Like those of India, expatriates are returning to China – drawn by more than just the natural pull of an economy that has grown by 9 per cent or more every year since 2002. The many thousands of Chinese who went abroad for higher education are now being targeted by a massive government effort to bring back the country's best and brightest.
Under what's known as the "Thousand Talents" program, Beijing is offering plum jobs and research grants – plus "moving allowances" of up to 1 million yuan (about $160,000) – in an attempt to lure top-level Chinese academics and their ideas home.
"The economic development and the opportunities [in China]are now the main draw for people to come back," says Wang Huiyao, vice-chair of the Western Returned Scholars Association.
In three years, the program has attracted 2,100 expats, surpassing the target for its initial decade by at least 100 people. A follow-up national program, the Thousand Young Talents program – targeting those under 40 who have foreign PhDs and at least three years of work experience – was launched in late 2010.
Many Chinese provinces are also now rolling out their own efforts to bring back their best-educated sons and daughters.
Of the estimated one million Chinese who have gone abroad to pursue a university education since the country began to open up in 1978, only about a quarter have found their way home. The rate of return has increased dramatically in recent years, however – official statistics show 186,200 foreign-educated students returned to China in 2011, a 38-per-cent rise from 2010 and quadruple the number of five years ago.
Dr. Wang says the importance the Chinese government places on Thousand Talents can be seen in the fact that the program is administered by the powerful Organization Department, the same body that appoints and oversees top Communist Party officials.
"We hope that more overseas Chinese will return home to start their careers or continue their scientific research here," Li Yuanchao, head of the Organization Department, said recently.
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