Chinese immigrants generate wealth

October 25, 2002

Most Chinese immigrants come to Europe to work hard for their families - and generate both employment and wealth, according to research at the University of Oxford. And they are not always victims of unscrupulous smugglers like those found dead in tragic circumstances at Dover in July 2000, nor are they usually political refugees fleeing political persecution.

The findings of the study of the Fuzhou Diaspora in Europe are to be presented at a major London conference, People Without Frontiers today (Friday 25 October), together with other studies of global communities and migration.

The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, found that the main reason that the Chinese came to Europe was to make money for their families by working hard. They should be regarded as immigrants who generate their own employment and, ultimately, wealth in both their new host country and their area of origin, the report says.

"This is the first crucial step toward the realisation that Chinese migration need not be the unmanageable domestic and diplomatic hot potato that it is often thought to be," says project leader, Dr Frank Pieke at the Institute of Chinese Studies. "Most Fujianese migrants remain very much in control of their own destiny, an issue often obscured by the publicity on trafficking, kidnapping and debt bondage. Serious law-enforcement issues undeniably exist but they are by no means the defining feature of the Fujianese presence in Europe."

The aim of the project was to examine the new wave of Chinese international migration with particular focus on migration from Fujian, where the role of 'snakeheads' or human smugglers has attracted widespread comment. Chinese emigration has grown spectacularly since 1978; in Fujian, migration is a status symbol and part of a strategy for family advancement. The export of labour is also regarded as a top economic priority by local authorities.

The research found that although emigration was widely commercialised and handled by 'brokers', it was not necessarily criminalised. "Chinese migrants usually perceive the asylum system in Europe as a peculiar sort of immigration arrangement, rather than a humanitarian instrument and therefore do not see making up stories of persecution as something illegal, much less as part of an underworld conspiracy," the report says.

The study used an ethnographic approach consisting of interviews and surveys in Chinese communities in Britain, the Netherlands and seven other European countries as well as in sending communities in China. The aim was to examine the cross-border relationships between Chinese communities in Europe as well as the process of migration itself. One finding is that migrant Chinese who often travel legally, remain highly mobile once they arrive in Europe, changing countries when the conditions are right.

"Our research offers a better view of the differences and similarities between the many Chinese migration flows, which will help unpack and demystify the seemingly threatening fact of Chinese mass migration," says Frank Pieke.
For further information contact: Dr Frank Pieke, Institute for Chinese Studies, University of Oxford. Telephone: 186-528-0386 Fax 186-528-0435. Email: Or: Iain Stewart or Lesley Lilley, ESRC External Relations, telephone 179-341-3132/41-3119.

1. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social science research. At any time its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is:

2. The research project At the margins of the Chinese world system: the Fuzhou disapora in Europe is part of the ESRC's Transnational Communities Research Programme. The projects within the programme will broaden our understanding of the new and increasingly significant place of globe-spanning social networks in labour, business and commodity markets, political movements and cultural flows. To find out more about the programme contact Dr Stephen Vertovec, programme director on 186-527-4711 or visit the website at

3. The conference People Without Frontiers is taking place on Friday 25 October 2002 from 10.30am at Church House Conference Centre, London SW1. For information on attending the conference please call Emma Newcombe on 186-527-4411 or email

4. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at: http://www.regard.

Economic & Social Research Council

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