Why Are So Many People Moving to China?

There are plenty of reasons why Westerners and other peoples throughout the world have been flocking to China to live and work for over a decade and have been in increasing numbers during recent years.  The following are a collection of simple, straightforward, and common reasons incentivizing this trend.

Endless Unique Natural Landscapes

The territory of China is expansive and diverse, covered with nearly every topographical and climatic scenario imaginable.  From the arid temperate-regions of Gansu, Sha’anxi, Shanxi, and Hebei Provinces with their smoothly-weathered low-altitude mountains in the north, to the frigid forested Northeastern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang, all the way to China’s most unique sub-tropical and tropical regions in the South which boast the most iconic landscapes of terraced hills and uniquely weathered mountains and river gorges, natural beauty is abundant for those who prefer their travel time spent mostly out of doors.  Shangri-La and Guilin are perhaps the best known places of natural beauty in China if not by name then by photographs of their unique rock formations, rivers, and dramatic waterfalls.  The beaches of Xiamen and Hainan, the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, and the still pristine mountain ranges in the far West provinces of Qinghai, Western Sichuan, and Xizang (Tibet), are also notable.

Historical Site Tourism

The same impulses that drive many travelers and expats to Europe are present in the trend of tourism and expatriation to China, namely, ancient culture and all of its architectural and other physical evidence.  The great wall is clearly the most symbolic and memorable of all ancient architectural relics, and a famous section of the wall is just north of Beijing, and is popular with tourists.


Chinese food is known throughout the world as a solid choice for its variety, nutrition, and flavor.  However, unless one is actually present in China, or a few select Chinese enclaves that have not needed to alter their recipes for wide commercial appeal, there is no way to truly understand the great variety and complexity of Chinese cuisine.  For an introduction, Chinese state-owned media company CCTV produced a great documentary series called, Bite of China, focusing on the regional cuisines and their backgrounds.

While there are eight official cuisines in China, if you are curious, this author’s favorite cuisines are the Qian (黔菜-Guizhou) and Jin (晋菜-Shanxi) Cuisines.  Qian cuisine is very unique among Chinese cuisines, due notably to the influence of the large ethnic group from the Guizhou area, the Miao People, and also due to the relative ecological isolation of the region.  Qian dishes are both hot-spicy and sour, occasionally seasoned with spices and herbs only found in the local area, of which most Chinese people are unaware.  Qian dishes also commonly feature specially fermented vegetables, meats, and sauces (good luck).  The famous Lao Gan Ma brand of sauces originates from Guizhou, and is thus heavily influenced by Qian Cuisine.  Jin Cuisine is of more typical style in Northern China, with commonplace implementation of noodles, broth, meat, and their truly unique savory vinegar.

A treatment of cuisines available in China would not be complete without strong recognition that due to geographical proximity and cultural exchange other East Asian cuisines are easily found throughout China.  If one enjoys Vietnamese or Thai food, any major city in China and virtually anywhere in Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces are home to great Vietnamese and Thai restaurants.  Korean and Japanese restaurants are prevalent in the Northeast, especially in Dalian and Qingdao, and the prices are very affordable.  Thus, returning expats will forever long for $10 sushi dinners (average price for one person) that they once enjoyed.

Fast-Paced Urban Settings with Great Nightlife

America has several major metropolitan areas, Canada two or three, the UK a few, and likewise with Australia and virtually all other Western nations.  However, nearly all of China’s twenty-three provinces have at least one city with a population of over 5 million.  Then, there are the special municipalities, Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Tianjin, all four being more or less as populated as New York City.  Business has been booming for more than two decades in most of these cities, and newly-made middle-class millennials constitute a large portion of the population.  This creates opportunities for socializing, leisure, and even hedonistic pleasure like one would associate with Miami or Bangkok.  Numerous unique bars and nightclubs can be found in virtually all major cities, open until the last guests finally go home in the mid-morning.  Cafes, places of interest to youth, and social groups focused on common interests (e.g. motorcycle clubs) are easy to find, and are solid means by which a stranger in a new land can quickly make friends and integrate into the fabric of Chinese society.

Opportunity to Internationalize One’s Social Network

Like digitization and the internet, globalization as a trend is not dying nor has it reached its apex.  Connections are being made between every corner of the globe, and those who seek to, “seize the day”, so to speak, during the early stages of this process would be prudent to choose making those connections in China.  China is clearly a cultural, economic, and political force that is becoming and will remain one of the greatest on our planet during the lifetime of any visitors to this blog.  Nearly every industry will be touched by China moving forward, and eventually anyone living in an urban center in the Western world will come in contact with Chinese people on a regular basis, either physically or remotely.  Recognizing this fact, hundreds of thousands of foreigners flock to China annually to seek friendships, business partners, romantic interests, and general social connection.  Of course, these social goals are improved by language and cultural understanding, which are easier to obtain through residing in China.

The best part for foreigners is that the process of creating social connections in China is, despite some cultural differences and language barriers, a fairly easy one.  To be explicit, being a foreigner in China will render an individual automatically more interesting to many in the local population.  As awkward as it might be to write and ponder the fact, it is the case that in many instances simply being a foreigner in China enhances one’s social appeal on nearly every superficial level.  Many Chinese would be pleased to say that they have a foreign friend.

There are some drawbacks to this reality, however.  The enhanced appeal mentioned above is often very superficial, or at least misguided by stereotypes that local Chinese use to view foreigners.  Essentially, making deep connection and understanding may require significant work on the part of both the foreigner and the Chinese.  Moreover, some locals resent how easy it seems life can be for foreigners in China, and it is advisable to try to have empathy with these type of people instead of taking it personally.

