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



By the end of 2006, there were approximately 0.8 million overseas Chinese professionals (OCPs) who remain overseas after receiving tertiary education abroad. Since the late 1990’s OCPs have become a special constituency of the Chinese government with nearly 200 government policies promulgated to encourage OCPs to return or develop close connections with the motherland. Most such policies are highly “materialistic”, based on the assumption that overseas professionals deserve generous financial rewards because they are economically and technologically beneficial to China. Financial rewards, it is argued, are the only incentive to attract them back. This paper, based on in-depth interviews and participatory observation, shows that government programmes premised on materialistic notions are often highly ritualistic. The economic- and technological- determinist rationalities are in fact ritualized discourses. Although such a “ritual economy” appears apolitical, it acquires strong mobilizing and legitimating power, and is effective in reinserting overseas professionals into the established political order.


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