In 2014, former NBA star and longtime expat Stephen Marbury created waves when he was made an honorary citizen of China. This week it was announced that Marbury has even obtained legal permanent residency in China.
The CBA superstar has become a surprise sensation in China after leading the Beijing Ducks to the victory in three of the last four years. It was thanks to these “outstanding contributions” that he got his green card. And that is really quite the accomplishment, because, as many foreigners can attest to, obtaining permanent legal residence in China has always been freaking hard as hell.
Due to China turbulent modern history, it was seldom that foreigners were able to gain the trust necessary for residency. One exception was that of an American-born doctor, Ma Haide, otherwise known as Shafick George Hatem.
While working as an American doctor in China during the 1930s, Hatem met Song Qingling, Madame Sun Yat-sen, who urged him to travel to Yan’an. While there, he would go on to become a member of the Communist Party while continuing to perform his medical work. He eventually married and had children, and on the recommendation of Zhou Enlai eventually became one of the PRC’s first naturalized citizens. The 1979 photograph above shows Hatem sharing a drink with Song.
Born in Holland, Israel Epstein was a Jewish journalist who reported on China’s War of Resistance Against Japan, and was often seen in the company of Deng Xiaoping and Ding Yingchao (Zhou Enlai’s wife), who became close friends with the journalist.
Following the victory of the Communists, Epstein became a naturalized citizen in 1957, and served as a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (more commonly known as the CPPCC because its formal name is a pain in the ass). In spite of his loyalty to the ideals of Communism and to China, Epstein would end up being imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution on suspicions of plotting against Zhou Enlai in 1968 until he was finally cleared of all charges in 1973. Epstein passed away in 2005, and was honored by the Chinese state.
Zheng Lücheng (鄭律成) was a Korean songwriter and composer who arrived in China during the war and composed famous songs, such as “The March of the 8th Route Army” (八路軍進行曲). With the outbreak of the Korean War, and due to the fact that he had taken a Chinese spouse, Zheng was permitted by Kim Il-sung to immigrate to China permanently and become a naturalized citizen. Zheng was married to Ding Xuesong, who became China’s first female ambassador, serving as China representative to the Netherlands, Denmark, and later Iceland.
Hiro Saga (嵯峨浩), was a distant relative of Emperor Hirohito, and was married to Emperor Puyi brother’s Pujie (溥杰) in 1937. After the Communist’s victory, Zhou Enlai granted Pujie amnesty and Saga was allowed to travel from Japan to China for a reunion, and later became a Chinese citizen in 1961.
In the 1980s obtaining residency became much easier for foreigners, but even then burdensome restrictions remained, one of the most vexing being the need to receive special permission from an official first. The photo above from 1983 shows a group of “foreign Chinese” attending a CPCC meeting.
Richard Frey was an Austrian-born doctor who fled to China during World War 2. During that time he served in Northeast China as a battlefield doctor, and worked hard to treat the wounded. After the war, Frey was able to obtain citizenship, and remained in China until his death in 2004. Frey is pictured here in this 1983 photo as he places his vote to choose candidates for the CPPCC.
After Reform and Opening was implemented, the need to reform China’s immigration system became even more pressing, and to that end the Chinese created a new immigration office capable of handling short-term, long-term and permanent residency needs for foreigners. Werner Gehrig (right) was one of the first foreigners to oversee a factory in China, and is seen receiving an honorary “city resident certificate” from the mayor of Wuhan. A year later Gehrig was able to successfully obtain long-term residency status.
Between 1985 and 2004, more than 3,000 foreigners were conferred the right of residency, but only about 90 were granted permanent residency. It was not until 2004 that the Chinese government began issuing longterm residency cards.
Under the new rules, green cards were made available after a 6-month application process. Furthermore, the green cards were divided into 5 year, 10 year, and 18 year categories. Certain requirements also had to be met, such as living in China for work purposes or because an individual had been designated a refugee. Here, the branch chairman of Siemens receives his green card in 2004.
However the new permanent residency rights had strict conditions that were hard to meet for most foreigners. Until 2012, only foreigners who could claim special cases for residency such as for family reasons or special contributions to China could obtain the right. By 2012, not even 5000 foreigners has obtained permanent residency status, and over half of them were concentrated in Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou.
Joan Hinton was a nuclear physicist whose greatest accomplishment was likely her work on the Manhattan Project. However, after 1949 she committed herself to the cause of socialism and moved to China, where she first worked with her husband, Erwin Engst, as a translator and writer before working on communes for much of the remainder of her life. After 1956, she finally obtained permanent residency, although she chose to retain her US citizenship due to the conveniences of travel it offered her.
Reforms to China’s immigration system has made it easier to obtain permanent residency and even citizenship, however most who take this path are individuals who come from impoverished countries, such as this North Korean woman who moved to China in 1965 and married a man from Jiangsu.
In 2012 it was decided that holders of permanent residency cards would be granted similar rights to that of Chinese citizens. Pictured here is Eunice Moe Brock receiving her residency card in a ceremony in 2009. Brock first moved to China in 1999, and has lived in Shandong ever since.
By Stanley Yu
[Images via Tencent]