China’s Elites Are Rushing for the Exits

China’s Elites Are Rushing for the Exits
Travelers wait in line at a check-in counter at Kunming Changshui International Airport, Kunming, China, March 22, 2022 (AP photo by Dake Kang).

A growing number of Chinese middle- and upper-class citizens are seeking to emigrate, citing disillusionment with Beijing’s heavy-handed “Zero COVID” pandemic restrictions. The sense of despair and desperation driving their planned departures stand in contrast to the overwhelming sense of optimism that characterized public sentiment during China’s rise as a global power over the past two decades.

On the Chinese social media platform WeChat, search entries for the word “immigration” increased more than fourfold between early and mid-April, the Economist reported. “It’s like an alarm bell has gone off,” said Miranda Wang, a Chinese videographer based in Shanghai, where a seven-week lockdown is causing anguish in local communities. Conditions in the city are not expected to return to normal until the end of June at the earliest, and a gradual reopening could be set back by a new surge of infections. “Now we realize, Shanghai is still China’s Shanghai … No matter how much money, education or international access you have, you cannot escape the authorities,” said Wang.

Ying Cao, a New York-based immigration lawyer, told The Wall Street Journal that inquiries for her services from high-net-worth individuals and middle-class professionals in China have surged tenfold in the past two past months. She compared the phenomenon to 1949, when the Communist Party’s rise to power prompted an exodus of more than 2 million people from mainland China to Taiwan and Hong Kong. “There is a shared sense of fear and urgency to get out,” said Cao.

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