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Overseas Chinese Head Home

Gu Maozhong returned to China from the United States and started a company last year, leaving his wife and daughter in the States.

Thirty years ago, Gu made an important decision in his life. He decided to study in the United States, where he carved out his career, got married and became a permanent resident in the US.

In 2001, Gu made another important decision. This time he was determined to seek out new development opportunities in his motherland.

However, Gu's wife and daughter were used to the American way of life, so they made the difficult decision and stayed in the United States.

During Christmas and on family members' birthdays Gu flies back and forth across the Pacific.

In 1978, China opened its doors to the outside world. According to figures issued by the Ministry of Education in October 2001, 320,000 Chinese people were assigned by their work units to study abroad.

Up to now, around 140,000 have returned. In 1998, 7,300 students returned to their homeland upon graduation, nearly five times more than in 1990.

This year, 13,000 students are expected to return home and the numbers are rising by 13 per cent each year, according to an expert with the Ministry of Personnel.

Overseas Chinese, both young and middle-aged, have returned to China from the United States, Europe and Japan.

After completing their studies in other countries, most of them have worked hard to become senior managers, academics, and technical personnel. Many have patented inventions or specialized technologies that have commercial prospects in industry.

Others have been engaged in finance, engineering technology, teaching, scientific research and management and have made remarkable achievements in their work.

"It is a remarkable change that more and more experts in such fields as information technology and business management are coming back," said Liu Gengnian, the deputy director of the Personnel Department of Peking University.

He noted that previously most trained people who had returned to China were scholars in subjects such as literature, history and philosophy.

Liu said that now people bring back with them not just technical knowledge and skills, but also an understanding of Western society, entrepreneurship and market-oriented economic systems. They are badly needed in China.

Han Gengchen, a seed researcher, has worked for foreign seed companies for almost 10 years. Several years ago, he registered his company in Beijing.

"I was born here and I grew up here, so I belong to China. My goal is to supply Chinese farmers with the best seeds," Han said.

In 2001, Han opened five seeds research bases with a total sales volume of 50 million yuan (US$6 million).

"This is my home, I feel a sense of obligation. I feel the need to give something back to the people," said Qiao Youlin, a 45-year-old scientist who left a promising career at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the National Institute of Health in 1999 to return to China to conduct cancer research.

Longing for home is only one of the reasons that many have chosen to return to China. In fact, opportunities in China are the biggest trump card for them. Over the last two decades, China's economy has been booming.

The private sector is growing quickly, Internet related industries continue to expand and the country is further opening its market following its entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"It's so huge a market," said Liu Chi, an overseas student from the United States majoring in law. "There are more than 800,000 registered lawyers in the United States, however only 100,000 in China with a population of 1.27 billion."

Meanwhile, China's WTO entry will create more job opportunities.

On the one hand, many American transnational firms are attracted by China's huge markets and have geared themselves to march into China's nascent industries by hiring American-educated Chinese.

On the other hand, domestic enterprises, such as law consulting companies, financial firms and banks, are preparing for the forthcoming competition against foreign companies by hiring Chinese staff with experience in working for prominent US firms.

Apart from the push-and-pull dynamics resulting from China's WTO entry, many ambitious Chinese are not satisfied with an "ordinary job." They want to be entrepreneurs and to make a difference in their motherland.

"I don't know if we'll have a massive effect on economic and social life," said Peggy Yu, 35, the co-CEO of dangdang.com, an online bookseller, who returned two years ago and started the company with her husband. "But in little pockets, here and there, we can make a difference."

The Chinese Government is taking measures to improve the economic environment and aims to provide opportunities for overseas people with expertise who will serve the country, both in terms of policies and financial support.

Currently, educated people can hold leading posts in various institutions, or senior administrative posts in State-owned enterprises, universities and scientific research institutes, as well as governmental departments, through fair competition.

And they may have their permanent right of residence abroad preserved.

Liu Gengnian, said that Peking University employed a great number of "professors with 'Green Cards,'" who conduct research and give lectures in the university for three months each year.

Last year, the Ministry of Education gave Peking University and Tsinghua University 1.64 billion yuan (US$200 million) to employ faculty members, and the central government gave the Chinese Academy of Sciences 590 million yuan (US$72 million) to recruit senior scientists from both home and abroad.

To help skilled overseas people develop their careers in China, the government has also established a great number of pioneer parks. More and more high-quality enterprises established by these people have been set up in these parks.

The cultural differences that many people encounter are also important factors motivating them to return home. Many Chinese people who have returned home to work complain about unemployment and racial prejudice in the US.

Ma Jin has been in the United States for eight years, where he has been promoted to vice-president of ROHM, a Fortune 500 company.

"Culture contradictions are very frustrating," Ma said. Last year, Ma came back and opened his own company -- Celestry Design Technology Co Ltd -- in Shanghai.

However, students who are used to living abroad also find that they meet with "cultural differences" in their homeland.

According to one scholar, experience in foreign countries sometimes makes it hard to readjust to life at home.

He said that he personally changed a lot in the United States. His life style, attitude, relationships and even his values, were different to what he thought back home.

Some of his researchers refused to work with him because they said he was too strict.

"China has its own standards and moral systems. So sometimes it is difficult to deal with," he said. "And we also have to change our life styles for a second time."

(China Daily January 23, 2001)

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