Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Why did I move to Beijing?

with 3 comments

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I moved to Beijing basically on a whim. If you have read previous blog posts, you may know that originally I had decided to move to Beijing in the autumn of 2012, after finishing university, and that, upon arriving, I knew exactly four people in the city, had no job and no concrete plans. That narrative is already established.

If you ask many of the students, the expats, the foreigners who have come to China, why, for all purposes, did they happen to choose China – So why China?” is the conversational fallback – they will often mumble out something.

They might mention the economic miracle, how it’s good to get to know China and Chinese and the culture, how employers might find it useful or at least you’ll stand out from the crowd. They might mention interest in learning the language, or an affection for Asian culture more generally. Or they might have come because they heard about others doing it, and it’s a good place to teach English to earn a bit of money.

A lot of people in Beijing, the migrants, the foreigners, don’t really know why they are here. Two and a bit years after arriving I feel now is a good time to identify why exactly I decided to come here, for myself, to work it out.

The reasons why of course reflects vast forces of which we’re barely aware. The confluence of economic, political and social factors far too large to comprehend on a macro level. It’s one of the tasks a journalist and writer should have in fact, trying to untangle this web of influence, to make clear the strands that tie people, politics and the decisions of every day, together.

The reason why I came here is obviously bound to that. China is big and large, important and vital. It made sense journalistically, and trying to make sense of it all presents great opportunities for the freelance journalist. But this is not why I came to Beijing. It is and it is not. Just like you may choose a job or a partner based on a checklist of reasons (because it offers better promotional offers; because she has a good family background), it does not really speak to the truth, the gut instinct of why you chose to do what you did.

I think the bigger part of me chose to move to Beijing because for the need of adventure, for experience, and for a narrative greater than that offered by the humdrum exactitude of the everyday. You may find such a reason laughable in its innocent sincerity, but such romantic ideals, I guess, are the ideals in which I find most fascination.

In Elif Batuman’s book The Possessed, she talks about a theory of the novel based on Miguel Cervantes’ classic novel of adventure Don Quixote: “The novel form is about the protagonist’s struggle to transform his arbitrary, fragmented, given experience into a narrative as meaningful as his favourite books”.

Likewise, I find great empathy with the sentiment expressed by a reviewer writing in the New York Times about Jack Kerouac: “He trusted, finally, in his own energy, but it was an energy produced from the finest sources: great books, adventurous friends, high moral purpose and wide experience”.

That is what I live for. And when I set out, at 23, to go far away, to a new city, I guess a part of me instinctively knew it was the right decision to make, despite the subsequent misery of the first three months after arrival and some of the later moments of being here.

Why did I move to Beijing? Because anything else would’ve been easy. And the quest never is.

Blog posts from last January, 2014:

3 month update: freelancing in Beijing

Great journalists and great journalism: how to make a name for yourself pt. 2

How I got my first ever paid freelance gig

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3 Responses

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  1. Can sooo relate to this! I came here to study Master’s, but when approached with that ultimate question “Why China?” I don’t really have a straight answer. Even I don’t know why, I came on a whim and spur of a three-month-long moment. Thinking about it now, like you said, anything else would’ve been easy and going outside of my comfort zone seeking adventures is something that I find extremely rewarding.

    Alex Filicevas

    February 4, 2015 at 3:40 am

    • Yeah I’ve been asked it too – by other expats and Chinese, the latter baffled by my desire to return to China – and I too struggle to find a definitive answer. I do think going out of your comfort zone is a really great personal reason for coming here, and going elsewhere in general. But I do also understand why some people might find that baffling behavior, to remove yourself from such comforts.

      Lu-Hai Liang

      February 4, 2015 at 4:19 pm

  2. […] Why did I move to Beijing? […]


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