Political Instability at Home Feared : Many Chinese Students Can’t Part With U.S.

Associated Press

In the tumultuous days of the Cultural Revolution, Grace King was exiled to the Chinese countryside to work on a farm. Today her income is in the “six figures” and she owns an apartment on Manhattan’s East Side.

Not surprisingly, she has no plans to return to her homeland.

“Going back would close off all our possibilities,” King said. “It would be too much of a sacrifice.”

Still a citizen of China, she is one of a growing number of Chinese who have chosen to seek their fortunes in American businesses and at American universities.


These sons and daughters of high-ranking Communist Party members, and even party members themselves, came to the United States as students under Deng Xiaoping’s program of modernization.

Some take jobs to round out their educations, to gain practical experience that will better enable them to contribute to China’s development once they return home. Others have come to love America and have decided to settle here.

Most such Chinese, however, don’t know where they will end up. They feel torn between their appreciation of American-style freedom and the old ties to their homeland.

Farming to Banking


King, 32, arrived in America nine years ago from Beijing. After her graduation from Columbia University with a master’s degree in business administration in 1984, she took a job with Merrill Lynch as an investment banker.

As the daughter of two high-ranking Communists, she had seen her family ripped apart in the ultra-leftist Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. Her well-educated parents were purged from the party, removed from their jobs and evicted from their apartment.

As part of Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s program of forcing intellectuals to do physical labor, King was sent to work on a farm. During those years, she spent much of her spare time in political meetings, listening to harangues against the capitalism and imperialism of China’s then-enemy No. 1, the United States.

Later, the rapprochement between the United States and China opened educational opportunities in America, and King jumped at her chance.

“I’m really happy that I came,” she said in a recent interview. “It gave me a chance to see a different world.”

Like many of her countrymen who decided to stay, King says she is here for her career.

Political Bias Rife

“In China, advancement still doesn’t depend so much on talent and results,” she said. “There are other things, like your attitude and your political ideology. I can’t tolerate that.”


Leo Orleans, a China scholar at the Library of Congress who is writing a book on Chinese students in the United States, estimates that at least 22,000 of the 62,000 Chinese who have come here as students since 1979 have decided to stay.

That, he believes, has prompted Beijing to consider slashing drastically the number of students it allows to go to America. Official Chinese documents seen in New York in March indicated debate on cutting the number from around 18,000 students (in 1987) to about 600, but that plan apparently has not been put into place.

Jerome Cohen, an expert on the Chinese legal system and modernization drive, sees the mainland Chinese in America as crucial to their country’s modernization--regardless of whether they return.

“These people will help their country no matter where they are,” he said. “It’s difficult for a Westerner to understand the depths of their patriotism.”

Lack of Opportunity

In addition, he said: “It’s vital that the Chinese have people who know the practice as well as the theory"--and that is not only true in business.

Hu Quing, a 27-year-old postdoctoral fellow in physics at UC Berkeley, said the kind of experience he is getting would be unattainable in China.

“Experimental physics requires a lot of equipment and supplies, and China just doesn’t have the resources,” Hu said. “Certainly, if I go back I will disappear from the world of academia.”


Both King and Hu said that even if they did return, China, a poor country of 1 billion people, wouldn’t be able to use their skills.

Liu Ting’s father, former Premier Liu Shaoqi, was the main target of the Cultural Revolution. He died, alone in a prison hospital in western China, in 1969.

Liu, 36, came to this country eight years ago and, in 1984, became the first Chinese woman since 1949 to be graduated from Harvard Business School.

“The Chinese leaders say they want us to give our lives to help the country grow,” said Liu, who works for Rockefeller Associates, “but haven’t we given enough? I can see compromising to help one’s country, but never sacrifice.”

Liu said she plans to settle in the United States, “but I may change. If China continues to open to the West, I may go back.”

Growing Trend Seen

Orleans predicted that more Chinese students will elect to stay.