Paradise Redefined: Transnational Chinese Students and the Quest for Flexible Citizenship in the Developed World

Paradise Redefined: Transnational Chinese Students and the Quest for Flexible Citizenship in the Developed World

Paradise Redefined: Transnational Chinese Students and the Quest for Flexible Citizenship in the Developed World

Paradise Redefined: Transnational Chinese Students and the Quest for Flexible Citizenship in the Developed World

Synopsis

In 2004, Vanessa Fong offered a groundbreaking ethnographic exploration of the social, economic, and psychological development of children born since China's one-child policy was introduced in 1979. Her book Only Hope left readers with a picture of stressed, ambitious adolescents for whom elite status was the ultimate goal, though relatively few were in a position to achieve it.

In Paradise Redefined, Fong tracks the experiences of many in her initial cohort of Chinese only-children- now college-age- as they study abroad in Australia, Europe, Japan, New Zealand, North America, and Singapore. While earning a prestigious college education in China is the main path to elite status, study abroad provides an alternative channel by offering what Fong refers to as "developed world" citizenship. This flexible citizenship promises the potential for greater happiness and freedom afforded by transnational mobility, but also brings with it unexpected suffering, ambivalence, and disappointment. Paradise Redefined offers insights into China's globalization by examining the expectations and experiences that affect how various Chinese students make decisions studying abroad, staying abroad, immigration, and returning home.

Excerpt

Gao Neng seemed an unlikely candidate for study abroad in 1999, when I first met her in the northeastern Chinese coastal city of Dalian when she was 13. She was the only child of factory workers, each of whom earned just under 1,000 yuan (US$121) per month. Her family lived in a one-bedroom apartment and could not afford the luxuries that some other Dalian families had, such as a cell phone, microwave oven, computer, car, or air conditioner. I visited Gao Neng in Dalian again in 2002, when she was 16 and attending a college prep high school. I talked with her and her parents over the phone at least once a year before and after that. in all this time I never heard them mention any plans for her to study abroad.

I arrived in Dalian again in 2004, when Gao Neng was 18. I hoped to visit her and some of her former classmates. But when I called her home phone, her parents told me they had spent 60,000 yuan (US$7,255) of their life savings and had borrowed money from relatives to send their daughter to Ireland, where she was attending English-language classes while working as a salesclerk. They hoped she would learn enough English to qualify for admission to a college in Ireland and save enough money from work to pay tuition there and to repay their relatives’ loans. When I visited Gao Neng in Ireland a month later, she told me that she was almost as surprised as I was that she was able to study abroad. She learned only after she had taken her college entrance exam that her parents had begun the process of applying for a visa for her to study in Ireland without even telling her. They wanted her to give the Chinese college entrance . . .

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