Date of Degree

9-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor

Philip Kasinitz

Committee Members

Sharon Zukin

Paul Attewell

Lingxin Hao

Subject Categories

Educational Sociology | Migration Studies | Race and Ethnicity | Sociology

Keywords

elite transnational education, global middle class, Chinese upper-middle-class, flexible citizenship, belonging, ethno-racial identity

Abstract

This research examines the emerging phenomenon of Chinese urban upper-middle-class families sending their only children, the so-called “parachute students,” to American private high schools in a triple framework of transnational elite education, the emerging global middle class, and the complicated formation of citizenship, membership, and identities across borders. This study draws from data collected through multiple qualitative research methods, including content analysis of online advertising materials of educational agents, ethnographic participant-observation of school recruitment and application consulting workshops, and in-depth interviews with Chinese parents, students, and educational consultants.

I investigate why and how Chinese urban upper-middle-class families make educational decisions to send their only children as young as fourteen to the United States for private high schools, and the actual lived experiences of the “parachute generation.” This research illustrates the construction of a transnational elite narrative and the inherent uncertainties of transnationalism through the lens of urban upper-middle-class Chinese parents and their children. The upper-middle-class Chinese parents are the core group of the emerging global middle class—global-minded, strategic at transmitting their advantages to children. And the “parachute students” are the aspiring global citizens of the world who possess “flexible citizenship” (Ong 1999). During the transnational educational process, they are forced to form a globalized ethno-racial identity that complicates the existing discussion on nationalism, cosmopolitanism, and citizenship. This research captures their varying strategies and practices of constructing multilayered identities in institutional settings such as schools in an earlier stage compared to other research on high-skilled migrants, 1.5-generation immigrants, and international students at the undergraduate and graduate level. I argue this transnational education process captures the formation of a “new” global middle class in China.

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