Chinese exports may fluctuate with the global economy, but there's one international good that's sitting pretty in terms of both supply and demand: Chinese students. In the last five years, as the United States struggled with the after-effects of the financial crisis, the number of Chinese students studying in the country skyrocketed, nearly doubling from 2008 to 2012. Yet in spite of garnering much media attention, their presence abroad is not unprecedented. The nearly 200,000 students now in the United States are, in fact, heir to a national tradition; many of the People's Republic of China's revolutionary leaders found their footing as foreign students nearly a century ago. Zhou Enlai, who served as Premier under Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping, the father of China's economic reforms, both became members of the Communist Party of China while residing in France in the 1920's. The fledgling Communist Party of China, established in Shanghai in 1921, did much of its early recruiting among idealistic overseas students, many of whom identified with Deng Xiaoping's stated mission for traveling to France: "To learn knowledge and truth from the West in order to save China."
The revolutionary pedigree of these former foreign students have inspired hope among Chinese democracy advocates that the 21st century outflow of students will result in a major inflow of liberal ideals, ones that may challenge Communist Party control. New Tang Dynasty, an adamantly anti-Communist Party television station operating out of the United States, has promoted a vision of returnees promoting reform, calling them the seeds from which democracy in China will sprout.