Chinese Culture Essay

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Transnational family strategies and education in the contemporary Chinese diaspora JOHANNA L. WATERS Abstract In this article I examine the role of education in the family strategies of recent East Asian migrants, contributing to intellectual debates around transnationalism and the contemporary Chinese diaspora. Empirically, the article provides an insight into the experiences and objectives of an often-neglected group within studies of Chinese migration – students. I also attempt to understand the particular role that children play within a wider family project of capital accumulation. Drawing upon the work of Bourdieu, I emphasize the significance of different forms of capital in underpinning the spatial strategies of East Asian families. The research for this article was conducted in Vancouver, Canada and Hong Kong, involving in-depth interviews with university students, recent graduates and their families. In conclusion, in the article I maintain that a geographically informed theory of ‘cultural capital’ and its relationship to the family unit can help elucidate recent patterns of transPacific, transnational mobility, moving beyond more common ‘political’ and ‘economic’ interpretations of this contemporary migration. For many ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, both the well-off and the not-so-rich, strategies of accumulation begin with the acquisition of a Western education. (Ong 1999: 95) This article represents an attempt to both unpack the meaning and significance of a ‘foreign’ or ‘overseas’ education in the context of contemporary East Asia and, at the same time, highlight the role of education in effecting the transnational strategies of middle-class families. As observed in a recent special issue of Time magazine (May 2003) and mirrored in local and regional media reports (Fenton 2003; Moir 2000; Yeung 2003), foreign educational

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