China’s New Preferential Visa Policy Unites Ethnic Chinese?

Young woman holding a "taibaozheng".

Unless you’re of Chinese-descent or maybe Asian, you probably haven’t yet heard about an interesting new China visa policy that extends benefits similar to the mighty 台胞证 (tai bao zheng, roughly “Taiwan Compatriot Entry Permit“) to “all individuals with a demonstrable connection to the Chinese nation” (read: “anyone who is ethnically ‘Chinese'”). Apparently, this new policy was in the works for some time but only recently went into force.1

Wait, what?

Unless you know some Taiwanese people, particularly those that travel to the mainland, you might not know just what the hell a tai bao zheng is, or what benefits it comes with. That’s understandable. Let’s do a brief review and comparison to help get you up to speed, and see why this is pretty big news for a lot of people:

You see, foreigners to China are typically required to apply for an entry visa (like an X, L, F, or Z visa) before they can enter the country, for any duration of time. How long you can stay is determined by that visa, with each visas being approved with either single or multiple entries, though for extended stays outside of government-approved hotels or service apartments, a separate temporary residence permit must be secured after arrival. Fortunately, this residence permit allows the holder to freely exit and re-enter China, as long as it is valid. Unfortunately, as many foreigners living or working in China know, renewal of these visas and permits can be a serious drag. Why? Because when your visa or permit expires, you need to leave China before you can return, with a new visa. This, obviously, costs money, time, and energy.

Tai bao zheng (台胞证).

On the other hand, Taiwanese “compatriots” with a valid household registration in Taiwan — that province — can apply for a special “permit” called a “tai bao zheng“. It looks like what you see here to your left: a lime green pseudo-passport. It’s easy to get and few Taiwanese are ever denied one, unless they’re super-duper political, and in the wrong way. The key, however, is that they’re extremely easy to renew, within the mainland, without leaving the mainland, without having to go to even Hong Kong or Macau. It’s just a trip to your local Entry and Exit Administration Bureau. Like normal visas for foreigners, tai bao zheng holders still need something like a temporary residence permit, registering wherever they’re living, but this permit allows them to stay for a year (or more), free to come and go with the multiple entry and exit privileges. And it only costs 100 RMB.

…which is much cheaper than the costs associated with just about every normal visa.

As such, Taiwanese people get some pimp privileges when it comes to visiting and staying in mainland China, privileges befitting long lost brethren separated by civil war and ideology. Many foreign nationals who regularly travel to or live in China would love to have the ease and convenience of a tai bao zheng.

And now many more foreign nationals can.

Provided you can show that you’re somehow connected to the “Chinese nation,” that is.

Right, how one is supposed to demonstrate their connection to the Chinese nation is unclear (for me). Are we talking about Chinese descent? Is this limited to Han Chinese or all 56 Chinese minorities? Are we talking about emigration records, family trees, or gene testing? I’m thinking it boils down to blood, and things like marriage won’t cut it, though children of mixed descent do. I mean, is there a cut-off point by generation or blood purity, or does anyone who had a “Chinese” ancestor qualify?

I’ll leave it to Danwei or Shanghaiist to source out the exact details, and maybe ol’ chinaSMACK will come through for us with some mainland Chinese netizen reactions. But, for our part at china/divide, I’d just like hear what you guys think about this new policy. Now, obviously, anyone of “demonstrable connection to the Chinese nation” is likely to find it extremely advantageous to no longer have to bother with the ordinary restrictive and expensive visas, but how do non-Chinese people feel about this?

Mother and daughter holding their tai bao zheng.

Of course, I’m not talking about simply envying the preferential treatment, saying “oh, you’re so lucky you’ve got a bit of Chinese in you”. Rather, I’m questioning the very concept of the modern Chinese government kinda-sorta uniting all “Chinese” under their banner with this preferential treatment. It’s one thing with Taiwan and the Taiwanese, given their unique and well-known history in relation with mainland China, but for the entirety of the “Chinese” diaspora?

