Chinese lifestyle migration represents a shift in the long history of how Chinese migrants encounter the world and relate to China, a shift that requires more attention in the studies of Chinese overseas, especially in Europe. Given the increasing volume of middle-class lifestyle migration from the megacities of China to peripheral capitals in the European Union, understanding this mobility is central for having a clearer view of European cities’ changing migration landscape, while it also provides an insight into how processes of social stratification in contemporary China are constituted by and reflected in emigration. The collaborative research we carried out with Sofia Gaspar through the course of the STSM led us to identify the Chinese golden visa migration cohorts in Portugal and Hungary to be part of the same mobility, taking strikingly similar shape under the two settings.
Given the policies “migration without settling design,” investors who took advantage of the programmes and nonetheless decided to settle in Portugal and Hungary are overlooked not only by media and political discourse but also by scientific research and report. A closer examination of individual migration narratives reveals that there is a particular discrepancy between the schemes’ design and the immigration practice in which they resulted. Instead of using the residency-for-investment programmes offered by the two countries as instruments to accumulate capital, most of these “investors” deployed them as a means to secure a simple, yet wholesome environment for raising their children. Informants who pursue explicitly economic ends are underrepresented in both countries, as most of them do not work to earn a living, but use the wealth accumulated prior to migration to finance the family’s new lifestyle. Thus, we identified a non-economically driven mobility that has been ironically enabled by investment migration, as an unforeseen consequence.
The primary aim of this STSM was to flesh out these largely non-economic motivations pivoting around children and to find a suitable theoretical framework that accounts for this emerging pattern of privileged mobility. The emerging lifestyle migration of China’s new middle classes challenges our conventional knowledge about Global North-Global South directionality of such flows. By underscoring the unlikeliness of these “central Global South—peripheral Global North mobilities,” we stress the need to revise not only the North-South divide but also the ‘lifestyle migration’ concept, which has been reserved as a domain of white privilege, akin to the notion of the expatriate. Our research aims to produce a theoretical framework that builds on what is left of the lifestyle migration framework after destabilizing the whiteness of privilege and redrawing its conventional trajectories.