In an effort to bring young Chinese expats closer to their roots, the Chinese government has initiated its own birthright program to let them come home and experience China for free. The initiative is also seen as China’s way of reaching out to the 60 million Chinese who are currently living abroad.
In the past, the government’s Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs (OOCA), has been organizing such trips called “root seeking camps” which normally come with costs for tuition and some fees.
For this year’s batch, the Chinese government will be paying for all the fees (excluding airfare), to help Chinese youth who grew up abroad revisit their heritage and relive the traditions for two weeks, Foreign Policy reported. The campaign also aims to develop and foster the youth’s understanding and interest of the country and its culture. Campers are required to at least identify as part ethnically Chinese, and must speak basic Mandarin or any local dialect.
So far, about 400,000 expat Chinese between the ages of 12 to 18 have participated in the camps organized by OOCA in cooperation with Chinese schools and international Chinese groups.
The camps, which are simultaneously held in several cities in China, use varying themes in every location, such as martial arts, Chinese calligraphy, art and historical trips, among others.
Earlier this year, the government has also ordered all Chinese students to receive a solid “patriotic education,” including those living abroad.
Such moves of the Chinese government is largely seen in connection with the government’s initiatives to improve China’s image to the rest of the world. The country’s economic growth in the past decades has been observed to be blemished by its poor human rights record and perceived regional bullying, particularly in the South China Sea. Now the government is making image-building its top priority.
With President Xi Jinping choosing to start with Chinese population abroad, the campaign seems to be off to a good start.
Kuang Lihong, a former participant who joined the camp in 2000, said the program altered her “previous prejudice against the country.”
Another expat named Cong Zhongxiao, said that she originally didn’t like Chinese culture but eventually grew to care for the country and the language after joining the birthright program. This year will be her fourth year attending the camp.