Think about it, this new policy effectively lowers the barriers of entry for any person ethnically related to the Chinese, to travel, live, and even do business with mainland China. This opens doors, inviting a sizable population of people who were once officially “foreigners” now as (pseudo-) “family”. We used to talk about sea turtle returnees, Chinese who returned to China after going abroad to study and work, who brought their foreign education, experiences, and expertise back to help build up modern China. Now, we’re talking about the Chinese government veritably welcoming any and all “Chinese”, however estranged, back to their “homeland”, to contribute to, and to benefit from.

We used to live in a world where certain privileges came with your nationality. While your race and ethnicity has always implicitly brought you certain advantages and disadvantages, is this the first step towards a world where there are explicit benefits accrued to ethnicity alone, irrespective of borders and official citizenship?

[polldaddy poll=2980042]


  1. As if in conjunction with the National People’s Congress proposing tightening visa policies for foreigners, as reported yesterday on China Daily (via Shanghaiist). []


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  1. This is just basic country to country relations.
    For example thai people can enter china very easily because chinese can enter Thailand easily.
    If let’s say USA make it much easier for chinese to get a tourist visa for the US, China will also make it easier for US-nese to travel to China… Of course it also depends on general diplomatic relations, but that’s basically how it works.
    Or there is a hidden meaning about Taiwan in your post ?
    — Woods

  2. xian

    Hmm. I say it’s the right of any nation to decide on its quotas for immigration and work visits, no matter how “biased” it appears. It’s their country, they can make the rules.

    This is another case of the mainland trying to bring Taiwan back into its circle with favorable policies. I think people have realized that threats and acerbic nationalism towards Taiwan only drives them further apart. They are attracting flies with honey now, and it appears to be a much better strategy.

    • King Tubby

      Xian
      The right perspective. The practical side of the equation from my experience….the front desk when making an application. China gets a pretty good thumbs up in terms of pleasant treatment and efficient follow through. Unlike my national embassy in Beijing which is a paragon of arrogance and phone loop.

    • This has nothing to do with Taiwan. The tai bao zheng has been in effect for a long time. This was about extending benefits similar to it to NON-Taiwanese ethnic Chinese.

  3. This unwritten policy has existed for quite awhile. But, yes, it’s their country. US visa policies are archaic as well — though they tend to be more class- than race-based.

    Has anyone been able to demonstrate a causal link between the shape of one’s eyes and his or her propensity to cause trouble for paranoid authoritarian regimes?

    Maybe a project for CASS? :)

    • friendo

      Has anyone been able to demonstrate a causal link between the shape of one’s eyes and his or her propensity to cause trouble for paranoid authoritarian regimes?

      They’re much less likely to have an irrational hatred for “Asian” people, that’s for sure.

  4. sdchew

    The 台胞证 has been in place for quite a number of years for Taiwanese. As for folks in Singapore, the only time we had to apply for visa to enter China was during the Olympics. Besides that, its a standard 14 days stay without visa.

  5. michael

    Is this real ? or just an April fool days trick ?

    • Well Kai, one out of twenty-three ain’t bad…OK, yeah, it’s pretty bad. For the record, though (just so we aren’t spreading lies now that it’s April 2) yeah, this was meant to be an April Fool’s day trick.

  6. AndyR

    Foreigners who are married to Chinese nationals already get similar benefits. In most cases, you can apply for a year-long L visa with no duration of stay limits or need to go outside the country to renew. So in this case, if this new policy only applied to “racial/blood” links which to me it sounds like it does, it does not really positively or negatively affect “laowai” who are married to Chinese nationals.

    I think it’s stupid to base such a policy on “racial” links, as their are people outside the “Han” race (it would be VERY interesting to watch a Tibetan-American or Uigher-American try to take advantage of this new policy) that have a vested interest in China and its success and who should be equally rewarded for such investments with simpler visa procedures, but if I worried about all the stupid or unfair policies the CCP cooks up, I wouldn’t have any hair left.

    • friendo

      Tibetans, if they’re Tibetans like the Dalai Lama at least, would pass as 100% “pure” Chinese if they took a genetic test.

      Many of these so-called overseas Tibetans, however, are practically half Indian.

