From "Sea Turtle" to "Seaweed": Changing Images of Returned Overseas Students and Skilled Migrants to China

Fei Guo, Macquarie University

Since the late 1970s, a large number of Chinese students and skilled migrants moved overseas. In the mid to late 1990s when China’s economy started to take off, many returnees were treated as a privileged class and were often regarded as “sea turtles” (hai gui), which was different from “land tortoise,” referring to locally-educated professionals. Many returnees landed privileged jobs. Recently, an increasing number of students and skilled migrants returned to take advantage of the opportunities associated with China’s rapid growth. However, the image of returnees has changed remarkably, due to a number of factors. Unemployment problems among returnees has also been concerning. The term “seaweeds” (hai dai) was often used to refer to those jobless returnees. This paper reviews the recent patterns of returned students and skilled migrants to China, changing policies and public perceptions toward returnees and labour market conditions in China.

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Presented in Session 122: Impact of Return Migration on Origin Areas