Expats flee big, smoggy Chinese cities

Expats flee big, smoggy Chinese cities
Foreign visitors in Beijing on March 25, when the city issued a yellow alert.

As the Air Quality Index is used more often as a quality of life measurement in some Chinese cities, many expatriates are considering their options.

The air pollution that affects many cities is turning top executives from foreign companies away from the country, according to a Reuters report that cited the results of a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce.

Some 48 per cent of the 365 foreign companies that responded said their executives were unwilling to relocate to China because of the poor air quality.

"Many CEOs from foreign firms have expressed their concerns about air pollution. Obviously, it's their big concern now," Fran Fremont-Smith, executive director of the United Foundation for China's Health, said at a conference hosted by the Austrian embassy in Beijing.

However, while the high levels of pollution have undoubtedly led to a minor exodus of expats, others are shunning the larger cities and have opted for smaller places with a healthier environment.

In a 2013 interview with China Central Television, Briton Jason Pym spoke about his work creating a detailed map of the old town in Dali, a city in Yunnan province. The map was a labour of love for the graphic artist, who produced it as a way of cementing his memories of a city to which he feels strongly attached.

"Most people I know have been here (in Dali) for a few years. The air pollution has been getting more and more serious, but has only hit the news as a major problem in the last year or two, I guess," he said.

Pym, from Hertfordshire in the UK, and his Chinese wife Cecilia, have been part of the southwestern city's multinational expat community for 10 years. The net of nationalities has been cast wide, and the long-standing foreign presence includes natives of the UK, the US, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia, Germany and France.

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