Migration as Class-based Consumption: The Emigration of the Rich in Contemporary China

Gracia Liu-Farrer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Labelled as the third wave of migration out of post-reform China, the recent emigration of wealthy Chinese has attracted worldwide attention. Although this form of mobility involves primarily the richest 0.1 per cent of the Chinese population, the high profile of the people who move and the amount of wealth implied have made it a sensational social phenomenon. Through interviews, participant observation and media reports, this paper searches for the social meanings of this trend of emigration. Journalists generally attribute the exodus of the rich to a desire to secure their wealth, an aspiration for a different education for their children, or concerns with air pollution and food safety. What this paper argues is that underneath these stated motivations, emigration is in fact a form of class-based consumption, a strategy for class reproduction, and a way to convert economic resources into social status and prestige. "Emigration" ( yimin), a form of mobility that may not entail settling abroad, is a path created by wealthy Chinese striving to be among the global elite.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)499-518
Number of pages20
JournalChina Quarterly
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jun 1


  • class in China
  • elite
  • migration
  • status consumption
  • tuhao
  • wealthy Chinese

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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