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Reverse brain drain: China engineers incentives for “brain gain”

Chinese who found it hard to fit in at the water cooler abroad feel newly valued at home as China creates a reverse brain drain of financial incentives for native talent to return.

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Sophie Ye Tao, who made her fortune as a hedge fund manager in New York, says she has returned to China in order to understand her home country better before strking off in a new business direction. PHOTO: Peter Ford/The Christian Science Monitor
PETER FORD

Peter Ford/Staff

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Nowhere in the world has a government taken the task of tempting exiled talent to return home as seriously as in China.

That goal has been enshrined as a major national policy; the authorities see it as a key shortcut to putting China at the cutting edge of technology and boosting the country to the next level of economic development.

"The leadership is very, very aggressive on this – very proactive," says David Zweig, a professor at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who is writing a book about Chinese returnees. "The Chinese government has been the most assertive government in the world in introducing policies targeted at triggering a reverse brain drain."

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Beijing has a lot to work with. China is the world's largest source of overseas students – 14 percent of the global total, according to the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing think tank that advises the government on talent recruitment. In the United States, 22 percent of foreign students come from China.

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