  7. Gerald

    I don’t think this is anything to get excited about, nor does it raise any new issues.

    Prior to 2002 Taiwan was offering passports to overseas Chinese based on their ethnicity. And residents of mainland China, HK, and Macau enter Taiwan using Taiwan entry permits, and not their passports.

    Also, there are other countries that grant citizenship or immigration priviledges based on ethnicity/blood, especially those in Europe (see jus sanguinis/lex sanguinis). Yes, some countries put a limit on how many generations you can go back, but there are some which don’t have a limit.

    So what China is doing here is nothing new. In fact, they’re not offering much here – just a visa-free stay in the people’s republic. And by purposely making the rules/definition about who qualifies so vague, they’ve covered themselves in case they come across an applicant they don’t like. Perhaps that is the bigger issue here.

  8. yangrouchuan

    Can all non-Asians get this visa or only Han related/descended ones? If the former, it could be a move towards an EU structure, but with China as the center and everyone else happily orbiting around the Asian motherland ala how things worked 1000 years ago.

    If the latter, it is an attempt by Beijing to unite all Han to give China more clout on the international scene, as in “please Beijing or the sons and daughters of Han will be motivated to make trouble in your backyard”.

  9. michael

    Please, does anyone know where i can get more detailed information about this?

  10. Pinkerton

    Once upon a time in South Afirca, the government gave you certain privilages depending on your ethinicity . . .

    @ Woods – this is not basic country to country relations as i presume it would apply to a Chinese American but not, say, an Irish American.

    @ Yangrouchuan – this is nothing like the EU, where there is freedom of movement for all EU citizens within the EU irrespective of race or ethnicity. So, an Irish American trying to enter the EU would have the same visa issues as an African American. And anyway, what makes you think that all Han Chinese born outside of China will automatically side with Beijing in any dispute?

    • friendo

      Once upon a time in China, racist, bigot whites tried to get special rules for themselves at the expense of the locals. They still do. Now things are being equalized.

      I hope Southeast Asia follows suit and scrutinizes the nasty pedos ruining their countries.

  11. The big secret is that there is no fine or penalty for overstaying. Even a regular tourist visa has no expiration date.

    • B-real

      wrong its 500 rmb a day up to 5000. That mean they give 10 day to leave and once they find you. They deport you, and render you ineligible from getting a new visa back into China.

  12. JP

    Kai, could you provide a little more information on this? This would be of great interest to myself and various family members. Could you provide the source (in Chinese or English) or a place where we can find more information on the exact title of this permit (for non-Taiwanese ethnic Chinese) as well as the application process?

  13. Bin Wang

    A little reward for all the solidarity shown by overseas Chinese during the 2008 Torch Relays? :-D

  14. lxjx

    This doesn’t surprise me since the government announced last year in a meeting with Canadian Chinese community that they would gave preferential visas to overseas Chinese:

    http://www.sdnews.com.cn/news/2009/11/18/837589.html

    “已酝酿推出华侨凭签证回国就业,可入社保享受福利等政策”

    “[The government] has already been working on enacting policies to give [preferential visas] to oversea Chinese to work and to have social welfare benefits in China.”

    It would be interesting to see how the “connection to China” will be tested for a special visa. An Asian (read, Chinese) face and a fairly good skill in Chinese language? Some Singaporeans and most of Taiwanese meet this condition (though they already have some de facto visa benefits, like the tai bao zheng). Fluent oral Chinese is definitely big plus given the difficulty in learning the language and a tongue twister would guarantee a issued visa on the spot?

    • yangrouchuan

      It will be interesting to see who is defined as “overseas” Chinese beyond Chinese students and expats.

      • lxjx

        Chinese students and expats don’t need a visa to enter or to work in China, and there are other preferential policies for returnees to invest or to set up new businesses in China.

  15. LiC

    This benefit should be given to all people born in Chinese territory and their children. Dalai Lama is eligible. Other overseas ethnic Chinese who can pass the Chinese language test should also be eligible.

