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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 February 2007, 14:47 GMT
China's lost talent overseas
A report by the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing suggests that China suffers from the world's most severe brain drain.

About two-thirds of Chinese who have studied abroad since the 1980s have chosen not to go back home, according to state media.

Here, four of those who left their homes to pursue education abroad reflect on the choices they have made and what these mean for China.

Meng JieFeng LiWang LiMing Wang


Ming Wang with his family
Ming Wang decided not to return to his homeland
I was one of the first Chinese students to study abroad.

After I graduated in engineering I studied for a PhD and later became a lecturer at Keele University.

I was also looking for a suitable job in China at that time, even though my parents and relatives thought I was crazy.

Then came 4 June 1989. After seeing the painful images of tanks marching into Tiananmen Square, I realised that I won't be able to return to China for a long time.

On the surface China has changed so much, but essentially it still is a coercive society

It was Deng Xiaoping who had made it possible for people like me to receive education in a foreign country. It was the same Deng Xiaoping who stopped me from returning to China.

I was offered a job at a research institute in Singapore. After a few years I set up my own company, which provides advanced IT solutions to industries in South East Asia.

In 2001, I went back to China for the first time. I was very impressed by the economic development. I decided to start doing business with China. After a few years of experience, I gave up on China completely.

On the surface China has changed so much, but essentially it still is a coercive society. The Maoist ideology has been replaced by "getting rich is glorious" ideology. I discovered that it is almost impossible not to become corrupt. The hypocrisy of the establishment is destroying the morality of Chinese people.

Hometown, family, friends and culture are important to me. But what matters to me most is the freedom of choice. I am deeply depressed to see misery and poverty, and people who don't care about social injustices. It is no wonder that so many are voting with their feet.


Meng Jie
Meng Jie: Most Chinese students don't even think about going back
I am originally from Shaanxi Province in western China. My parents decided to come to Canada in 2000 when I was 13.

They were lecturers at a small university. They had worked very hard so that they could leave their farming homes.

They felt pressure to work tirelessly so that they can get into university and find a job. They wanted me to have a better future.

A few years before they left, they bought about 20 computers to provide students with a computer lounge for study or leisure use. But soon school officials started to come around to tell them how many rules they had broken. The hassle was simply a hint that they needed to pay them some money to settle things.

The original plan was that they would stay in Canada until I get into a decent university, after which they would return to China. I am now an engineering student at the University of Waterloo.

But now they have changed their mind. They made a few Chinese friends here and decided that life in Canada is a lot easier. In 2004 we went back for a brief visit. The lack of change throughout the country assured us that our decision was correct.

I do not have plans to go back soon, but I don't rule it out. The growth of China cannot be ignored. But the same goes for other things, like bureaucracy and corruption. The wealth gap is so big and it's difficult to tell on which side you will end up.

There are stories of highly paid professors and researchers, while there are those who work for as little as 2000 Yuan ($258, 132) a month. Many of the Chinese students here do not even think about going back. The ones who return are those who have no other choice.

I also feel that my countrymen are still highly nationalistic. I often get attacked on Chinese forums for having a more global perspective.

If China wants its educated people back, it needs to allow critical thinking and entrepreneurial ability, instead of treating its people like machines designed to endure stress and depression.


Feng Li
Feng Li: Studying abroad is about life style
I am from south-east China, not far from Shanghai. I came to the UK to do my Masters in 2004. After graduating a year later I got a job as a planning policy officer at a local district council.

I didn't leave China to find a better life abroad. To be honest, the life quality I had in China was much better than here. The reason for me to be here is to get knowledge and experience in a developed country.

Universities in China produce loads of graduates each year, the competition is very strong and it is very difficult to get a good job straight after university. You have to offer something more than the other graduates and it's all about wider experience.

China's growing integration with the rest of the world means that the need of multi-culturalism is more important than ever. Once equipped with experience and knowledge I plan to go back.

Many of those who started leaving from the 1980s until the late 1990s have chosen to stay abroad. The reason is that China used to be poor, whereas a foreign country could provide them with better career opportunities or at least a better life style.

Many people in China became rich in the last decade and unlike during previous decades, many can afford to go abroad now. Studying and working abroad is no longer just about fortune hunting, it's about life style.

If you read some reports on this, you will find that more and more overseas Chinese are continuously going back to contribute to the rapid economic development. China has never been so hungry for educated people and has started a movement to bring them back.

I think most of the Chinese people who live abroad would like to go back, at some point. The reason they keep on staying is perhaps of a more human nature - for fear of change, fear of losing what they've already got, fear of failure.

Life in the UK is very different from China. It's peaceful and there are fewer pressures. But there is a barrier - mostly because of cultural differences. It's difficult to make friends and belong to a community and I would find it difficult to make it a home.


Wang Li
Wang Li: Brain drain is not a problem for China in the short term
I came back to China in 2005 after 17 years studying and lecturing abroad. My major field is international studies.

From the very beginning, even as a undergraduate student in China, I had realised that China's future statesmen and scholars must learn the rules of the wold's politics and economics.

In its recent history, China has suffered at the hands of western powers because of a lack of understanding of the outside world.

I went to Harvard equipped with a Masters' degree from a Chinese university and confidence that I was good. The list of books to read gave me a shock - I hadn't heard of any of them and I quickly felt out of my depth.

I decided to come back after all these years - I am an old dog who needs a home to settle down. But more importantly, I wanted to pass on the knowledge I gained abroad.

My teaching is far better than colleagues who never left China. I use modern methods and I am open to new ideas. My students at Nankai University read the same books as American and British students.

Coming back after so long does come at a cost: while I've been away, the made-in-China professionals have filled nearly all the attractive positions of political and economic power. I am an outsider and I cannot compete with long-established local academics.

I am unlikely to benefit from the money the government provides to universities, for example. In addition, in 2002 the government stopped providing accommodation for returned university lecturers, so I had to rent or buy a place to live.

Young people are leaving, but I don't think it's a problem for China in the short term. Let's be realistic: China is still a developing country and it cannot offer fantastic opportunities to all its young intelligent people.

Those who stay abroad will be China's windows: to draw more investment, know-how and new ideas that will help China in the years to come.

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