A Phenomenology of being “Very China”

An Ethnographic Report on the Self-Formation Experiences of Mainland Chinese Undergraduate “Foreign Talents” in Singapore

In: Asian Journal of Social Science
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  • 1 University of Oxford

This paper offers an ethnographic account of the self-formation experiences of Mainland Chinese undergraduate students as “foreign talents” in a Singaporean university. While extant scholarship often points out that international educational sojourn has transformative effects on the student-sojourners, detailed empirical examination of how such transformations take place is still lacking; this paper furnishes a microscopic case study in this vein. By looking at Chinese international students in the (Southeast) Asian city-state Singapore, the paper is also an effort to offer a relatively rare glimpse into the subjective dimension of intra-Asia student mobility. Furthermore, with regard to the Singapore local context, this account seeks to throw some new light on the hotly-debated “foreign talent” issue from the perspective of the scholarship-receiving students (“scholars”). With the title being a playful riff on G.W.F. Hegel’s philosophical canon, this paper uses Hegelian notions such as self-consciousness, the “other”, desire, and negation to narrate and analyse those aspects of the Mainland Chinese scholars’ self-(trans)formative experiences revolving around the idiom of “very China”-ness.