The Expat Social Scene in Beijing

Two bicycles leaned against the wall gathering dust.

Bikes gathering dust in Beijing. Photo © timquijano, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Expats come to Beijing for a variety of reasons. Most of the foreign diplomatic corps is plopped down here, as well as journalists that cover the country’s economic and political news. Beijing’s large cluster of universities attracts thousands of foreign students each year, and unlike the early days, the foreign students aren’t coming just to study Mandarin, and foreign professors aren’t here just to teach English. The new economic development zones have also successfully attracted numerous foreign firms to Beijing with their workers in tow, especially around Shunyi and Haidian.

The expatriate crowd is now served by a wide variety of Western-style housing, schools, shopping, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and even the type of club where people meet because of some common interest (besides drinking). Twenty years ago just about every foreigner from the West living in Beijing knew one other. Today a vast expatriate community has emerged and is making an impression on the Beijing social scene. The expatriate crowd is now served by a wide variety of Western-style housing, schools, shopping, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and even the type of club where people meet because of some common interest (besides drinking).

Beijing has over 100 clubs run by expats. Quite a few of the clubs are established based on the home country of the members, including Canadian, Dutch, Italian, Polish, and even the Black Beijing club, whose members are African Americans. Some expats with intellectual leanings have formed a writers’ club, a philosophy club, and chess club. Quite a few of the clubs are alumni organizations, mostly associated with major U.S. universities. Rotary and Toastmasters have branches, as well as the exclusive Capital Club, which only admits senior foreign biz types.

Weekend warriors will want to join one of the expat sports clubs—there are plenty to choose from, including rugby, soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, hockey, climbing, and the new national sport of China, basketball. There are also a number of organized children’s leagues, such as those at the Lido Country Club.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Living Abroad in China.

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