    • friendo

      people who don’t belong in “Asia” should never be granted citizenship no matter how long they have lived there, no matter who their parents are. Mixed race children too.

  16. Sam
  17. Tsering

    I am sure this doesn’t apply to the Tibetans living board. As far as know most Tibetans living board can not even get visa and very often refused entry into the consulate.

  18. Hey guys,

    It is with great sorrow that I come before you all and clarify that this was an April Fool’s Joke, and a massive failure of a joke. Again, there is no new policy extending preferential visa policies similar to the tai bao zheng to any foreigner that can prove Chinese ethnicity.

    I thought I had weaved a fine tale but I was wrong. Though I successfully tricked some of you, it was apparent that I managed to confuse a good many of the rest of you into thinking something or another that was completely not in the intended way. Frankly, I still can’t figure out how some of you arrived at the conclusions or comments you did.

    Maybe the joke’s on me!

    • Christine

      You had me in stitches!

    • ashton

      Ha ha, I thought this to be quite funny when I saw it– would be great to have one if it were only true =).

    • Frak. You got me! I was getting excited. HK ID holders (with right of abode status) also have something similar — something like hui hong zheng or something. But I can’t get it because my HK ID doesn’t have that privileged status. I’ve also been advised that “being part of the family” means you give up US consular protection. That hasn’t been something I’ve been willing to give up, as much as I like China!

    • Haha. Good one though. Obviously people were expecting a lot from this post. So that’s fine already! But then yeah, you were late by 1 day. :-P

    • xian

      Oh boy is my face red.

    • Jones

      I was seriously five minutes from telling my Taiwanese ladyfriend that their mother was calling them back for dinner, but making it easier than before with this new deal.

      • Jones, unless your Taiwanese ladyfriend doesn’t actually possess Taiwanese citizenship, this new deal wouldn’t have made anything much easier for her than it already was.

  19. King Tubby

    Gotta laugh. Pretty benign lot of posts generally, except for the two gloating resident commissars.
    What goes round…….

  20. lolz

    Not sure what’s the big deal. Japanese passport holders can enter China without a visa for up to 2 weeks.

    People may think it’s weird that Chinese/Japanese governments allow for this sort of thing when the two governments and citizens have been vocally hostile towards each other. But the truth is that most people don’t travel internationally and the decisions made about passports and visas are catered toward the frequent travelers (ie. international businessmen and their families) only, who are typically not the nationalistic crowd.

  21. Just for fun, and in line with some of the themes I had hoped people would entertain with this post: “Japanese” Man Kills Himself to Escape Deportation (note: source has mature, NSFW content).

  22. Hank

    @kai (fyi)

    “The global century:
    Notions of Asia ascending at the expense of the West are as unsubstantiated as they are obsolete”

    South China Morning Post
    Guy Sorman
    Apr 05, 2010

    It is almost taken for granted nowadays that this is to be the “Asian Century”, marking an irreversible political and economic shift in global power from West to East. China has replaced Germany as the world’s leading exporter, while South Korea’s Korean Electric recently outbid Electricite de France to build three nuclear reactors in Abu Dhabi.
    To be sure, Chinese trade statistics do not reflect the imports needed to assemble its exports, and the South Koreans’ reactor will use Westinghouse technology. But Asia’s success should not be undersold, especially when one considers that its governments have used the recent financial crisis wisely, as an opportunity to reinforce the free market mechanism. (South Korea, for example, simultaneously helped its poor and deregulated its labour market.) The US and Europe have not.

    Yet it is premature to proclaim an Asian Century. Perhaps the coastal areas of South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and China’s eastern seaboard, share some common cultural characteristics and a similar economic strategy. But much of central and western China is mired in poverty; Indonesia belongs to a different world culturally and economically; and India is a very different Asia as well. Nor does Asia cohere politically; parts of it are democratic, other parts are ruled by despots.

    Moreover, there is no “Asian” economic system: China’s state capitalism does not belong to the same category as the private capitalism practised in Japan and South Korea. India remains largely an agricultural economy, dotted with small business and service-sector dynamism.

