Zizhu Zhang’s parents sent her to the United Kingdom for her final year of high school to improve her chances of getting into a British university. Six years later, with a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics, she returned to her home in the southeastern city of Shenzhen, in China. She had her sights set on working in Beijing, but found that she had no competitive edge — was “unwanted,” even — in a job market that she described as overly pragmatic.
China’s pervasive political system was a factor, too.
“It wasn’t likely that I’d get into government-affiliated Chinese institutions because of [China’s] unwritten rules,” Zizhu, now 26, said. “I wanted to work in an area that was dynamic, where I could have a social impact.”
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Shanghai is mainland China’s most cosmopolitan and outward looking city. In 2010, ahead of the World Expo, it was touted and re-touted ad nauseum as “China’s window on the world”, until most of its 200,000 or so expatriates never wanted to see or hear the slogan again.
The city has communities of Japanese and Koreans tucked away in neighbourhoods that they’ve made their own; in the old concession areas, there are Germans, French and Americans making a life amongst the buildings put up by their pre-1949 forebears. Chilean students mix with Nigerians, Norwegians, Turks and Scots in its dive bars on Friday nights, and there are even a few South Africans, who meet once a month at a pub called The Spot, to drink and complain, about China and home in equal measure, and to help each other find Prestik, Western Cape wines and boerewors, made by a butcher in a suburb on the city’s outskirts. For three years, from 2008 to 2011, my partner and I were two of them.
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