BEIJING — At 49, Wang Zeqiang has achieved the Chinese equivalent of the American dream. Raised in the cornfields of eastern China’s Shandong province, he founded an auto parts business that today has several dozen employees. He has two houses, two cars and, because he’s rich enough to pay the fines for defying the country’s family planning policy, two children.
Now, all that is missing — what he covets most — is a foreign passport.
“In China, there is so much pressure,” said Wang, who recently hired a consulting firm to advise him on his first choice, Australia. He hasn’t been there yet, but he’s been surfing the Internet and likes what he sees: blue skies, open spaces. “I want to live a relaxed, happy life.”
The new Chinese emigres have little in common with earlier waves of unskilled laborers or political exiles. They’re not going abroad for economic opportunity — they’re already wildly successful — or political activism, but for a quality of life that money can’t buy in China.
A recent poll of Chinese with a net worth of more than 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) found that 16 percent had obtained foreign residency and that an additional 44 percent were planning to emigrate. Many cite a polluted atmosphere, and not just in the air they breathe: endemic corruption, a shaky political system, tainted products and poor medical care, among other problems.
The exodus of the middle and upper class is an embarrassment to the government, with possibly serious economic implications because the emigres are taking with them money and skills. In an attempt to prevent capital flight, Chinese laws limit people from taking more than $50,000 a year out of the country, but it is easy enough to get around the restrictions.
In effect, the wealthy emigres are buying their new residencies, in what they hope is the first step toward new passports. Many of the foreign programs involve a substantial investment by the prospective expatriates, either in real estate or businesses.