Will China be drained of Leonidas’ brain?

The brain drain (China’s best and brightest being lured by life overseas) is still one of China’s biggest problems – that Guardian piece by Jonathan Watts cites a study saying 7 out of 10 Chinese studying overseas don’t come back. So I’ll choose to politely ignore the Folex-hawking China Daily which declared the drain “reversed” back in 2003.

Well, Leonidas is one of the brightest Beida students I know, and he hopes to take a PhD in America, possibly 5 years in Linguistics or a related field. So I asked him – though not in such alarmingly medical phrasing – if he thinks his brain will be drained.

For one, his reasons for wanting to study in the US are different to those of a parallel Leonidas twenty years ago might have been. He simply wants to open his eyes and see what America is like. Just why I came to China. And, like me too (though the jury’s still out…), he wants to “seek a foreign experience but not a different lifestyle forever”.

With China’s growth and the question-marks floating over the Western hemisphere in the wake of the economic crisis, it’s an obvious point that there’s less incentive for Chinese to abandon ship. Their ship is sailing just fine. An obvious point … which Leonidas didn’t make:

Those who go to live in America give up much: fathers, mothers, friends, memories. To go to America is to restart everything. The cost is very high.

Too high for him? Seems so:

I can’t give up what I have in China. I can’t imagine beginning a new life in the USA. If I begin a new life, I don’t know if I can be accustomed to it … After all, I have spent almost 20 years education in a Chinese culture and atmosphere. So I think I have a different cultural system with America. This is too big a problem if I live there forever.

That’s one quote in a shouting shop. Some anectodal evidence for you (what else would you except from a lowly blogger?). Leonidas still thinks the brain drain is a big problem, and so do I. But we both think things are changing quick. Right now, I’m studying in a university way off the top ten lists (50 in the Times list last year). Watch this space 40 years on. (Check in 10 too.)


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