The Real Reason China's Super-Rich Are Packing Up And Moving Abroad

Going somewhere? Pudong Airport, Shanghai
Going somewhere? Pudong Airport, Shanghai
Hua Ti


BEIJING - Zhang Lan, founder of restaurant chain South Beauty, is one of China’s richest women and a symbol of the country's booming economic success. Thus it is not surprising that the recent news that the billionaire has renounced her Chinese citizenship to take on a foreign nationality has been met with some significant national soul-searching.

Though it is still not clear what nationality Zhang will take on (China doesn't allow for dual citizenship), her choice is part of broader trend of wealthy Chinese emigrating overseas.

According to the 2011 Private Wealth Report, 27% of Chinese entrepreneurs worth more than 100 million RMB ($15.9 million) have already emigrated, while another 47% say they are considering doing so. The number of these so-called “naked businessmen” is massive. The main reasons for businessmen emigrating are: their children’s education, protecting assets, and preparing for retirement.

Increasingly, the general Chinese public has grown aware of this dramatic trend. Last year, out of 5,000 investment immigration visas issued by the U.S., Chinese people accounted for two-thirds of them.

Undoubtedly, the most dazzling fact in all of this is that over 70% of China’s privileged have either emigrated or are on the way to emigrate. It is definitely not normal for 70% of a country’s wealthy class to want to leave the place where they were born and made their fortune. When we connect this piece of news to another study conducted a few years back in which it was said 80% of China’s wealth is in 20% of people’s hands, then it is easy to imagine the scale of the loss of China’s national wealth.

Apart from the immediate loss of national wealth, massive emigration will no doubt also shake the public’s confidence in the future prospects for China’s domestic development. In general, unless their riches were amassed by unlawful means, the rich are the economic elite of a country.

The choices of a country’s elite influence the emotions, judgment and decisions of ordinary people. When the rich pin the hope of their children’s education and retirement on other countries, it means that they have a pessimistic view regarding the improvement of their country’s education and social security. When people flee a country just to protect their assets, it’s further proof that they do not hold too much hope for the country’s rule of law.

Flights of fancy

Many people like to take a moral high ground and criticize the rich Chinese emigrants. A renowned scholar recently commented on China’s emigration trend in an interview. At the turn of the 20th century the Chinese students who went to study abroad all tried to come home as fast as they could to serve their country, whereas the Chinese children who go abroad today scramble to find ways to stay in their host countries, even if they've barely graduated from high school.

I personally prefer to look at the issue from another angle.

First, in my view, the fact that the rich are fleeing is sad and even worthy of compassion. Out of the three main reasons for the rich emigrating, their offspring’s education is the most important. This says that, like every parent, wealthy people want their children to get the best education they can. As for protecting their assets, it’s related to the status of the rule of law in China, while hoping for a sound retirement is just human nature. None of these reasons are about personal happiness. In other words, the wealthy do not leave just for the sake of better material conditions.

The flight of the rich also helps to reverse the deep-rooted “eating philosophy” pursued by China’s rulers, where development is the supreme ideal, and as long as the people have enough to eat, all dissatisfaction will disappear. Compared to this, universal values such as rule of law, freedom, and human rights are just quaint ideas.

Nevertheless China’s wealthiest, the people who eat the most, are voting with their feet. This may indeed mark the end of theeating philosophy.” The fleeing wealthy show us that, as human beings, we have spiritual needs and need to be respected beyond just having enough to eat. When the citizens of a country turn to other states for these things, we should not blame them. What we should rather think about is the quantity and quality of public service that this country provides.

From what Xi Jinping said in November’s Communist Party Congress, we can undoubtedly see that China’s new generation of leaders has started to take stock of the problem. Since Xi became China’s leader, “livelihood” and “anti-corruption” have become the most repeated expressions in his speeches.

It’s easier to shout slogans than to act. If our country can improve public services, accelerate the process of the rule of the law and put an end to corruption as fast as possible, China will become a pleasant country to live in. And then, I’m convinced that the rush to exile by the rich will come to a halt.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!