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Looking to Get Ahead? China Doesn't Want You

Moving to the People’s Republic is not the opportunity it’s cracked up to be
Looking to Get Ahead? China Doesn't Want You
Illustration by Luke McGarry

Joe Phillips seemed like an ideal candidate to make it in China. Half-Chinese, with a bachelor’s degree in East Asian studies, business experience, $20,000 in savings, and an affable disposition, he set off for Beijing with a friend from Seattle in the fall of 2010 to start a company that would bring microbrews from the Pacific Northwest to the largest beer market in the world. “The land of milk and honey was calling,” he says.

A year later, the milk had curdled. The cost of getting a foreign-owned business approved in China turned out to be much higher than he’d expected. He ran into bureaucracy at every step, from obscure customs forms to opaque transport regulations. And after expressing initial enthusiasm, bar and restaurant owners stopped returning his calls. “It fizzled out,” says Phillips, who returned to the U.S. broke. “Any entrepreneur that thinks they’re just going to go to China and start a small business—that’s crazy.”