What China's Talking About Today: Is American Citizenship Still Desirable?

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Chinese web users debate whether joining the U.S. is so great anymore.

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A woman reads a pamphlet prior to being naturalized as a U.S. citizen / Reuters

Shortly after I left China to return to the U.S., a friend from Beijing wrote to urge my return. "Come back to China," she said, "The U.S. is no place to look for work. It's like a third world country now, we hear."

This view is a relatively new and unusual one in China. Some immigrants to the U.S. have gone so far as to claim that they practiced Falun Gong, whose members are officially branded as cultists in China and sometimes tortured, in order to claim political asylum in the U.S.. American citizenship, in other words, has typically been considered to be a big deal.

Now, with the U.S. stalled and unemployment high, while the Chinese economy flourishes, maybe that perception is changing. Spanning nearly 1.5 million micro-blogs on Sina Weibo, Chinese users yesterday discussed the hash-tag:  #Is American citizenship no longer desirable?#

The associated Sina News article argued that, in San Diego, according to the immigrant advocacy group Naturalization Collaborative, some 150,000 immigrants eligible for citizenship had not applied for U.S. nationality. Around a third of the million Chinese residents in the United States are not U.S. citizens, according to U.S. Federal Census Bureau statistics published in the article.

The article offers two possible explanations for the Chinese residents' decision not to become Americans. First, that some don't speak good enough English to take the citizenship test, and second, that many Chinese prefer to remain Chinese.

Sina offers the example of a "Ms. Liu," a Chinese-American living in China who allegedly said that her American citizenship became less advantageous in the past few years, with so much business going to China.

Whether or not Chinese people do still want to come to America, the ones who do are not too well received. One famous CCTV journalist, Yang Lan, was rumored on the thread to have obtained American nationality, which earned her a lot of scathing comments.

For Chinese people, there is often a major stigma for people who do obtain American citizenship.

User suses summed up some of the popular views of émigrés: "If you say China isn't good, you are a Western slave. If you say America is good, then you are an American bitch. If you say you don't want to be a Chinese, you are a wretch and a traitor... If you get a green card and stand on the corner of American streets shouting, 'I love you, China,' you are a 'patriot.'"

Another user, 湾区求职站, took the opportunity to advertise what seemed to be a job in California.

"San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf clothing store, full-time employment;  cashier,  salesperson; Must speak fluent English..."

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Massoud Hayoun is a digital-news producer for Al Jazeera America.

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