Chinese Student Migration and Community-Building: An Exploration of New Diasporic Formation in England

Bin Wu


Thanks to the globalization of higher education (HE), we have witnessed accelerated growth in the number of international students globally, from 2.1 million in 2000 to 4.3 million in 2011. More than three-quarters (77 %) of them are in countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2013). Leading global HE markets, the USA and the UK hosted 17 % and 13 % ofinternational students, respectively, in 2011. Meanwhile, international students contribute 19.8 % of the university student population in Australia, 16.8 % in the UK and 3.4 % in the USA (Wang and Miao 2013: 8). As a leading supplier in the global HE market, mainland China accounts for one in six internationally mobile students (Maslen 2014).

The unprecedented growth in the number of international students raises questions about their social lives and their impact on their host societies. While overwhelming attention has been paid to their intercultural adaption and special needs in classrooms or on university campuses, little is known about their connections with local communities, including their

B. Wu (*)

Nottingham University Business School, Nottingham, UK © The Author(s) 2017

M. Zhou (ed.), Contemporary Chinese Diasporas, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-5595-9_14

coethnics. Can international students be viewed as a part of diasporic communities in host countries? If so, in what ways are they similar to and different from their coethnics? And how do such connections influence their social lives in host countries?

For the links between international students and coethnic groups in host countries, Chinese students in the uK offer a good opportunity for research, not only because of the simultaneous growth in the number of both Chinese students and local Chinese residents since the start of the century (ONS 2012; HESA 2013) but also because of the relationship between the students and the resident group and between diverse Chinese communities and the host society (Wu 2016). According to a recently published report by the Migration Policy Centre of the European University Institute (Unterreiner 2015), of those born in mainland China and registered in the 2011 UK Census, three-quarters were new migrants, having arrived since 2001, while the majority entered the UK as students. This contrasts with Indian residents, among whom students form a smaller proportion (less than one in five). The report indicates (Unterreiner 2015: 12), furthermore, that 152,498 Chinese migrants from mainland China lived in England and Wales in 2011, exceeding the number from Hong Kong (102,241) in the same period. Two observations can be made. First, Chinese student migration has become an important source driving the growth of the Chinese population in the UK. Second, the growth of Chinese student migration from mainland China might have also contributed to the transformation of Chinese communities in the UK, in terms of changes in demographic profiles, Chinese “dialects” spoken and community organizations. This phenomenon warrants further exploration.

The significance of the research focusing on the connections between Chinese students and coethnic Chinese groups in host societies can be analyzed in terms of segmentation or fragmentation, meaning the lack of communication and cooperation among different Chinese groups. This happens, according to Benton and Gomez (2011: 61), because “different groups of Chinese have reached Britain along different paths, by different means, and with different projects,” and “interrelations among Chinese groups and individuals were based less and less on an expectation of reciprocity and more and more on calculation of separate self-interest.” This raises important questions about the impact of Chinese students on two local settings: the local Chinese community and the wider community in destination countries. Does the large scale of Chinese student migration contribute to or disrupt existing diasporic Chinese communities? What changes does it cause in the two local settings? How do the changes affect the ways in which Chinese student migrants interact with one another, with other Chinese migrants and with local residents? How do interaction patterns affect community cohesion and integration with reference to increasing communication, interaction and cooperation between different groups internally (with other Chinese groups) and externally (with non-Chinese groups)?

To address the above questions, this chapter focuses on patterns of interpersonal interaction or social networking by Chinese students in their communications internally (different student groups from mainland China and from Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia) and externally (local Chinese and non-Chinese residents in the wider community). For this purpose I propose the concept of Chinese student diaspora, which can be understood as follows:

  • • Chinese students as an integral part of the diasporic Chinese community, contributing to the growth and transformation of the greater Chinese community in host countries;
  • • Chinese students as agents for change by way of social networking with different groups, both Chinese and non-Chinese, both on campus and in the wider community, leading to the formation and transformation of the local Chinese community;
  • • Chinese students as multiple groups in terms of national identity (e.g., mainland Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese or Singapore Chinese) and cultural diversity, revealing similarities and differences in terms of behavior and networking patterns both on campus and in the wider community.
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