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"Sea turtle" in Chinese (海龟) is a homophone of the term for a student returned from study overseas

Haigui (Chinese: ; pinyin: hǎiguī) is a Chinese language slang term for Chinese people who have returned to mainland China after having studied abroad for several years.[1] These graduates from foreign universities used to be highly sought out by employers in China, but at least one study has indicated they are now less likely to receive callback from jobs compared to Chinese students with a Chinese degree,[2] possibly because the salary demands of haigui are considered unrealistically high by some employers.[3]

Over 800,000 recently graduated haigui returned to China in 2020, an increase of 70% from 2019, largely due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.[4]

The homophonic (also hǎiguī) meaning "sea turtle" is sometimes used as a metaphor since sea turtles also travel great distances overseas. The term "overseas turtle" has also been used.[5]


Some haigui have returned to China due to the late-2000s recession in the U.S. and Europe.[6] According to PRC government statistics, only a quarter of the 1.2 million Chinese people who have gone abroad to study in the past 30 years have returned.[6] As MIT Sloan School of Management professor Yasheng Huang states:

The Chinese educational system is terrible at producing workers with innovative skills for Chinese economy. It produces people who memorize existing facts rather than discovering new facts; who fish for existing solutions rather than coming up with new ones; who execute orders rather than inventing new ways of doing things. In other words they do not solve problems for their employers.[7]

The Westernized way of thinking of haigui may be a threat to the politics of the People's Republic of China, which curtail personal freedoms.[8]


The word is a pun, as hai means "ocean" and gui is a homophone of gui meaning "to return." The name was first used by Ren Hong, a young man returning to China as a graduate of Yale University seven years after leaving aboard a tea freighter from Guangzhou to the United States.[9]

Notable haigui[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fan, Cindy (March 7, 2010). "Materialism and Social Unrest". New York Times.
  2. ^ Fraiberg, S., Wang, X., & You, X. (2017). Inventing the world grant university: Chinese international students’ mobilities, literacies, and identities. Utah State University Press, An imprint of University Press of Colorado.
  3. ^ "Overseas Chinese Try to Build a Community in Homeland". China Daily.
  4. ^ China’s overseas graduates return in record numbers into already crowded domestic job market He Huifeng, South China Morning Post , 21 September 2020
  5. ^ Herships, Sally (March 30, 2015). "Rhodes Trust plans global scholarship expansion". Marketplace.
  6. ^ a b Zhou, Wanfeng (December 17, 2008). "China goes on the road to lure "sea turtles" home". Reuters.
  7. ^ Huang, Yasheng (March 7, 2010). "A Terrible Education System". New York Times.
  8. ^ "China's long march to the modern world". Abu Dhabi Media Company. December 19, 2008. Archived from the original on April 10, 2010. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "Hai Gui: The Sea Turtles Come Marching Home". Asia Pacific Management Forum. Archived from the original on 2013-01-17. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]