Amid Shanghai Lockdown, Some Chinese Citizens Plan to Move Abroad

Before being picked up by censors, Chinese netizens were using a coded phrase to express their longing to migrate overseas

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12:56 AM HKT, Wed April 27, 2022 2 mins read

“How did Shanghai get like this?” is a commonly asked question in public discussions on Shanghai these days. As China marches forward with its zero-Covid policy, Shanghai’s residents find themselves enduring a nearly month-long lockdown.

This jarring experience has left many lacking basic necessities and proper medical attention. As a result, Shanghai may see an exodus of not only foreign expatriates but also middle-class Chinese citizens.

Numbers can speak louder than words, and the number of times the word ‘immigration’ was searched on WeChat went up sevenfold in April. On April 15 alone, users looked up the keyword 70 million times on the platform.

Canada appears to be the most favorable destination for Chinese migrants. On Baidu, searches for the Great White North’s immigration policy under the ‘immigration’ subtopic increased by 2846% in the last week of March, topping the Chinese search engine’s charts.

Canada Immigration

Canada seems to be a popular destination for Chinese people exploring the option of moving abroad

“My phone has been ringing all day since the lockdown began,” says Ivy Cui, a Shanghai-based consultant at Globe Visa, an immigration agency. Cui reveals that clicks have quadrupled on the company’s website in the past month. “Most people opt for investment migration as other routes have become stricter over the years.”

Lu Xiaohu, another consultant at the same agency, confirms this trend. After all, it’d be impossible to ignore the fact that her inquiries have doubled.

“My clients are mainly 30- to 50-year-olds from the middle class, and they name English-speaking countries, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and Singapore, as their preferred destinations,” she spills.

This sudden surge of inquiries at Globe Visa is clearly related to people’s mounting frustrations over strict lockdown measures, say multiple sources.

“I used to perceive Shanghai as the ‘Paris of the East’,” shares Cathy Ren, a management consultant who returned to Shanghai after studying abroad. She is now considering moving back overseas.

“The illusion has been shattered. I know all the effervescence was just sugarcoated.”

Likewise, Louis Tang is now disenchanted with Shanghai. The Beijing-based journalist planned to move to Shanghai in 2022, but the city’s unending lockdown has made him change his mind. He says, “China is more divided than ever before. People who benefit from the system turn a deaf ear to others’ outcry. This saddens me the most.”

Among the numerous incidents to draw public ire during the current Shanghai lockdown is the troubling case of a 94-year-old who tested positive for Covid and was forced to transfer to a makeshift hospital on April 19. According to a recent post circulating WeChat, many Chinese youths “feel betrayed” by the sudden and saddening turn of events.

“The city we live in should make us feel safe. For whatever reason, if its citizens are constantly in a state of anxiety and feel they can no longer count on the city for their well-being and livelihood, it is betrayal,” reads the post.

Singapore is another popular landing spot for Chinese citizens looking to migrate overseas

Singapore is another popular landing spot for Chinese citizens looking to migrate overseas

Linda Li, a 30-year-old newlywed who plans on moving to Singapore soon, echos this sentiment: “It is okay to compromise one’s well-being to abide by the country’s policy for a while, but the question is, how long is this going to last? I can’t even imagine getting pregnant at this point in Shanghai, let alone seeing my child grow up here.”

The lockdown situation has birthed a slew of slang words and phrases, including ‘run philosophy‘ (润学). (The pinyin for the character 润 is spelled the same as ‘run’ in English.) Before being blocked by censors on Weibo, Chinese youth used the term to express their longing to migrate overseas.

Despite all the talk of leaving China circulating online, only a small number of people actually do take action, says Jessica Xie, a senior immigration consultant with a decade’s worth of experience.

“Many might consider migrating at this point while they’re feeling emotional,” she says. “But it takes a lot of considerations for the average middle-class person to migrate.”

In 2017, a report stated that some 10 million PRC citizens live outside the Chinese mainland, with nearly half of them spread across the U.S. (2.4 million) and Hong Kong (2.3 million). To lend this data context, know that 2020 saw around 281 million international migrants worldwide, making up 3.6% of the global population.

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Cover photo via Depositphotos

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