“I didn’t know anything about China,” said Mr. Stephens, who worked on market research and program development. “People thought I was nuts to go not speaking the language, but I wanted to do something off the beaten track.”
Two years later, after stints in the nonprofit sector and at a large public relations firm in Beijing, he is highly proficient in Mandarin and works as a manager for XPD Media, a social media company based in Beijing that makes online games.
Jonathan Woetzel, a partner with McKinsey & Company in Shanghai who has lived in China since the mid-1980s, says that compared with just a few years ago, he was seeing more young Americans arriving in China to be part of an entrepreneurial boom. “There’s a lot of experimentation going on in China right now, particularly in the energy sphere, and when people are young they are willing to come and try something new,” he said.
Mr. Perkowski’s latest venture, JFP Holdings, a merchant bank based in Beijing, has not posted any job openings, but has received more than 60 résumés; a third are from young people in the United States who want to come work in China, he said.
For others, like Jason Misium, 23, China has solved the cash flow problem of starting a business. After graduating with a degree in biology from Harvard in 2008, Mr. Misium came to China to study the language. Then, with a friend, Matthew Young, he started Sophos Academic Group, an academic consulting firm that works with Chinese students who want to study in the United States.
“It’s China’s fault that I’m still here,” he said. “It’s just so cheap to start a business.” It cost him the equivalent of $12,000, which he had in savings, he said.