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Wang Cangbi

University of Westminster

This paper explores the recent flow of skilled migrants from mainland China to postcolonial Hong Kong with a focus on the often understudied subjective realm of skilled migration. Until very recently the relevant sociological literature on the motivation of skilled migration has been dominated by neo-classical oriented worldviews coupled with an institutional focus that pays major attention to how skilled migration is driven by (economic) globalization and sustained by inter-company or intra-company economic and social connections. Little is said about how dreams and aspiration, which are not directly responding to rational economic calculation and not totally up to institutional interpretation, have shaped migration plans and choice of destinations. Although the recent development of academic literature witnesses a shift away from a narrow focus on economic logics to the human face of transnational skills, the issue of desire only accidentally emerges in most discussions and appears as a by-product rather than a central issue for understanding skilled mobility.

Based on in-depth interviews with mainlander professional migrants in Hong Kong, this paper seeks to develop “desire” as a conceptual vehicle to interweave economic, social and cultural dimensions within the same frame in understanding dynamics of skilled migration, and to link decision-making at individual level to broader geopolitics and geo-economies in which migration takes place. Stories of interviewees reveal that apart from career opportunities and economic returns, their decisions to migrate were marked by aspirations and fantasy associated with cultural imaginations of postcolonial Hong Kong as a repositioned place in the political and economic geography of China and the world order, mediated by age, class, gender and prior experience of movement. The notion of “spatialised desires” points to multiple subjective positions of skills that co-exist and interplay in their decision-making process, deeply shaped by discourses of movement in relation to place, border and nationhood that go beyond the specific issues of mainland-Hong Kong Chinese migration.

Dr. Wang Cangbai is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese Studies, Department of Modern and Applied Languages, University of Westminster. His research interests include returned Chinese migration, skilled migration in Greater China and cultural heritage in relation to Chinese diaspora. He is the author of Life is Elsewhere: Stories of the Indonesian Chinese in Hong Kong (Centre of Asian Studies, the University of Hong Kong, 2006) and a number of journal articles and book chapters on history, belonging, memory and mobilities of transnational Chinese migrants.

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