Tapping the Flow: The Global Circulation of Talent and Urban Development in China

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 15:00
Location: Hörsaal 18 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Yingchan ZHANG, Northeastern University, USA
An increasing number of U.S.-educated Chinese have recently returned to China. Chinese state-run media emphasize their prosperous outlook and the state’s recognition of their importance for the country’s transition to a knowledge economy. As Chinese cities compete for these returnees, little is known about the strategies that Chinese municipalities adopt to attract returnees, or the lived experiences of these targeted returnees over transnational space.

This paper examines how Chinese cities recruit U.S.-educated Chinese to stimulate urban development, and how these recruitment initiatives affect the migration decisions and reincorporation experiences of two types of skilled labor: entrepreneurs starting business projects in high-tech and advanced-service industries, and scientists/researchers leading innovation projects cosponsored by the governments and their Chinese home institutions. I conduct a case study of the city of Nanjing in Eastern China and utilize semi-structured interviews, ethnographic observation, and secondary analysis.

This paper argues these returnees occupy privileged economic and social positions and maintain fluid and ambiguous identities in Chinese society. Many returnees obtain recruitment packages in multiple cities to diversify their business operations, establish protective mechanism against market risks, and accumulate resources to move if one particular city does not work out. Ultimately, having secured American permanent residence or citizenship allows them to fall back on returning to America if business plans fail in China. In contrast to the short-term, quantifiable way the municipal government conceptualizes their contributions, returnees do not necessarily develop a sense of belonging to the city or its development but tie themselves to their specialized field of expertise, as they are mobile and their clients are all over the world.

This paper contributes to the session by comparing the experiences of professionals making different migration decisions and enhancing understanding of how flexible arrangements of time, space and labor facilitated by neoliberalism are articulated on the ground.