Shanghainese should welcome outside talent
Published: Jul 07, 2015 07:18 PM

A series of new policies to attract talent from across China and abroad were announced this week by Shanghai authorities. In the context that the city is aiming to become a center of global innovation, attracting high-level talent has become the core variable in achieving this goal.

Shanghai is unshakably the country's commercial center - it always has been - yet in terms of innovation it lags far behind Beijing and Shenzhen, which are recognized as more inspirational cities in the fields of e-commerce and tech startups. Shanghai knows that without heavy-weight incentives it will be unable to establish itself as a global hub of innovation.

In order to attract foreign talent, the municipal government has taken the necessary steps to make it easier for expatriates to apply for permanent residency. Foreigners with an annual income of 600,000 yuan ($96,600) and individual income tax payments of 120,000 yuan who have worked in Shanghai over four years and have stayed in this city for at least six months out of each of those years can now apply for green cards, which, it is hoped, will entice high-level talent to stay in the city instead of relocating elsewhere.

As for Chinese talent from other provinces, the period for their temporary residency status transfer to a Shanghai hukou has been shortened to two to five years from the previous seven years for core personnel in scientific or technological enterprises. New Shanghai hukou residents can thus enjoy local healthcare policies and access to public education, which are regarded as superior to that of other provinces in China.

Despite the advantages that these new policies will bring to Shanghai, some extremists on the interwebs continue to view outsiders as "intruders" or "locusts." They criticize the city's government of blindly opening their arms to outsiders, which, they fear, will make local schools and the job market even more competitive for Shanghainese and their children.

As a native of neighboring Zhejiang Province, I myself belong to the "new Shanghainese" class. Upon my graduation from Shanghai International Studies University, I was qualified to apply as a "most needed talent" due to my university's ranking and reputation. Like most outsiders who have spent time in Shanghai, I was attracted to the city's rapid progress in becoming a city of the future and foresaw my own future here.

Throughout history, Shanghai has always been an international city. Its infrastructure and architecture are a result of centuries of melting-pot policies that allowed foreigners and Chinese outsiders to contribute to its growth. In fact, I daresay that a majority of those "vocal locals" complaining about the new policies are themselves descendants of outsiders rather than true generational Shanghainese.

And I'll go even farther by assuming that their hostility toward outsiders comes from a deep lack of confidence in their own academic or professional abilities; they feel threatened by the very real possibility that someone smarter and more talented than them will come along and seize opportunities they expected for themselves.

It's not just Shanghainese who feel endangered by the new policies. An American living in China for a long period recently wrote an article on Global Times titled "Granting green cards to rich expats in Shanghai is classism." He argued that the city's preferential policies for high-level foreigners leave low-income expats such as English teachers out in the cold. To some extent he is correct - this is done in order to eradicate unqualified people from Shanghai's job market and provide our citizens with truly talented professionals. But it also is an incentive for long-term expats to endeavor toward upward mobility.

Throughout the inevitable social stratification that will be occurring in Shanghai and across China during the next decade, we should keep in mind the evolutionary theory survival of the fittest. In the struggle for a higher social and economic position that all cities, and all citizens of those cities, strive for, Shanghai locals must be more welcoming toward outsiders and the benefits they bring if they wish for our city to continue to survive in the global arena.

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