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One of the most popular articles on the South China Morning Post website this year was about the phenomenon of yiminjian or ‘immigration jail’. Canada has been a popular destination for wealthy Chinese to set up their homes. The scions of the Huawei business had a couple of mansions in Vancouver. They were following a well trod path. Li Ka-shing had his family living in Canada since the early 1970s and the South China Morning Post had a permanent Vancouver correspondent for 25 years.
I guess mainland Chinese are less enamoured with Vancouver and other Canadian cities than their Hong Kong counterparts, hence the phrase yiminjian.
That anyone should immigrate to Canada while regarding living there as a burdensome task to be endured or avoided might sound weird, but the concept is so common among some Chinese immigrant circles that there is a word for it: yiminjian, or “immigration jail”. The term refers to the period of compulsory Canadian residency (now, four years out of the previous six) which one must suffer before applying for citizenship. Think of a Canadian passport as the get-out-of-jail card.
It needs to be emphasised that this mindset does not apply to all Chinese immigrants – only that subset for whom greater opportunities exist back in China (and only a subset of those).
The problem that confronts these migrants is that Canada promises safety from the pace of change that has swept across China since the start of the cultural revolution to the rise of Mr Xi’s ‘tigers & flies’ programme. But China offers an opportunity to make out like a proverbial bandit and accumulate fantastic amounts of wealth.
But creating that much wealth means ties of an often murky nature with authority figures. If you need land to build a factory, only the local government can sell you that land. If you need permits (which you will), or utility services such as power and water – you need government cooperation.
Government cooperation comes at a cost and is facilitated through layers of bribery. The system of bribery even extends into business disputes as powerful government friends are called upon to smite the opponents business. All you need is a shift in power, like the one that happened under Xi Jinping and you could find yourself on the run. This kind of collaboration and corruption at the highest levels was outlined in Desmond Shum’s autobiographical account Red Roulette.
More jargon explained here.