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updated 10:30 PM UTC, Dec 14, 2017
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Permanent Relocation; No Longer Living in Limbo

Q: Which of the following scenarios is completely outwith the realms of possibility: A) Odel and Ordwin sell their business and in no way ordinary abode to emigrate down under to Oz. B) Majori and Mychele have had enough of Medillac and make the move to Martinique. C) Lizzy and Lanc decide to live out their lives lazing it up in Lanzarote. D) Paul and Stephanie chuck in their jobs and book two tickets to Nanjing, saying they are off to live in China and they ain’t never coming back. Somewhat obviously, the correct answer is D.

As the above example shows, for those seeking a permanent relocation, the first choice of many will likely be a country that shares their native language. The French shall probably go for the Caribbean, the Brits for Australia (or those parts of France vacated by the Caribbean-bound), the Germans for Namibia and the Americans for Florida. The second prerequisite might be that of a developed economy; one is hardly about to sell up shop and permanently move to a place that offers a standard of living far below that to which one is accustomed. So instead of Namibia, Germans choose Austria while Americans ditch Florida in favour of Mexico.

Not only does China fail on both the above counts, it remains logistically and legally difficult, nay nigh on impossible, to permanently relocate to China. Yet increasing numbers of foreigners are doing just that.


China does not represent a viable option for permanent relocation in its traditional sense. The difference between choosing Nanjing over Nice lies in the terminology.

No one chooses to emigrate to China. It chooses us. Or rather, we merely become more accustomed to it.

Almost anyone who has been in China for more than ten years will tell you that they did not come with this intent. Some came for a three month contract, some to study Chinese, some for a gap year in university, others for work experience. A perceived temporal is the common denominator.


Tradition theories of immigration designate the terms of Push and Pull. The Push factors refer primarily to motives for emigration from the country of origin. In the case of economic migration, salary differentials are the usual Push. Escape from poverty (personal or to assist relatives staying behind) is another traditional push factor; the availability of jobs being the related pull factor. The cost of emigration, which includes both the explicit costs plus cost of travel, and implicit costs in lost work time and community ties, results in a negative Pull of emigrants away from their native country. While there are also a host of non-economic push factors including many kinds of persecution (religious or political), war and civil unrest, the rise of China and the recent financial crisis afflicting many countries has put these theories of immigration back on many people’s agendas.

Many of you reading this very publication shall be new to Nanjing. With the best will in the world, we may choose to call you “migrants”. Have you come here from a year-long contract teaching in Dubai? Are you and your partner “serial” educators, mercenary to the paycheck of a rotunded international schooling entity? If so, at this point, settling in Nanjing is likely furthest from your mind. It is easy to empathise. While China may have in recent years made it into the top three of preferred destinations for expat working assignments, when it comes time for permanent relocation, China probably doesn’t make it to the top fifty.

The international research and management consulting firm Gallup commissioned a survey earlier this year that revealed approximately 640 million adults who would like to migrate to another country permanently if they had the chance. In what is probably the largest survey ever petitioned, some 23 percent of respondents quoted the USA as their most preferred destination; the UK was next at 7 percent with the remaining popular choices being Canada, France, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Germany and Spain.

Despite China’s omission from this particular wish list, there are precedents set by some who came before you, for whom a life in Nanjing also seemed a perilous undertaking. You will bump into a few of these individuals during your time here and likely be struck by their ordinariness. Were it not for the location in which they are placed, they appear much like any other person you would find on the streets of your own country; one entirely at home with their surroundings.

So who are these strange creatures, and why in the name of our hallowed maker would they choose to live forever in China?

A number of factors have worked together in order to produce such beasts.

No matter the apparent rigidity of China’s laws and regulations; definitive legality remains a precious resource. The ever-complicated visa issue is viewed by many outsiders as a means to keep foreigners out of China.

Not so; it is a means to keep out the socio-economically challenged. It comes as no surprise therefore that most expats who have been in China more than a decade have worked out an innovative way to contribute to the greater good of the country.

Before such a situation can come about, those wishing to stay in China for the long haul should have a conducive employment situation. Given that Working Permits need to be renewed on an annual basis, the foreigner working long term in China is likely either the company owner, very senior management or has a skill that renders them virtually irreplaceable. For those with enough cash on hand, the right to issue oneself with a working visa can pretty much be bought in the form of a major shareholding, or similar, in a Chinese company. There are also a few (very few) who have been in China so long that they are now simply part of the furniture; like a broken old armchair they are no use whatsoever anywhere else.

They need to be the right “sort” of person; attractive to Chinese people, in more ways than one. It is not only necessary for the long termer to like China; China also has to like them. More often than not, such people have also found their soulmate or similar kind of partner from within the local population. After being married for five years, and satisfying various other criteria, that interestingly include proving they have no criminal record in their native country, the foreign spouse can be entitled to a Chinese Green Card.

A few years down the line and many such couples will have also brought their own kind of “joint venture” into the world. Barring disaster, products of these transnational marriages are pretty much set for life; growing up bilingual (at least), exposed to an international way of life from birth and likely enrolled, or soon to be, at one of the best international schools in the country, if not the world. With standards declining not only in education, but across all of society, over a size-able portion of the developed world, that alone is enough to make many consider how they might make a permanent relocation to China.

They also need the right kid of attitude. As Parsley Li points out in her article "Chinese Language and Culture; the Obscurity of "When in Rome", “China is real, China is fun, China is real fun”. Get this and you may find yourself here a lot longer than you think.




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