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Migration as Class-based Consumption: The Emigration of the Rich in Contemporary China

  • Gracia Liu-Farrer (a1)

Labelled as the third wave of migration out of post-reform China, the recent emigration of wealthy Chinese has attracted worldwide attention. Although this form of mobility involves primarily the richest 0.1 per cent of the Chinese population, the high profile of the people who move and the amount of wealth implied have made it a sensational social phenomenon. Through interviews, participant observation and media reports, this paper searches for the social meanings of this trend of emigration. Journalists generally attribute the exodus of the rich to a desire to secure their wealth, an aspiration for a different education for their children, or concerns with air pollution and food safety. What this paper argues is that underneath these stated motivations, emigration is in fact a form of class-based consumption, a strategy for class reproduction, and a way to convert economic resources into social status and prestige. “Emigration” (yimin), a form of mobility that may not entail settling abroad, is a path created by wealthy Chinese striving to be among the global elite.

近年中国富裕阶层纷纷移民国外, 在中国被称为改革开放后的 “第三次移民潮”。虽然能够走投资移民这条路线的人口仅是中国最富有的千分之一, 他们的经济地位和可携走财富使此移民现象不仅震动中国社会, 也在全世界受到瞩目。本篇论文通过个人访谈, 参与观察及媒体报道, 试图深层次分析这次移民潮的社会含义。中外媒体一般认为中国富人大量出国或是为了保证自己的财产安全, 或是为孩子教育考虑, 也或是出于对中国空气污染, 食品安全之类生活环境的忧虑。虽然这些因素确有存在, 本文认为, 富人移民实质上是一种阶层性消费, 一种社会阶层再生产的手段, 也是一种把经济资源转化为社会地位和身份威望的方式。 “移民”, 对于当代中国富人来说, 并不意味着移居国外, 更是一条通向全球精英行列的途径。

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