Some Chinese, Alarmed by Xi’s Policies, Seek New Lives in Ecuador

This former English teacher from China calls herself Milly. In 2019, she arrived in Ecuador and now works with immigrants from China.

“I think 80%, 90% of the people who choose to leave China do so because they have a sense of fear living in that society,” said Milly.

That fear continues for those living outside of China because many immigrants still have family back home. That’s why Milly is using only her first name.

She’s helped hundreds of people from China relocate to Ecuador … ranging from the mega rich to the middle class.

She says economic and political uncertainty are the main reasons why some Chinese choose to emigrate.

“Many of my clients are afraid their Renminbi (Chinese currency) will turn into trash, so they exchange all the RMB for dollars and stash them at home,” said Milly. “Some are afraid China is going back to the planned economy. Especially for the generation who have experienced those dark days, they are afraid their property will be confiscated. They tell me, ‘You think your properties are yours, but are they really yours?’”

Political persecution is another reason why some Chinese like Helen flee to Ecuador.

Helen, who gives only her first name, arrived in Ecuador on a tourist visa in 2019 and has since applied for residency here.

“I feel like I have escaped from China. Life there was too oppressive,” she said.

Helen is Han Chinese, a part of China’s ethnic majority. She grew up in Xinjiang, home to the Uyghurs, the ethnic Muslim minority group.

Helen says she felt she was living in a prison, especially her Uyghur friends.

“They require most males to go to the re-education camp, and some of the females, as well,” says Helen. “They might also send some officials to ‘live with you’ … This is clearly surveillance — surveillance that has come to your house.”

In the last few years, Beijing has been restructuring its government to make it more “efficient,” China’s state media report.

The increasingly tight control exerted by Chinese leader Xi Jinping has prompted even some apolitical Chinese to leave the country.

A tech worker who uses the name Li Dong came to Ecuador in 2019 on a special talent visa.

“I think in the 1990s, the (Chinese) regime was on the right track,” said Li. “And then came Xi Jinping, who is taking China backwards. Most of his policies and crackdowns are to maintain his own power, and he has turned China into an authoritarian country.”

Xi’s government has been making sweeping changes affecting businesses and daily life in general. The tighter regulations, including an anti-monopoly law, aim to promote “common prosperity,” said Beijing. China’s state publication, People’s Daily, wrote that the changes can “enhance people’s buying capabilities by enlarging markets.”

Li moved to Ecuador before these changes were made.

“Most people want to go to America or Canada, but the bar is too high,” said Li. “Ecuador is different. It has a low cost of living and is a democratic society. It also has a very low bar for immigration.”

Since Xi assumed power in late 2012, some 600,000 people from China have sought asylum in other countries, according to the United Nations.

Beijing authorities now restrict issuing passports because of COVID-19, which may limit the number of people leaving the country.

“I think 80%, 90% of the people who choose to leave China do so because they have a sense of fear living in that society.”

Milly, Micasa Grupo Partner, Ecuador


WRITER: Xiao YuVIDEOGRAPHER AND PRODUCER: Shih-Wei Chou Post-production coordinator: Marcus Harton

About this series

From 2010-2020, U.N. Refugee Agency reported a consistent increase in the number of asylum-seekers from China totaling more than 630,000 people. Separately, the number of asylum-seekers from Hong Kong jumped dramatically, from 22 in 2018 to a record 487 people in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic. Asylum-seekers are just one part of the China exodus story, as people from China and Hong Kong emigrate in other ways, as well. This project examines why people left and where they have resettled.