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Feature: Growing number of Italians see China as new land of opportunity


by Alessandra Cardone

ROME, June 12 (Xinhua) -- An increasing number of Italians are following in Marco Polo's footsteps, choosing China as primary destination to look for a brighter future, new research said.

A study by the Migrantes Foundation was presented recently in Rome, and explored figures and profiles of the growing community of Italians who moved to China in recent years.

"The recent increase of migration from Italy toward China was influenced by a mix of factors," Giovanna Di Vincenzo, who ran the research with colleagues Fabio Marcelli and Maria Francesca Staiano, told Xinhua.

"A long economic crisis and high unemployment rates in Italy matched with the fact that China's status as leading country and strong global economy raised at international level. Thus, Italians among others started to think about China as a land where doing business or finding new opportunities might be easier," Di Vincenzo explained.

Although still moderate in numbers, the research showed the outflow is clearly on the rise: 3,500 Italians moved to China in 2013 alone, and a further 20 percent increase is expected in 2014.

Overall almost 7,000 Italian expatriates are officially living in China; it is not a large figure but still triple compared to 2006, researchers stressed.

Furthermore, this number is an indication of a larger phenomenon, since the study was based on the Registry of Italians resident abroad (AIRE), which does not keep records of those living abroad and maintaining residency in Italy.

"In fact, diplomatic sources in China told us Italian community would well exceed 10,000 people," Di Vincenzo added.

According to data, Italian migrants concentrate in four metropolises: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong. People between the ages of 35 and 44 years constitute the largest section, soon followed by those under 18 years of age. Migrants originate mainly from Italy's more developed northern regions such as Lombardia, Veneto and Piemonte.

A further Internet survey carried out within a sample of 258 people, researchers discovered 83 percent of migrants have a higher education diploma, and 17 percent a high school certificate.

The study also explored the reasons behind this trend, with several interviews of selected migrants. Results proved to be quite surprising, since what seems to drive Italians towards China today would not be just pure business.

"We found different professional profiles, and many migrants who clearly did not move to China to boost their career or make more money, strictly speaking," Di Vincenzo confirmed.

Among professionals and entrepreneurs, still a majority, there were students drew by Chinese big cities' international environment, fresh graduates looking for a good inspiration for their future, artists in search of avant-garde, aid volunteers working with mentally disabled people, photographers drawn by the ever-changing Chinese urban landscape.

The research highlighted stories like that of Fabio, who runs a "cultural cafe" in one of Beijing's hutongs (bylanes) where drinks mingle with food, books, live music, vintage sales, or art exhibitions.

Fabio told researchers: "The feeling of great individual opportunities at hand that you can find today in China is increasingly rare in Italy."

Hairstylist Emanuele opened an atelier in Shanghai and tried to promote among his trainees a work ethic based on "flexibility and human perspective, since to be Italian is a sort of attitude toward socialisation," he said.

In truth, not all Italian migrants revealed good experiences. Those with a degree in Oriental studies and Chinese language, especially, were often disappointed by some Chinese young people's attitudes and values, which appeared to them as a bit "too pragmatic" and far from the traditional culture, Di Vincenzo explained.

Yet, most Italians sit tight. "I was particularly touched by Chiara, a 26-year-old graduate in oriental studies and fluent in the Chinese language," Di Vincenzo confirmed.

After years of study and work in China, Chiara returned home but soon found out Italy did not suit her anymore. "So, she decided to go back to China and stay at any cost, and she is now working 10 hours a day as waitress, waiting for something more fit for her studies and interests," Di Vincenzo said.