The Energy and Excitement of a Reemerging Cultural and Economic Force

Eventually, one would assume, the tides will change and it will be China and the Chinese that are viewed with special favor and interest by local populations hosting them.  Already we see industries like higher-education, tourism, etc., flirting excessively to win the favor of potential Chinese clients.  People from around the world recognize this reality and take action when they decide to expatriate to China, learn the Chinese language, and/or do business with China.  By extension, foreigners hope some of the Chinese magic will rub off on them and their future fortunes.

Beyond pragmatic concerns about the future, many foreigners love their time in China, and this author is included among them, simply because of the energy, the buzz, the obvious vigor of the Chinese society and people in the 21st century.  For those foreigners who like an easy, small town lifestyle, there are many smaller cities in China where they live and thrive.  For the majority of foreigners, they prefer living in the large cities and metropolises of China, where they get lost in the crowds between ever-changing rows of tall buildings, where they draw energy from the fast-paced and large-scale commercial and social activity of the urban center.

“If I can make there, I’m gonna make it anywhere”, is a lyric often attributed to Frank Sinatra that he recorded in a cover of the song “New York, New York”, in 1979.  That sentiment might have been true then regarding New York City, and could still be true today, but what is analogous to the New York sentiment is that to most foreigners who are living or have lived in China, their time and efforts spent there contributed immensely to their personal growth, giving them a sort of confidence that they likely did not possess before.  The combination of language and cultural barriers, coupled with the usual challenges of city living, render the whole China expatriation experience a means to move one further up Maslow’s hierarchical pyramid of needs.

A Booming and Welcoming Job Market for Foreign Talent

Whether one is living in Europe, North America, or Australia, the domestic job market can be a challenging place, even for those who have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher.  For native English speakers seeking teaching jobs in China the only challenge is choosing which job to take from the multiple job offers one can receive.  Through the experience of this author as the director of Opportunity in China, it is assured that our company, and really any agency in our industry, has the capacity to offer a native English speaker holding a bachelor’s degree no fewer than two or three job offers within a couple weeks of receiving their resume and additional documents.  Opportunity in China can place a teacher in one of forty cities, in a variety of school types, at any time in the year.  The market in China for native English-speaking teachers is truly that hot.  In fact, there is a shortage of teachers and there has been since the industry began.  Schools lose opportunity daily with the lack of foreign talent currently in China.  Meaning, if they had more teachers, they could fill more classrooms.  There is always a demand, and instead of competition for jobs being the norm, as it is in Western countries, competition for applicants is the norm in China, if you are a native English speaker.

Due to policy and demographic shifts, it could be speculated that this demand for English teachers will only intensify in the coming years.  Recently, the notorious one-child policy was lifted, allowing Chinese couples to have two children.  Before that happened, the trend in English language training was shifting to that of an early-education model.  Parents have been for the last half-decade seeking to enroll their children in English classes at earlier ages, some as early as kindergarten and preschool ages.  Therefore, over the next several years demand for early-education English training will surge to incredible proportions.

Additionally, the trend for Chinese students choosing to study abroad is also increasing.  With basic English-proficiency tests being required for general enrollment at Western universities, students have no choice but to enroll in afterschool, weekend, and summer holiday English training programs.  More high schools are adopting international departments as well, instructing their students in English, and some instructing all subject matter in English, as a means to prepare the students for their university experience abroad.

Essentially, the market for foreign teachers, especially native-speaking English teachers, has been booming since its inception.  Demand for English training services has never ceased to increase, and there is a case to be made that the market is set for a steroid injection as soon as one or two years from now in the form of the parents of young children seeking early education in English.

It should also be noted that English teaching and other education jobs are not the only opportunities in China for foreigners.  While teaching is usually the proverbial foot in the door, after several years many foreigners in China go on to pursue other careers in administration, trade, acting and performing, and entrepreneurship.  In fact, this author knows of relatively few foreigners in China who have remained in the education industry after several years, and those that have are now in very niche, and highly-compensated positions, such as teaching English to famous people (i.e. actors, professional vocalists, foreign diplomates, etc.), grading language proficiency tests (a cake job and surprisingly lucrative), or as marketers for English training companies.

Starting a New Life

Moving to the other side of the world, to a land with a different language and somewhat different culture does not necessarily occur by a simple or flippant decision.  This decision can be made more easily by those who seek only a one or two-year long adventure in a new place, and an opportunity to travel while also putting away some money or to pay down student loans.  However, for some, it is a decision that is made with the intention to begin a new and more permanent chapter in their lives.

Fortunately, cultural assimilation in China is not all that challenging, for many of the reasons mentioned above.  While it is the case that if one is not ethnically East Asian they will stand out, but they will nevertheless be welcomed by the majority of the population.  Many foreigners settle down in China.  Of course, some get married and start families.  Some of the more studious foreigners move to China to study the language in depth to become Sinologists, or to return to their home country for a career requiring a deep understanding of Chinese culture and language.  There are also ample cases of foreigners using their entrepreneurial instincts to start a business in China.

The Chinese population represents about one-fifth of the world’s population. Surely, there are myriad reasons for and means by which a foreigner can expatriate.  The opportunity to have a fresh start in a new land, free from the judgement and prejudices of one’s peers can be attractive.  One need only have a try by taking the first step.



Authored by:

MC Miller – michaelchadmiller@gmail.com

As the author is a fairly boring and prudent guy, the fun motivating factors (i.e. travel and night life) as to why foreigners are moving to China were treated with far less material, because he does not have the experience to write much on those topics.  Sorry about that. 🙂


28 thoughts on “Why Are So Many People Moving to China?”

    1. Does it make you want to try Guizhou cuisine? You really should, before it becomes homogenized out of existence like all regional cuisines eventually do.

      Thank you for the encouragement.

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