‘We Are All Stuck in the Rat Race’

For Luanfeng Luo (pseudonym), a 35-year-old coffee businessman, being in business in China was filled with highs and lows — on top of the world one minute; at rock bottom the next. As the economy faltered, his business was no longer profitable. Under overwhelming pressure, he thought about emigration.

Thirty-five-year-old Luanfeng Luo (pseudonym) is from Shanghai, China. He used to be in the coffee business.

Luanfeng Luo (pseudonym), Businessman: I founded my company in late 2018 with several partners. For a few months after we started the business, our revenue was excellent. But that’s on the books. Profit wasn’t as impressive because a large amount went to taxes.

It was just really tiring. By 2019, you can feel the economy was slowing down. The whole economy in Shanghai was slowing down. Without too much disposable income, people were less likely to spend money, so we began to feel the pressure. We tried for another year, but by 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we had no choice but to close our business.

It’s like you are stuck in a bottle … and there’s a tornado inside. One moment, you are on top of the world, achieving so much in a short period of time. The next moment, you are at rock bottom, and you might never be able to climb up again.

For Luo, the meaningless competition in the rat race was wearing him down.

Luanfeng Luo: The first time I thought about emigration … I think it was in 2018. No one talked about runology at that time. I just felt the pressure was overwhelming.

I didn’t want to come to the U.S. at first. The information we got in China was censored by the government … so I didn’t have a very good impression of the United States then.

I left Shanghai in February 2022, the last day of February 2022, with a travel visa. The [Customs Department] questioned me for a long time. They put me in a separate room and went through all my luggage.

I was anxious up until the plane took off, because there’s always the possibility that they could come onto the plane and forbid me from leaving. After taking off, I felt relieved. I could finally get out.

About a week after I left, there was the COVID-19 wave in Shanghai, and then there was the lockdown. It’s like being in a prison — people were prisoners in their own homes. They weren’t even allowed to open their own front doors. Who wants to be in a prison? No one.

I don’t think I will ever go back to China. Once you get used to freedom, you can’t live without it.