Life Changes of College Students from Different Class Origins in China

By Cheung, Chau-Kiu; Kwok, Siu-tong | College Student Journal, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Life Changes of College Students from Different Class Origins in China


Cheung, Chau-Kiu, Kwok, Siu-tong, College Student Journal


This study examined the importance of class requires investigating its influence on the individual's life chances. Despite some attempt to assess class structure, no study has charted its influence on college students in the mainland of China and Hong Kong. The present study represents a first endeavor to gauge effects of class origin on the college student's life chances including popular consumption, cultural consumption, interaction with friends, and the field of study. It collected data from 2,395 students in 22 colleges in various places of Mainland China and 7 higher education colleges in Hong Kong. Analytical techniques that controlled for the father's education and other variables demonstrated that upper-class origin contributed to the student's popular and cultural consumption, interaction with friends, and majoring in medicine and business which would reproduce upper-class position. Results support major theses of class theory.

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Effects of class origin are important but uncharted among college students in Chinese societies of Mainland China and Hong Kong. Class analysts contend that class determines its incumbent's life chance (Wright 1994). They find that one's life chances in terms of work conditions (Evans 1996), consumption (Ng 1995), social relations (Argyle 1994), political activity (Paulsen 1994), income and other benefit (Walder 1995), and school achievement (Engel and Hurpelmann 1994) are a function of class. Effects of class can also occur due to the mediated class location borrowed from one's parents and the spouse (Wright 1994). Thus, a father's class can affect his child's educational and other social life chances. Research has demonstrated the influence of the father's class on the college student's life chances, including participation in cultural activity (Katsillis and Rubinson 1990) and that of the husband's class on the wife's subjective class identification (Baxter 1994; Zipp and Plutzer 1996).

The pervasive impact of class stems primarily from Marx's dialectical-materialist theory (Carchedi 1987). Accordingly, classes reflect relations of production and production is fundamental to the survival of human species (Wright 1994:90). Classes and relations of production have existed in different modes of production in history. The current manifestation of class occurs in occupation in the capitalist mode of production in which workers sell their labor in a free market to those controlling means of production (Waters 1991). A mode of production has a functional requirement to reproduce itself (Cohen 1978). It does so by creating an ideology of its own that eventually influences people through institutions including the state, education, media, religion, and workplace.

The class effect and especially its Marxian, dialectical-materialist explanation are currently under serious attack. Research has indicated that class effects on voting, education, attitudes, and lifestyles in the United States are weak and therefore negligible (Kingston 1994). Critics claim that effects of class are insignificant in postindustrial societies, including Hong Kong (Clark et al. 1993; Lee 1994). The demise of class is consistent with pluralist and postindustrialist theories whereas it is also explainable by dialectical-materialist theory. Pluralist theory specifies a plurality of factors that displace the importance of class. These factors include class mobility (Clement and Myles 1994), crosscutting status (Vanneman and Cannon 1987), alternative ways of stratification (Waters 1991), state intervention (Waters 1991), lack of demographic root (Kingston 1994), varying exposure to class experience (Kingston 1994), cross-class friendship (Kingston 1994), inequality within classes (Myles and Turegan 1994), achievement by the individual's work (Clark et al. 1993) and education (Ma and Smith 1990), elevation of the real living standard (Clement and Myles 1994), and introduction of democracy (Clement and Myles 1994). …

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