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Expanding flexible citizenship: Chinese international school students and global mobilities for higher education

Ying Ma (Institute of Higher Education, Fudan University, Shanghai, China)
Ewan Wright (Department of Education Policy and Leadership, Faculty of Education and Human Development, Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong)

Social Transformations in Chinese Societies

ISSN: 1871-2673

Article publication date: 27 September 2022

Issue publication date: 20 November 2023




This study aims to interrogate and expand on the flexible citizenship framework by illuminating students' emergent identities and imagined future mobilities in China's expanding international school sector.


In-depth semistructured interviews were conducted with international school students and their parents in Shenzhen, covering their motivations for overseas higher education, experience with international schooling, self-perceived identities and imagined futures.


The participants aspired to overseas higher education for both symbolic capital attainment and embodied cultural cultivation to thrive in a globalised world. They expressed confidence that international schooling experiences prepared students for mobility to Western higher education and cultivated globally-oriented identities while not undermining their Chinese roots. They imagined their futures in terms of considerable flexibility, with a rising China viewed as an attractive and feasible option for career development.

Research limitations/implications

This research provides an enriched understanding of a new generation of globally mobile Chinese students. The participants held distinctively different outlooks, aspirations and attitudes than depicted in the flexible citizenship framework, which emphasised a one-dimensional and instrumentalist portrayal of Chinese international students. This study discusses cross-generational changes in the desire for overseas education and a global-national outlook among young people in the context of significant social transformations in urban China.


The originality of this study is in expanding the flexible citizenship framework with reference to the emergent identities and pathways of students in the international schooling sector in China.



This work was supported by the Education University of Hong Kong (project no.: RG 77/2018-2019R).


Ma, Y. and Wright, E. (2023), "Expanding flexible citizenship: Chinese international school students and global mobilities for higher education", Social Transformations in Chinese Societies, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 101-114.



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