Why are people leaving China

Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

Lan Diao

Dr. Lan Diao, who has a doctorate in educational science in foreign language didactics with a focus on Chinese didactics, originally comes from Beijing and is currently a teacher of Chinese and German at a high school in Hamburg.

Maren Opitz

Maren Opitz completed a master's degree at the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at the University of Osnabrück and is currently working for the German Youth For Understanding Committee in Hamburg. After completing her bachelor's degree in language teaching research, sinology and civil law at the University of Hamburg, she lived in China for two years, where she worked, among other things, in the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung's office in Shanghai.

There are phases of immigration as well as emigration in Chinese history. On the one hand, many foreigners settled in large metropolises such as Shanghai in the 19th and 20th centuries, on the other hand, many Chinese emigrated due to wars and famine. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, there has been an increasing number of people who have returned home. Only since the introduction of the reform policy at the end of the 1970s have more and more foreigners come to China for temporary and long-term stays.

Jewish Quarter in Shanghai. In the 1930s, more than 15,000 Jews from Germany and Austria found protection from persecution in the city. (& copy picture-alliance / Christian Ender)
Early on, there was brisk trade with foreign merchants on the territory of what is now China. After the heyday of trade in the 17th and early 18th centuries, it was regulated by the introduction of a restrictive trading system in the mid-18th century. Trade with the west was now to be carried out exclusively via the port of the canton in the south. It was only allowed to licensed Western merchants and on the Chinese side was reserved for the Cohong, a guild of Chinese merchants. First British traders - mostly young men - came to Canton. Austrian, Danish, Dutch, French, Spanish, Swedish and American merchants followed. In the 1760s, around 20 ships with 100 to 150 people on board each came to China - in the 1840s there were around 300. The merchants were only allowed to live in Canton for a few months a year, they were not allowed to bring their families with them and were only allowed to stay in the stay assigned to them.

Only after the two lost Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860) did China have to open itself to trade with the West by signing the so-called unequal treaties. The Nanjing Treaty between China and Great Britain, an enemy of the war, forced the Chinese, for example, to open various ports. The contract also included a right of residence for foreigners and allowed Christian missionaries to spread their faith in China. In Shanghai, Great Britain, but also France and the USA, which in 1844 had for their part concluded treaties with similar content in China, set up concession areas (residential areas for foreigners) in which, however, Chinese citizens ultimately also settled. The number of foreigners in Shanghai was already 100,000 in 1900. In the 1930s, more than 15,000 Jews from Germany and Austria found protection from persecution in the city. They did not need valid identity papers or a visa for this. [1]

Chinese emigration

The first communities of Chinese traders in Southeast Asia existed as early as 1400. When the population of the Qing Empire rose from 150 to 300 million between 1700 and 1800, more and more Chinese families were forced to send male family members away from home in order to work in other parts of the country - and also abroad after the middle of the 18th century.

In the 19th century, Chinese emigration reached new dimensions. On the one hand, the Chinese fled wars and famine in regions such as Burma, Indonesia and Vietnam. Here many built up a new livelihood in agriculture and fishing or engaged in trade. Many of the 19 million Chinese who emigrated to Southeast Asia and areas in the Indian and Pacific Oceans between 1840 and 1940 were employed as contract workers in French, British and Dutch colonies. Between 1850 and 1875, more than two million Chinese from southern China moved to the Caribbean, California and Central America. They worked, among other things, in railway construction in the USA and in the silver mines of Peru. From 1937 onwards, tens of thousands of Chinese fled the Sino-Japanese War. [2]

Immigration to China

The founding of the People's Republic led to the return of Chinese abroad who either themselves or their ancestors had once left China. Their number is estimated at a few million. Many responded to the call of the political leadership to help rebuild the country after the Chinese civil war and the Sino-Japanese war. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Chinese living in Southeast Asia returned to China feeling threatened by anti-Chinese policies and acts of violence in their "new" homelands such as Indonesia and Malaysia. From the mid-1970s, territorial conflicts between China and Vietnam also led to the return of ethnic Chinese from Vietnam. [3]

Migration to China - Immigrants from developing and industrialized nations

After the Asia-Africa conference in Bandung in 1955 and under the influence of the movement of the non-aligned countries, China assumed a leading role among the developing countries from the mid-1950s. The People's Republic offered financial and technical assistance to a number of African countries in particular. As a result, citizens of African countries came to China for training purposes, to study and to take up employment. Many of them stayed longer or settled completely in the People's Republic. [4] Since the Chinese reform and opening policy from 1978 onwards, more and more foreigners from industrialized nations have come to China for a temporary or long-term stay.

This text is part of the China country profile.