Chasing the Chinese Dream
Sunday, October 21, 2007
YIWU, China -- For more than three years, Khaled Rasheed and his family spent the nights huddled in fear as bombs exploded near their home in Baghdad. Like generations of would-be emigrants before him, he dreamed of a better life elsewhere. But where?
Finding a place that was safe was Rasheed's top priority, but openness to Islam and bright business prospects were also important.
It wasn't long before he settled on a place that had everything he was looking for: China.
For a growing number of the world's emigrants, China -- not the United States -- is the land where opportunities are endless, individual enterprise is rewarded and tolerance is universal.
"In China, life is good for us. For the first time in a long time, my whole family is very happy," said Rasheed, 50, who in February moved with his wife and five children to Yiwu, a trading city about four hours south of Shanghai.
While China doesn't officially encourage immigration, it has made it increasingly easy -- especially for businesspeople or those with entrepreneurial dreams and the cash to back them up -- to get long-term visas. Usually, all it takes is getting an invitation letter from a local company or paying a broker $500 to write one for you.
There are now more than 450,000 people in China with one- to five-year renewable residence permits, almost double the 230,000 who had such permits in 2003. An additional 700 foreigners carry the highly coveted green cards introduced under a system that went into effect in 2004.
China's openness to foreigners is evident in the reemergence of ethnic enclaves, a phenomenon that hasn't been seen since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. Larger and more permanent than those frequented by expatriate businessmen on temporary assignment, the new enclaves evoke pre-revolutionary China, where cities such as Shanghai bustled with concessions dominated by French, British and Japanese.
The Wangjing area of northern Beijing is a massive Koreatown, complete with groceries, schools, churches, karaoke bars and its own daily newspapers. A few miles away, in the city's Ritan Park, signs in Cyrillic script and vendors speaking Russian welcome people from the former Soviet republics. In Yiwu, a city in the eastern province of Zhejiang that is the home of the world's largest wholesale market, "Exotic Street" lights up at night with stands filled with smoking kebabs, colorful hookahs and strong sugared tea for the almost exclusively Arab clientele.
Communist China's first attempt to make friends with outsiders and encourage cultural exchange came during the 1960s and '70s, as part of a campaign for ideological leadership in the developing world. China sought to spread socialism and unite the farmers of the world.
Today, its efforts to woo developing countries are driven by more calculated, strategic goals, most notably its need to secure long-term contracts for oil, gas and minerals to fuel its booming economy.
As part of this campaign, China has sought to portray itself as more open to Islam than other non-Muslim nations.