interests running rampant, big money at play and wildly hot tempers when something doesn’t turn out as expected.  Sorry, but I prefer long-term planning and stability to everyone gets to choose the prettiest liar whose only thought is “how will I get elected again”.  Let those in the upper echelons fight it out amongst themselves in private, it really does not matter and there is infinitely better vetting and merit-based review than any voting will ever provide for.  Polarizing China is not a smart idea.

    Speaking of politics… politics.  China’s growing a pair (finally), or at least realizing they can throw their weight around some.  It’s the Great Game all over again in many regards.  Soft power investments are paying off and attempts to harm the Chinese economy are not a smart idea… as it’s quite literally the only thing keeping many other nations and MNCs afloat right now.  If you track the oh-so-familiar buzz words in international media, you can pretty much pick apart who is on what side at least marginally.  It’s pretty entertaining to watch unfold and there are big things coming relatively soon.  One side making power plays, while the other side whines and moans about losing the game they designed to only allow for themselves to win.

    Inflation… aka, the “bbbbut I’m not rich anymore” syndrome.  Sure, you came a long time ago, back when your precious forex was king.  You were pampered in a villa or compound and your “expertise” provided a wage that beyond comprehension for most.  Life was grand, taxi fare was a joke, fine dining was cheaper than fast food back home and personal servants were a dime a dozen.  You hung out and got shit-faced with other expats in run-down grungy bar-streets on beer that was cheaper than water.  Getting ahold of various imports made you the “go to guy” in your circle.   Hell, you didn’t even have to speak Chinese, just live in that bubble and your company got you a translator… after all, it’s not like they are going to trust the locals to manage their operations.  Well, that colonial life is nearing an end, sorry.  Chinese are coming back from overseas and are more qualified than you ever were, willing to work for far less and are far less demanding.  You never bothered to buy property, after all, rent was cheap and the company paid it.  You find yourself now in a hilarious situation where the economy boomed all around you and you were too trapped in your little bubble to notice.  Oh, and that side-project you were working on? Yea, it finally got shut down by the government because you never bothered to be legal about it.  

    How about now? Fairly easy to get pretty much everything, gone is the exciting thrill of the hunt for random shit to pamper your existance.  Vanishing are the quaint hutongs of beijing that lack bathrooms and rustic living (most residents WANT to be developed so they can cash out on the property and have a modern life).  And suddenly you find that eating out is no longer cheaper than eating-in, it’s almost as if people demand more money for things in a world where your day job is reliant on pushing overpriced crap to the public.

    Food inflation is not due to China, it’s due to global markets and that whole “one price” bullshit.  Also due to futures manipulation going on overseas, which is another whole ball of wax.  Wait and see what happens when China finally says enough and reinstates price controls and restricts exports of strategic resources.  Also, that money doesnt just vanish, it’s transferring a whole shitload of wealth to the countryside…. those who fail to take advantage will be replaced with those who do.  You know, the quaint countryside of massive inefficiency, do you dare consider what will happen when it stops being so inefficient?  I’ll tell you what happens, things get magical.  In my wife’s small little farming village hometown, we have >personally< invested around $500k over the last 5 years in pushing for better practices and more economically productive labor.  Before we started, the average yearly income was around 6000 RMB per year, it's pushing 60,000 now and it's sustainable.  Small scale, only about 100 families, but it entirely reversed the flow of youth running to the cities there and neighboring villages are studying the hell out of what we did to make it happen.  I'm not an NGO, I'm not a profit-seeker, this isn't even my field of expertise, it was a side project at best and it's fun to see actual results happen.  And not, it was not altruistic, we have our own operations ongoing within the family and the proceeds from that are more than enough, boosted by economies of scale provided by the other families.  Fairly win-win in the end.

    In summation, you only are gonna get out what you put into this place, and rarely, if ever will the two balance out, if the only thing you have to contribute is vague and intangible, that's probably what you will get out of it at best.  Sorry english teachers, in the end you are useless sacks of white flesh.  Sorry expat bubble community, if the only thing you can do is cater to the expat community, don't expect to see anything come from China.  Sorry trading companies, your reliance on cheap crap being made here that you can mark up 50x cost didn't really benefit anyone in the end and those factories are being pushed up the value chain and cutting you the fuck out of the equation.  Sorry foreign consultants, an entire generation of Chinese are coming back from overseas and can do your job better.

    If anything is going on here, it's a shift, a rather large one, a rather difficult one, but a shift none the less.  Those who can't hack it are smart to get out, because they will not survive.  You can see that shift rather clearly if you look at the composition of companies here.  Fewer companies with foreign management, far more with Chinese management.  You may feel it's unfair, the government is denying you the ability to succeed through red tape and regulation and whatever your excuse is.  After all, you've been doing the same thing you've been doing for the past 20 years and suddenly it's not working anymore.  Oops, China's getting it's shit together.  Labor laws are becoming a real thing, your business model is dying and you cannot adapt.  This exact shift happened to our own industry starting about 5 years ago.  We spent a decade offshoring our bitchwork to india for cheap while we made out like bandits.  Indian outsourcees kinda sorta got their shit together and realized they could have so much more of the pie, seeing as they were doing all the hard work already.  They shifted gears and are now becoming players on the scene, and they do it for cheap.  We have been forced to rethink our entire industry as they gobbled up a huge chunk of it.  This process is still ongoing.  Those that resist and cry about their clients being stolen ultimately just go under and fail, those that dream up excuses fail.  Those that innovate and reach are being rewarded with fat contracts and huge buyouts.

    Summation numero 2: Far too many expats came here pampered and treated like royalty, and this made up for what was, in their minds, lacking or deficient.  They are now no longer royalty and those nagging issues either stayed the same or amplified from their view without the royal treatment to make up for it.  As the western economies are either dead or dying, there is also a large influx of Generation Worthless trying to carve out a living by rushing over here, and yes, they are annoying as all hell and piece by little piece helping to tear down that image you spent the last decade plus to build.  You went from 同志 to 外国朋友 to 老外 to 死老外 because of them, after all, you didn't change, China changed and you don't like it anymore.  So better find an excuse to get out of dodge and make it sound like you didn't fail and have zero qualifications to deal with China.

    As far as the "great expat exodus", let me know when permanent resident card holders start fleeing en mass, not because I want to join in, but because that in and of itself is an amazing signal that there is a void to be filled.  Those who stay on through the tough times and make themselves useful have a history of recieving the greatest rewards later.

    • Stephan

      This is an awesome comment that deserves its own blog post and discussion. A joy to read.

  • Benji Ming

    Many choose to leave but some are forced to leave… It’s probably not smart to go back since you now have a “criminal” record (at least in their eyes.)

    • http://chinasweat.blogspot.com/ Mike Lovett

      Thanks for the reply. To add, about two years before “the event” happened, I met a guy through a mutual friend who had supposedly raped a Chinese woman, was sentenced, served his time (I believe it was over two years!) and allowed to stay in-country after being released! Go figure. I really think it was more of a technical issue they deported me. If you are caught in-country on an expired visa stamp, even if it is only a few days, you still get a 5k RMB fine and deported. My stolen passport actually expired two days after it was stolen. The ATM event happened 4-5 days after that. I was on my way to Hong Kong the following day prior to be being robbed to renew my visa!
      Anyway, I just want to find an in-country advocate who can find my paperwork, go ask a judge or however it works to find out, and get back to me.