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

Haigui (simplified Chinese: 海归; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: hǎiguī) is a Chinese language slang term for Chinese nationals who have returned to mainland China after having studied abroad.[1] The term is a pun on the homophonic hǎiguī (simplified Chinese: 海龟; traditional Chinese: ) meaning "sea turtle".

Graduates from foreign universities used to be highly sought out by employers in China. A 2017 study found that haigui are now less likely to receive a callback from potential employers compared to Chinese students with a Chinese degree.[2] Possible causes of this reversal include the rising quality of Chinese education institutions and the high salary demands of haigui.[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]


Some haigui have returned to China due to the late-2000s recession in the U.S. and Europe.[5] 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.[5] As MIT Sloan School of Management professor Yasheng Huang, an American, 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.[6]

Etymology and history[edit]

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.[7]

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. ^ a b Zhou, Wanfeng (December 17, 2008). "China goes on the road to lure "sea turtles" home". Reuters.
  6. ^ Huang, Yasheng (March 7, 2010). "A Terrible Education System". New York Times.
  7. ^ "Hai Gui: The Sea Turtles Come Marching Home". Asia Pacific Management Forum. Archived from the original on 2013-01-17.

External links[edit]