The Sociological Review Foundation (Seminar Series 2017). A sociology of contemporary Chinese mobilities: educating China on the move.

  • Montgomery, Catherine, (PI)
  • Xu, Cora Ling Ling (PI)

Project: Research-related funding


With the quickening pace of economic development in China and the overall shift in political economy globally (Jacques 2011), China’s approaches towards globalisation, as manifested in its many new forms of mobilities (Chan and Koh forthcoming; Tan 2013), can have far-reaching social and political impacts on China itself, on Asia and the rest of the world. To date, research on new Chinese mobilities has touched upon China’s strategies towards the ‘global war for talent’ (Zweig and Wang 2013), the generational gaps in the understanding and practices of youth mobilities (Kajanus 2015; Tu 2016), their impacts on family dynamics (Hu, 2016) as well as the influences of returnee students China (Qu & Schweisfurth 2015; Zweig, Changgui & Rosen 2004). However, little has been done to facilitate a systematic sociological understanding of the complex relationships between the Chinese modes of globalisation and their impacts on social change and development of Chinese societies, and the rest of the world.

In this proposed seminar series, we consider education as a central means to disentangle the complexities outlined above. Over the past 30 years, China has developed as a hub of educational mobilities, characterised by three main types. Firstly, owing to China’s vast geographic spread, there are myriads of educational mobilities within China, which often take the forms of students moving from the socio-economic and ethnic hinterlands of the Western regions to the eastern and coastal areas (Yang, 2014). There has also been an emerging trend of bi-directional flows between mainland China and other greater China regions, including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan (Gao 2014; Gu & Tong 2012; Lan & Wu 2016; Xu 2015a, 2015b, 2016). Secondly, there has been a steady increase in educational outflows from China, which has attracted notable research attention to date (Fong 2011; Waters 2006a, 2006b, 2007). More recently, such outmigration has tended to favour more substantial and longer-term investment by nuclear families overseas, leading to the increasing migration of xiao liuxuesheng, ‘little overseas students’ (Xiang and Shen 2009, p. 519). The third form has positioned China as the destination of such educational mobilities. Over the past decade or so, China has been attracting increasing numbers of international students (Jiani 2016), academics (Kim 2015), collaborative educational programmes and international branch campuses (Hou, Montgomery & McDowell 2014; Montgomery 2016; Moufahim & Lim 2015). China’s role as a regional and international education provider or collaborator has been shaped by and also shapes its strategic relationships with neighbouring countries, such as smaller state powers of Burma, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand (Wong and Kieh 2014).

Recognising the sheer breadth of Chinese educational mobilities, we note that to date little theoretical and methodological work has been done to explore more systematic ways of approaching research in this field. Against this backdrop, and through inter-disciplinary and empirical research papers, we seek to answer key questions such as: What are the current trends of educational mobilities within and across China? How do group mobilities for education work and what are the impacts on the individuals, the country, and the rest of the world? What does it mean to be educationally (im)mobile in China? How will educational (im)mobilities within and beyond China develop in the future?

The global perspectives of this event are particularly crucial. Literature in sociology, anthropology and the geography of education in response to and inspired by the ‘mobility turn’ (Hannam, Sheller & Urry, 2006, p. 1) are predominantly based on experiences in the Global North (see for example Raghuram, 2013; Reay, Crozier and Clayton, 2009; Waters, 2016) and as such, theories and trends that this field has identified are not necessarily applicable to the complex mobilities cases of China. It is therefore the aim of this seminar series to challenge our understanding of what it means to be educationally (im)mobile, and to negotiate how the concept and conditions of mobilities through education vary in the three broad strands of mobilities identified above. We will also consider what mobilities of China can tell us about future trends in global higher education and the implications for the UK, Europe, the USA and other countries which have traditionally been seen as centres of global higher education.

To this end, in this seminar series we bring together papers from diverse contextual perspectives, such as those from Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, the UK, the US, Hong Kong and China. Scholars from these regions can bring together diverse observations and testimonials of embodied experiences, which can jointly serve as insights for us to interrogate our assumptions and further our debate. By comparing and contrasting the experiences and perspectives of scholars in these diverse contexts, we will also address an important methodological question: Does it make sense to speak of an overarching theoretical framework for understanding Chinese educational mobilities?
Short title£6,000
Effective start/end date1/04/1731/12/17