A Ritual Economy of ‘Talent’: China and Overseas Chinese Professionals Biao Xiang


Since the Guangzhou municipality in south China organised the first Overseas Students Fair in 1998, large conventions aimed at recruiting overseas Chinese professionals (OCPs) have become a regular scene in major cities in China. These conventions constitute one of the most visible means of the Chinese government’s engagement with the 800,000 OCPs who remain overseas after receiving tertiary education abroad. Characteristic of the conventions, and OCP policies in general, is a highly ‘materialistic’ thinking: it is argued that OCPs deserve generous financial rewards because they are economically and technologically beneficial to China, and that financial reward is the most feasible means to attract them back. My ethnographic data, however, reveal that the language of economism is communicated in a highly ritualistic manner and, conversely, political rituals serve as a crucial part of the conventions. The ritualised economic- and technological-determinist discourse appears apolitical, yet acquires strong mobilising and legitimating power, and is thus particularly effective in accommodating OCPs into the established political order. The concept ‘ritual economy’ denotes such deep intertwining between the economic, the ritualistic and the political.

Xiang, B. (2011) ‘A Ritual Economy of ‘Talent’: China and Overseas Chinese Professionals’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 37(5): 821-838