Western expatriates in China have a far easier time than they did a generation ago. They no longer huddle in drab hotels and endure Maoist standards of food and service. These days they can have almost anything, for a price: soufflés and sushi, Western-style villas with gardens, private schools with famous names for their children. (Harrow and Dulwich College, two posh British schools, both have offshoots in Beijing.)You know why I post this stuff about expats in China, right? My kids and I did the expat thing in China for a short time (5 months) in 2007 (you can read about our experience here). I know increasing numbers of China adoptive parents who are interested in giving their children the experience of living in their home country. So there you go.
The air in China may be gritty and the censorship irksome. Conference calls with head offices in America at 4am are tedious. But life is otherwise comfortable. And business in China is more exciting than perhaps anywhere else on Earth.
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China’s spectacular growth over the past three decades has prompted hordes of businesspeople to jump onto aeroplanes and move house. Western multinationals have sent many of their most ambitious executives to the country, to find new suppliers, set up factories or sell jet engines and whisky to the Chinese.
In recent years a swelling number of expatriates have also moved the other way. Chinese firms are increasingly global. They scramble for oil and copper in Africa. They scout for investment opportunities in America and Europe. They are starting to set up offices throughout the world. Naturally, they are sending out Chinese executives to run them.
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Their situation is in many ways like that of a Western expatriate, but there are glaring differences. Western expats in China have typically moved from a liberal democracy with a sluggish economy to an authoritarian state with a fast-growing one. Chinese expats in the West have done the opposite. Each journey presents its own challenges. This article seeks to illustrate them, unscientifically, by contrasting the life of a Western expat in China with that of a Chinese expat in Europe.
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