Immigration attitudes, national identity, and development in mainland China
As China transforms into a global power and an emerging immigrant country, this paper investigates how Chinese citizens experience the increase in immigration over the past decades and what their policy priorities are. Based on 46 semi-structured interviews in three locations, as well as national-level online survey data, I find a shift in societal attitudes from viewing immigration as a necessary and largely beneficial aspect of China’s economic modernization towards a more multi-dimensional issue with rising socio-political salience. While moderate views occupy most of the spectrum of Chinese immigration attitudes, the paper identifies an uptick in anti-immigrant sentiment in the past decade, most notably among higher-educated groups. However, examining attitudes towards immigration effects, selection and control among a diverse national sample, it finds less anti-immigrant sentiment than existing studies conducted within population subgroups suggest, including towards African migrants. Overall, I argue that immigration attitudes are shaped by broadly shared perceptions of China’s national identity as a country rising in a global developmental hierarchy, with a growing need - but also more capacity - to manage immigration. The connection this paper identifies between developmental status and public views of desirable immigration policy brings out contrasts between the Chinese case and early-stage immigrant reception in Western countries, with wider relevance for the study of immigration attitudes outside Western and other high-income contexts.