Strategic Citizenship in China: Birth Tourism and the “American Hukou”

The increasing acceptance of dual citizenship globally and the rise of new strategies to acquire “external” citizenship have led to a shift from studying citizenship in the confines of single nation-states to perceiving it as existing in a global hierarchy of “citizenship constellations.” Much of this literature, however, focuses on nations which permit dual citizenship and do not have internal citizenship hierarchies. This article adds to that literature by considering one such external citizenship acquisition method—popularly referred to as “birth tourism.” Based on 23 in-depth interviews and a textual analysis of an online social media group for returnees, I argue that Chinese families use the “external passport” (U.S. citizenship) within the logics of China’s “internal passport” hierarchy (the hukou) to create a unique “citizenship constellation.” U.S. citizenship—understood as the “American hukou”—is more valuable within China’s borders than beyond, as it helps navigate national fertility and education policies. However, maintaining U.S. citizenship in China requires extra labor for parents, particularly mothers. Yet these efforts are still worth it because the acquisition of global citizenship via birth tourism permits families to reap the benefits of global citizenship without damaging their social status, economic security, and family structures.

Brandon Folse, Strategic Citizenship in China: Birth Tourism and the “American Hukou”, Social Problems, 2021.