Feifei Wang’s answer to this question was posted on Quora. She answers the question as some one who came from China. Feifei has her own blog on Quora.
I’m a Chinese American, my family and I immigrated to the US some 10 years ago, and became citizen a few years later.
Here are the reasons we decided to move to the US. I imagine these probably apply to many Chinese Americans as well:
Overall superior basic living conditions, which include: better air quality, cleaner water, greener cities and suburbs, better roads and bridges (they don’t collapse)… You can’t buy these things in China, no matter how rich you are, you breathe the same polluted air like everyone else.
No poisoned food. Food safety is a huge problem in China. From street food to milk to restaurant food, you’re never sure if it’s safe. There’s a famous joke saying “You can’t honestly say you’re a Chinese unless you’ve eaten everything on the periodic table”. While in the US, the most you have to worry about are probably bad sushi and Monsanto.
Better, less exam-focused primary education system. This is probably one of the most important reasons many Chinese families try to move to the US. The elementary and middle schools in China are brutal. It’s heavily exam-driven, and it’s really not good for overall development of the child. There’s a lot of memorizing, a lot of test preparation. The last 3 years of high school is just a 3 year long exam preparation class for the university entrance exam. There’s no way to escape it, and many parents don’t want their children to be limited like that. Especially with the “one family, one child” policy. A lot of people tried to send their kids here to attend middle/high schools even if they themselves can not come over.
Better universities with more freedom. China has some pretty good universities, like Peking University and Tsinghua University. However, unless you did well in that once-in-a-lifetime university entrance exam, you won’t have other opportunities. US universities offers a lot more freedom, you can transfer departments, or even universities. You can improve your GPA and go to a better university midway. This is a huge plus compared to the rigid Chinese universities.
Better grad schools. The reason I separate grad school and 4 year college is because it attracts different people. Going to US grad school is still the most accessible method to go to the US. It is very hard for a Chinese to apply for a US visa, and getting an F1 (Student Visa) through grad school is the cheapest way. And Chinese grad schools suffer from corruption like other Chinese organizations. Students don’t feel that they can do anything in grad school other than being the slave labor for their advisers. I guess US grad schools also have similar problems, but it’s a lot better.
Overall better social welfare system, especially if you can get green card or become a citizen. You can actually buy land and house (Chinese government only allows people to buy the use rights of a land, you don’t own the land or the house). If you rent, the landlord can drive you off anytime he/she wants (yeah… renting law in China sucks, reason why people want to own their own home). Better health care, better unemployment insurances, better domestic violence support, less corrupted justice system… overall, safer, easier to live in the US.
More freedom. This is a personal experience, but since I’m lucky that I entered the US with a green card, so it may not be true to people who struggle with their visa. I think I have a lot more options to do what I want to do with my life. And the general ideology is that you can do whatever you want, be whoever you want, as long as you work hard and don’t give up. I’ll say regular Americans have a better chance working towards their dream and succeed than regular Chinese people.
Now I sound like a total traitor, praising America over the motherland. US is not perfect, if it’s up to me, I’d live in one of those welfare states. But I really like being an American.