Expat egress

China expat

When China was still cool

The Golden Age of the Expat in China is decidedly over:

Fifteen years ago in California, a tall technology geek named Steve Mushero started writing a book that predicted the American dream might soon “be found only in China.” Before long, Mr. Mushero moved himself to Shanghai and launched a firm that Amazon.com Inc. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. certified as a partner to serve the world’s biggest internet market.

These days, the tech pioneer has hit a wall. He’s heading back to Silicon Valley where he sees deeper demand for his know-how in cloud computing. “The future’s not here,” said the 52-year-old. […]

Now disillusion has set in, fed by soaring costs, creeping taxation, tightening political control and capricious regulation that makes it ever tougher to maneuver the market and fend off new domestic competitors. All these signal to expat business owners their best days were in the past.

And employees as well, due to rising competition from Chinese talent and escalating language requirements. I wrote about it here.

Incidentally, I interviewed Mushero for an article about cloud computing in mid-2014. This is what he had to say:

“The market itself, even without the foreign players, has exploded in the last year,” says Steve Mushero, CEO of ChinaNetCloud, a foreign-owned sever management and cloud computing company based in Shanghai. When ChinaNetCloud started running cloud services in 2008, there was virtually no competition, and even until last year, Mushero says, the industry had very few significant players.

In retrospect, I arrived in China near the tail end of the expat optimism bubble (2010). Even in early 2012, an article like this rang true. (“China wants you. Job prospects are abundant.”) The turning point was probably around 2012. Now the word on the street is that China is a place to leave, not start your career. There are many exceptions of course, but the overall trend is clear.

Now an expat who has anchored himself to mainland China by working long-term and starting a family there, is less likely to exult about the opportunities in his host country than to sheepishly explain why he can’t leave.

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