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China Sees Tide of Returning Talents
The common question "Have you left too?" when Chinese students studying overseas met their friends abroad a decade ago has now been replaced by "Have you ever been back?" when old pals get together.

Already some 130,000 Chinese students who have completed their studies overseas and with plenty of work experience in Western developed nations have returned to China to find new jobs or start up their own businesses. And the number keeps growing by 13 percent a year.

So much so that the newly concocted phrase of "haiguipai" ( returned overseas generation) is now included in the latest published Chinese language lexicons.

Official statistics show that in the past two decades, approximately 400,000 Chinese students have gone to 103 countries to study, making China the world's largest source of students studying overseas.

But to date, one in every three Chinese students studying abroad has returned to the motherland, forming the biggest return tide of talent in Chinese history.

Noted Chinese economist Li Yining predicted at a recent educational forum held in Shanghai that after China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), the country would shift from inviting an inflow of capital to a skills inflow.

Zhang Jianqing, general manager of Huateng Microelectronics Co. based in Shanghai, is one of the "haiguipai" (returned overseas generation). He left his birthplace in Shanghai for Beijing to work with the Bank of China 20 years ago.

And a decade ago, he forsook his "golden rice bowl" and went to the United States to study for a master of business administration (MBA). Recently, Zhang returned to Shanghai to launch a business of his own, beginning the third adventure in his life.

"If the experience, schooling and capabilities of a person of Chinese origin are equal to one Chinese yuan, the value will depreciate by half if it is spent in the United States, but will appreciate twice if it is spent in China where the economy is booming at high speed," said Zhang, who now has "green card", or permanent residence permit in the US.

Apart from making preparations for his new company situated in Shanghai's Zhangjiang High-Tech Park, Zhang, now in his late 40s, has purchased four real estate properties in Shanghai. Lately he has begun to watch the performances of stock bourses in Shanghai and Shenzhen.

"My roots are here in Shanghai where I have better chances for development," said Zhang, explaining why he came back to Shanghai.

Prof. Zhang Letian with the Sociology Department at prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai, said that in the market economy environment dominated by fairness and transparency, returned Chinese students can quickly turn their technology, information and international backgrounds into assets so that they can realize their personal potential in China as well as they can abroad.

To greet this tide of returning talent, the economically developed areas such as Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing have started going to countries where many Chinese students pursue advanced studies to head-hunt desired skills.

Meanwhile, central and local governments have stepped up the pace in drafting relevant policies and regulations conducive to attracting overseas Chinese students to return and launch businesses. Some major cities in the country have also built specialized business parks for returned overseas Chinese students.

In the past three years, Zhongguancun area in Beijing, dubbed the "silicon valley of China", has drawn 3,500 returned overseas Chinese students, 3.5 times more than a decade ago.

The Business Park for Returned Overseas Chinese Students in Shenzhen City, south China's Guangdong Province, for instance, has grown from 2,000 sq m to 30,000 sq m in less than two years. Whereas in Shanghai, the number of returned overseas Chinese students exceeds 25,000. And they have launched 1,500 businesses, accounting for almost half the national total.

Along with the backflow of talent, large numbers of Hong Kong and Taiwan residents, who used to crave overseas migration, too, have settled down and launched businesses on the Chinese mainland.

It is estimated that at least 200,000 to 300,000 residents of Hong Kong have been working long-term in China's interior areas.

In the meantime, the number of Hong Kong people migrating overseas has been dropping since the return of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997. And in the past four years, more than 300,000 residents of Hong Kong who resided overseas have returned to Hong Kong. The number of Taiwan residents staying in Shanghai for more than three months has reached 220,000, including 50,000 who have eventually settled down in the municipality.

A survey shows that Taiwanese who migrated to the Chinese mainland earlier were mainly owners of medium-sized and small businesses, but now that trend has been replaced by the phenomenon of a growing number of Taiwan's elite moving to Shanghai to live and work.

Shanghai has been operating a residency system since June 15 similar to the permanent residency status introduced in the US so that talented people from all over the world do not have to abandon their original nationalities or residency registration but still can enjoy the same benefits as local urbanites.

Zhang Weiying, vice-president of the Guanghua Administrative Science College at Beijing University, said for a country to attract talent, the crux of matter is its competitive power.

"China is a country with that tremendous competitive power to start with and it also has the talent," said the vice-president.

Experts say that the returning talent tide is the best symbol of a country's growth, and improvements in China's national strength, robust economic growth, stable social environment and economic globalization are all key factors in its luring home talent.

(People's Daily June 29, 2002)

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