    Asia also has no decision centre, nor co-ordinating institutions comparable to Nato or the European Union. This is important, because, whereas the West is relatively at peace with itself, Asia is riddled with actual conflicts (within and around Pakistan) and looming ones all around the South China Sea.

    Indeed, were Nato and the US military ever to leave Asia, the threat of war would increase, heavily disrupting trade, and Asia’s economic dynamism would not survive. It is hard to believe in an Asia Century when Asia’s security depends on non-Asian security forces.

    Another of Asia’s relative weaknesses comes from its poor record on innovation, a fundamental building block of prolonged economic dynamism. Chinese exports (up to now) have contained little added value and a lot of cheap manpower, and the sophisticated products that it does produce, such as smart phones, have been conceived in the West. Japan and South Korea are much more creative, but they still often improve products and services invented in the West.

    Asia’s lagging capacity for innovation is probably rooted in its rote education: Asian students, given the opportunity, flock to North American and European universities. Then they stay: 80 per cent of Chinese students in the US do not return to China.

    In many ways, Asia’s undeniable progress reflects its conversion to Western values. Capitalism, democracy, individualism, gender equality and secularism are Western notions that have been adopted in Asia.

    True, there is a backlash in Asia against Westernisation, and some try to promote so-called Asian values, such as the “harmony principle”.

    But these attempts are weakened by their underlying political motivation. The idea of harmony, for example, is a rich philosophical concept in classic Buddhism and Confucianism. It deserves better than to be dressed up in communist or despotic garb to block democratisation. One also regrets that not much is done in India to keep alive the philosophy and spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, one of Asia’s few 20th-century universal thinkers. The prophecy of an Asian Century also ignores all of Asia’s disorderly and declining nations, such as Thailand and Japan, respectively. But it cannot rely only on some local economic breakthrough without any broader cultural and strategic underpinning.

    The fragility of Asia does not mean that Western domination is guaranteed: with its universities, cultural values, entertainment industry, and strong military, the West keeps an edge, but maybe not forever. More probably, while we try to compare the relative power of the West and the East, we are clinging to an obsolete vocabulary. Our criteria belong to the past.

    After all, there is no such thing as an autonomous “national economy” nowadays. Almost all products and services are global. The more sophisticated a product or service is, the more its national identity tends to disappear. There are no peculiarly Western or Eastern mobile phones or financial derivatives. When China buys US Treasury bills, who depends on whom? Exchange generates interdependence. When Asia grows, the West does not become poorer. From now on, we progress together, or we do not progress at all.

    Similarly, there is no contradiction between the West and Asia when it comes to threats to global security, like terrorism or nuclear rogue states. Pop culture is perhaps the clearest example of this universality. Korean rock singers are extremely popular in China. Are they Korean or American? More probably, they are global.

    So we have not entered the Asian Century; we have entered the first Global Century. But global civilisation is such a new phenomenon that we do not yet fully understand what is happening to each of us: we cling to old concepts to describe our emerging world.

    It may not be a better world, but it will be a very different one.

    Guy Sorman, a French philosopher and economist, is the author of Economics Does Not Lie. Copyright: Project Syndicate

  23. DKwan

    $#!+… It’s way past April 1 now. Put an April Fools disclaimer on the first line or something! I got all excited. :..(

    Good one though.

  24. Johny-5

    “oh, you’re so lucky you’ve got a bit of Chinese in you”.
    hahahahhahahahaha, that actually made me laugh out loud :-D i mean, really.. who ever says that? hilarious..

    • the original poster of this seems a bit confused. getting a roc pass port is easy, but getting the house hold registration is the hard part. not everyone can get the household registration and id card. i do not know exactly how it works, but its definitely not as easy as you think. there is also a residence requirement, meaning you have to live in tw for a yr in order to get the house hold reg, that is if you even qualify for it. i am lucky that both of my parents are full roc citizens with id cards, (my dad even served in the roc military) but if you dont have that then, your application will not be easy. if it was, you would see all the chinese-vietnamese; chinese-filipino; chinese-thai; chinese-indonesian; and many other overseas chinese moving to taiwan.