Working Paper

International Student Migration and Social Stratification in China

Published 1 January 2009 / By Biao Xiang & Wei Shen

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During the late 1990s China moved from a period of “wealth creation” that benefited the majority of the population to a period of “wealth concentration” that benefited a minority. This essay focuses on the role of international student migration from China to other countries in this process. In particular the authors delineate how different types of capital—the human, social, political and cultural (specifically foreign degrees)—transform into each other. In the process the analysis considers how the conversions among these different types of capital have intensified and have become concentrated in the top stratum of society. The essay links the international education to general patterns of social transformation currently occurring in China. Specifically the discussion brings in a transnational dimension to the examination of social stratification in contemporary China.

Key words: International education, student migration, capital, convertibility, social stratification, social closure.


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