A better tomorrow

By Qi Xijia Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/14 18:43:40

French-born Chinese returns to China, finds success with start-ups

Editor's Note:

Decades ago, many Chinese people spared no efforts and expense to immigrate to developed countries in order to pursue a better life and more job opportunities. Their foreign-born offspring, however, are now attracted by China's rapid development and surging economy in order to realize the Chinese Dream their parents never had. The Global Times recently interviewed several "third-culture" (foreign-born) Chinese who have recently returned to China for work. JS Cheung-Ah-Seung is our second interviewee.

JS Cheung-Ah-Seung was born in southern France and grew up on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. It is 10,000 kilometers from France, pretty much the same distance from China. His father is ethnically Chinese and his mother is French.

Cheung-Ah-Seung told the Global Times that four percent of the population on Reunion Island is ethnically Chinese. They arrived six generations ago as merchants or construction laborers during the 19th century, back when the island was undeveloped. However, the local French government on the island forbade them from establishing Chinese schools or even speaking Putonghua, in order to integrate them into French culture.

Cheung-Ah-Seung's Chinese name, Li Hecheng, was given to him by his grandfather, who arrived on the island as a 14-year-old. Growing up in a purely French educational system, Cheung-Ah-Seung couldn't read or write his name in Chinese until 2008, when the 23-year-old came to China specifically to learn Chinese.

Many foreigners who live in China only expect to stay for a year or so before returning home or moving on to the next country. But for Cheung-Ah-Seung, he intended to spend at least as much time in China as he already had abroad. "Because I am half-Chinese half-French, I've spent 23 years of my life in France, so I have to now spend at least 23 years in China," he told the Global Times.

Though his family, while living on the island, held on to some traditional Chinese roots such as cooking and celebrating Chinese festivals, his first encounter with real China was in 1997, at the age of 12, when they traveled here. The trip became a turning point in his life, as it was then that he made the decision to someday live and study in China.

Optimistic future

He recalls that what really impressed him during that first trip to China was the "optimism" of the country and its people. Walking down the developing city streets, he was struck by just how bustling it all was, night and day.

"I felt the power of all these people brought together and the fact that it seemed that there would be no limit," he said. "In Europe, everybody feels yesterday was better and that tomorrow will be worse and worse. But in China, you could feel this energy that everybody is thinking tomorrow is going to be better and better."

In 2008, he went to Beijing to study Chinese at Beijing Language and Culture University and receive a master's degree of business administration at ­Tsinghua University. "Because I wanted to be in a country where everybody around me thinks and believes the future will be better than the past."

Today, he lives in Shanghai and has launched several businesses in food and beverage, strategy business consulting and commerce trade between France and China. This year he launched a new business, La Quête Sucrée: introducing the éclair, a traditional French pastry, to the Chinese, which he expects will be a big hit given the Chinese newfound love of baked goods and sweet cakes.

One of the biggest differences he has found between living in China and on Reunion Island is how efficient and streamlined China has become. "Everything goes extremely fast," he said. "You can find everything you want online and have it delivered to your home."

He said most ethnically Chinese adults his age back on Reunion Island would only dare travel to other parts of France such as Paris or other nearby European countries; few that he knew had traveled to China and even less would be willing to live here.

"Most ethnically Chinese [on the island] have a very hard time adjusting to China. They are attracted to some aspects of the country, but they don't see themselves living there. Everything [in their life] is in France, so they don't see themselves starting from scratch in China," he said.

Life-changing move

His family have been unusually supportive of his life-changing move, especially his grandfather, who was extremely happy to see one of his relatives returning to China.

His grandfather was just 14 years old when he went to Reunion Island from South China's Guangdong Province in search of prosperity. It is also where he married Cheung-Ah-Seung's grandmother, one of the island's third-generation Chinese residents.

His grandfather first found work as a manual laborer, then later started up his own business. Now his family of Reunion Island are involved in a variety of sectors: logistics, transportation, banking, construction equipment trading and even real estate.

He is happy that his family is doing well in France, but feels confident that "China is once again becoming the next first economy of the world. I say again because, a few hundred years ago, China was the first country in the world. Now China is getting back to that position," he said.

He also expressed his enthusiasm that China is now exporting its original technology, businesses, ideas and products everywhere in the world instead of relying on the West for such innovations. He specifically cited Chinese mobile payment apps as having impressed many of his friends and family back in France.

"I want to be part of this and I want my children to be part of this, to be part of the generation where China will become the most advanced country in the world."

JS Cheung-Ah-Seung Photo: Chen Xia/GT


A man lands with a parachute on Reunion Island. Photo: VCG



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