Higher education choices and decision-making: a narrative study of lived experiences of Chinese international students and their parents
Zhang, Vivienne Jing
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This thesis investigates Chinese parents’ and children’s knowledge and understanding of decisions regarding higher education and the pathways and choice action patterns that emerged as the family histories and biographies of two or three generations evolved over time. A dialectically formulated Family-History-Narrative-Interpretive Method (FHNIM) is used to enquire and analyse the structural relations and connections (gestalt) of biography and family history, societal structures and changes, and Chinese families’ HE choices and decision-making. In my analysis of phenomenology and in my application of the FHNIM method, I have innovatively amalgamated key insights from theoretical perspectives of Husserlian phenomenology and Gurwitsch’s theme-thematic field. Twelve biographic-narrative interviews were conducted with Chinese international students in Auckland, New Zealand and 12 with their respective parents, who now reside in Shanghai, China. Four of the students are originally from other Chinese eastern coastal cities (i.e., the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang) and migrated to Shanghai in the 1990s. Nine family cases were selected and fully scrutinised using the five-step case reconstruction analysis. In the final stage of analysis, four family typologies were developed. Findings from the structural comparison of the family cases are based on the latent structure reconstruction of orientation, choice action patterns and interpretations (theme-thematic field construction), in the context of family decisions, collective histories, and societal processes. Evidence provided by the case structural comparison of four family typologies also displays that, for the scholar-official families (modern professional middle class), the purpose of passing university-entrance examinations via a leading university to move into officialdom is to honour/worship one’s ancestors by achieving the successes they experienced. For people with ambition, such as new tertiary-goers, the examination system either enables social mobility or competes with other recruitment methods. The method of recruitment of personnel and social mobility in society and in the bureaucratic government is undoubtedly part of the programs and policies or ideology pursued by every regime. For Deng, in order to direct the country away from the calamities caused by the 10-year Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), his policy on economy which was encapsulated by his slogan throughout the period of the 1980s, “To get rich is glorious”, formed a new direction. The impact of this policy is evidenced in the local practice scenes and the way of life of the parents in the Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces. The restructuring of state-owned Enterprises (SOEs) has resulted in many changes in the lives of state workers and employees. The rise and fall of private enterprises and SOEs the parents had experienced has shaped their attitudes and concerns for the future prospects of their children. The HE decision to send one’s child abroad is interpreted and judged in relative terms to parents’ understandings and apprehension of these experiences. It is driven by the principle of familism. The thesis demonstrates how a family-relational and biographical perspective can be a good venue for the future study of cross-cultural relationships, such as marriage or ageing issues, to enable researchers to compare and contrast cultural and social developments and individual biographies.