Silicon Valley No Longer Land of Tech Dreams: Young Elites Return to China.

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It’s been a year since Donald Trump became the US President. Technology companies in Silicon Valley are still struggling against Washington’s “ban on talent” and may fail to realize the subtle changes that their Chinese workers are facing. Chinese employees are an important part of the global staff. When a CBN journalist flew from San Francisco to Shanghai, he found that most Chinese on the flight were from Silicon Valley companies or Chinese technology companies that has business connections in Silicon Valley.

Young People are Leaving

Zhang works for an optical company in Sunnyville, a Silicon Valley technology town. Zhang applied for a doctoral degree in the US in 2009. After graduation, she obtained an H1B work visa in the lottery two years in a row. She finally got the visa after she decided to return China. Since then, she has been working in Silicon Valley.

But Zhang said she wanted to go back to China. “Due to the nature of my work, every time I return to China I have to go through a strict review,” she said, “I even cancelled my air ticket once because the review lasted a whole month.” Zhang said she felt helpless and added, “If it wasn’t for the baby, I’d really want to go home right now. My parents are old and I am the only child.”

Zhang was born in Nanjing. In August 2017, she and her husband, who went to study in the US, had their first child. This time, when Zhang returned China, her parents-in-law needed to look after their half-year-old baby.

What Zhang is experiencing is what Chen Yuemeng experienced a decade ago.

Chen is now the founder and CEO of Shanghai Hanlin Tech Company. He lived and worked in Silicon Valley for ten years before returning to Shanghai with his family in 2013. Also in 2013, Chen established Hanlin, an intelligent wearable enterprise. “My major is computers, and I was engaged in the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley,” Chen told CBN, “The Silicon Valley startup boom began early. But after studying the domestic market, I decided that the market and opportunities in China would be much bigger than in Silicon Valley.”

Chinese who once lived in Silicon Valley described it as their dream place. However, with the rapid development of science and technology in recent years, China’s entrepreneurial environment, consumer market and demand for technical talent have changed dramatically. Although the overall research level in China still cannot surpass the US, its artificial intelligence, e-commerce, mobile payment and other fields are well ahead of the US.

Chinese people are most proud of the three Internet giants Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Toutiao, Didi and some other Internet companies established against the background of new economy have impressed American investors. CBIsights, an American research firm, said the number of China’s unicorns is about 30. China has the second largest number of unicorns after the US.

In addition, China is attracting excellent overseas talents. Since 2008, the Chinese government has launched a program called the Recruitment Program of Global Experts, aiming to bring in 1,000 outstanding overseas researchers each year. As the government pushes its AI strategy, China will continue to invest tens of billions of dollars to encourage the return of talents. These measures also make the returning talents feel respected.

Hard to Play Potential in American Companies

CBN noted that few Chinese employees hold high-level positions in US companies, and the most common positions are technicians, such as software engineers. Commenting on this phenomenon, Shi Yigong, vice president of Tsinghua University, said, “I have visited a lot of enterprises. Usually, Chinese employees can only welcome us, and it’s foreigners that negotiate. I feel it’s a pity for these talented Chinese. Truly. It has something to do with the fact that Chinese employees are more comfortable with the status quo.”

Some Chinese who do not want to settle for the status quo in Silicon Valley have begun to act. They are strengthening their links with domestic companies and capital, and laying out their plans in advance.

Yu (alias) worked at Chrysler in Detroit after getting a diploma in automotive engineering in the US. Later, he was employed by Faraday Future, the LeEco car team. Since leaving LeEco, Yu has been seeking to establish a company developing electric vehicle technology with a Chinese partner.

He made several trips to Silicon Valley and Shenzhen in 2017. “I have been looking for opportunities to start my own business. The domestic market is very large, but it is also uneven. So in the long run, I am certain I will return to China. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity,” Yu told CBN.

Liang is a software engineer in Silicon Valley who has worked for Apple for many years. He said, “China definitely has better construction than there. Silicon Valley is just like a large countryside compared to China.” He also said Silicon Valley’s tax revenues have increased once again, adding to the momentum of his return. “Earlier this year, I received my first salary in 2018. It was hundreds of dollars less than two weeks ago. US is the country with ‘ten-thousand types of tax,'” Liang wrote in WeChat Moments.

But what worried Liang is the cost of living in China has climbed a lot. And the “996” work system (from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week) is more intense than in America. Liang said that if he returned home he would need a comprehensive plan.

In order to stay at the forefront of technology and keep an eye on the world’s top tech companies, Chinese start-ups are still flocking to Silicon Valley. Qidian, a Chinese new car company, established the US Center for Research and Innovation in Silicon Valley on January 15. Qidian also hired Dr. Huang Yu, a senior scientist in AI who worked for Intel and Baidu, as its center director.

Baidu has also established Robotics and Business Intelligence Labs in Silicon Valley, and has hired three world-class experts in AI – Kenneth Ward Church, Wan Jun and Xiong Hui – to join the Baidu Research.

Perhaps, Silicon Valley has become less attractive or even undesirable for Chinese people, as it has no WeChat payments nor face recognition. But there is no denying the fact that Silicon Valley still gathers the world’s technology giants and has the world’s best technology companies and universities. Enterprises there tend to be comparatively free of bureaucracy, fraud and bribery.

Even if some Chinese people are leaving Silicon Valley, it is not necessarily a bad thing. With the global economy and development of technology. In the future, Silicon Valley and China might share a lot together.

This article originally appeared in China Business Network and was translated by Pandaily.
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