- Chinese Student Migration and Selective Citizenship: Mobility, Community and Identity Between China and the United States by Lisong Liu
By Lisong Liu.
New York: Routledge, 2015. xiv + 246 pp. Cloth $155, paper $49.95.
If necessary, I might be obliged to create new conditions, if I found old ones were not favorable to any plan I might have. . . .” These words were written by Yung Wing, the first Chinese student documented in the United States, in his 1909 memoir, My Life in China and America. In his groundbreaking book, Chinese Student Migration and Selective Citizenship: Mobility, Community and Identity Between China and the United States, Lisong Liu explores how the navigation between external conditions, internal aspirations, and agency continues to dominate the experiences of the post-1978 cohort of Chinese students in the United States. Liu’s methodology marks an important expansion of scholarship on Chinese students, as his research is not only transnational in its topic, but in the range of voices and viewpoints represented. The book utilizes both English-and Chinese-language documents, unconventional sources such as chat rooms, article comment threads and “likes,” and educational industry trade fairs, as well as traditional historical documents like community newspapers, professional publications, and demographic data. He uses these sources to look at how class, race, and nationalism shape opportunities and inform choices made by Chinese students around migration, immigration, and return.
Liu argues that we must look at contemporary Chinese students in the United States in the context of the long history of Chinese–US interactions around higher education, interactions that have been shaped by political, economic, and ideological agendas. Chinese Student Migration opens with a description of the four waves of immigration since Deng Xiaoping’s Open Door economic policy of 1978, including a nuanced examination of the “American Dream” and the recent emergence of a “Chinese Dream,” both of which are tied to ideas of transparent political systems, economic opportunity, and quality of life. This first chapter offers insight into the economics and demographics of Chinese students and their families, as well as the environmental and cultural perceptions that drive [End Page 137] US aspirations. It would have been helpful if student voices were as strong in this China-based section as they are in Liu’s US-based analysis. Chapter 2 examines the Chinese and American study-abroad industry, and the intellectual property and economic issues at stake as foreign students operate both as consumers and commodities within the US–China higher-education economy. Liu also looks at discourse within US higher education, as both administrators and policymakers express anxiety around “another type of ‘Yellow Peril’”(74).
Chinese Student Migration then moves to the United States in chapter 3, as Liu unpacks the transition from student to migrant or immigrant, and the racial politics guiding immigration laws. This chapter offers a compelling exploration of online virtual communities of overseas Chinese students navigating the complex regulations guiding paths to residency and citizenship. Chinese students in the United States discuss contacting politicians, making strategic employment choices and sharing documents and advice in an attempt to improve the speed and likelihood of their reclassification from student to immigrant. Chapters 4 and 5 examine the development of post-1965 Chinese–American communities and how professionals, formerly Chinese students, sculpt transnational identities. Liu adopts Bernard Wong’s “local-global framework” (164) to show how these communities establish Chinese schools, facilitate cultural exchange, and foster group identity as they develop roots in the United States. A part of this involves making strategic choices around citizenship, racial versus ethnic identity, and choosing employment opportunities that further the achievement of both the American and “Chinese Dream.” Liu argues that phenomenon like cyclical migration, citizenship, and return are means to this end rather than goals in themselves. Liu also documents how parenthood affects these choices, including the decision to bring over parents as unpaid childcare providers in a rotating cycle reminiscent of sojourning Chinese workers from previous generations.
Liu’s work fits into a new generation of Asian American studies that approaches identity from a...