China is witnessing its greatest mass exodus since the 19th century, but it’s not the poor who are leaving this time, and they certainly won’t be building any railroads. It is estimated than in little more than a decade, 100,000 high net-worth individuals with assets of more than $1 million have turned their backs on their mother-country and headed for pastures new.

Those pastures have predominantly been in the U.S, Russia, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the UK, although thanks to generous tax policies adopted by the Spanish government toward Chinese business people, a large percentage have also settled in Spain.

But why when their country is experiencing a sustained economic boom unparalleled in their long history would so many wealthy, educated Chinese be turning their backs on the very land that has made them incredibly rich, and risking all in a strange new world?


Two words: Big Brother (and we don’t mean the reality TV show!)


In 1949 George Orwell wrote a ground-breaking, dystopian novel named Nineteen Eighty-Four. The story painted a bleak image of a future-world where every action of the general public is watched over by a malevolent and omnipresent government surveillance, also known as Big Brother. The result is a cowed and beaten society, reminded constantly that “Big Brother is watching you.

Never has the threat of a Big Brother society been so real as what there currently is in China, and yet amazingly, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

According to the South China Morning Post website, the Chinese government are as we speak developing an e-database called the Social Credit System which is designed to rate each and every one of their 1.3 billion citizens by 2020. This database will use metrics that will include whether citizens pay their bills on time, plagiarize schoolwork, break traffic laws or adhere to birth control regulations. And there’s no opt-out option. Spooky stuff.

The Social Credit System will according to the publicity blurb published by the Chinese State Council – carry forward sincerity and traditional virtues, encourage trust, raise the overall competitiveness of the country, and finally, stimulate the progress of civilization.

Orwellian indeed!


The Fear That Bonds The Rich And The Poor


It is estimated that China currently has 213 billionaires, second only to the US. They also have 3.6 million millionaires, 3 million less than the US, but China is creating more millionaires at a faster pace than anyone else. Throw 4.4 million wealthy households into that mix, plus a rapidly expanding middle class, and one can see why China already accounts for 1/3 of the world’s consumption of luxury goods.


It’s a far cry from those at the polar opposite, the tens of millions who are still virtually destitute, and still toil for a pittance in the sprawling paddy fields and deep, deadly mines that are still key to China’s economy. And yet the wealthiest and the poorest still have one thing in common a constant fear and paranoia that their government could turn on them at any second.


Even China’s Golden Generation Have Left!


Some wealthy Chinese are choosing to brave it out, and instead send their children to expensive finishing schools in the US and Europe. This has led to mega-rich young Chinese in their late teens and early twenties splashing what seems like unlimited amounts of cash on multi-million dollar condos and high-end Italian sports cars.

Some members of this Golden Generation even have their own online reality TV show – Ultra Rich Asian Girls of Vancouver, and this show recently featured in an issue of The New Yorker magazine. The article focuses on Weymi Cho – clearly the Paris Hilton of her set who aged 20 lives in a $4 million dollar apartment overlooking Vancouver’s harbor and drives a shiny new Maserati GranTourismo.

Weymi’s parents are from mainland China, and they run a successful business in Taiwan. They sent her to boarding school in Vancouver when she was 14. There is already a large and expanding community of wealthy Chinese in the city, as there is in New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Madrid, Rome, Moscow, or any attractive major city one could name. Anywhere but China itself, it would seem.

The plan was always to send us to the West says Weymi, and it seems clear that many Chinese families are sending their offspring out into the world. One would guess the thought process behind such a strategy would be more than to create a well-greased party generation. Surely the long-term thinking must be that these highly educated, bi-lingual and affluent young people will be a kind of advanced reconnaissance party, paving the way for what is sure to be a mass exodus of mega-wealthy Chinese in the coming years.


Citizenship by Investment


The easiest way for wealthy Chinese to move themselves to the country or continent of their choice is by Citizenship by Investment programs, also known as investment visas. With the help of expert mediators like online citizenship and passport specialists, a Chinese business person can literally purchase a whole new life for themselves in Europe, Russia, the US, the Caribbean, Canada, Australia or any country that offers them second citizenship in return for a substantial financial investment.

Not surprisingly, this is proving to be a mutually beneficial arrangement. Wealthy Chinese investors are literally snapping up these programs as soon as they become available. For many, it’s a case of starting over in a strange country where the language and the people are different.

But the air is fresh. The water is clean. The authorities aren’t corrupt. And Big Brother is no longer watching.

© 2017 a division of Intercap, S.A.