My book on Chinese “Foreign Talent” students in Singapore
book review by Hannah Soong, published in British Journal of Educational Studies.
To purchase or recommend to a library, please visit the publisher’s webpage.
A preview of the Introduction chapter is available on Googlebooks
Table of Contents
Opening with two ethnographic snapshots to illustrate the recent social tensions and controversies revolving around foreign students receiving Singaporean government scholarships, this introductory chapter locates the protagonists of this book, i.e. “PRC scholars” in Singapore, in two contexts respectively: (1) the Singapore state’s “foreign talent” policy in response to economic and demographic challenges and, (2) international educational mobility as an emerging phenomenon of interest to social scientific inquiry. This location-ing helps provide the essential backgrounds to the project and elucidates the contributions this book seeks to make to the studies of contemporary Singapore, and to the studies of internationally mobile students. The chapter also provides an account of the ethnographic fieldwork underpinning the book, as well as an overview of the chapters to follow. （Keywords: Singapore; China; foreign talent; immigration; international student mobility; educational desire）
- Contexts: Singapore’s foreign talent programs and the Chinese middle school as a recruiting ground
This chapter comprises two parts. The first part looks at Singapore’s foreign talent policy in general terms, reviewing the city-state’s talent-friendly foreign workforce management system and immigration regime; it then details several prominent foreign talent scholarship schemes since the 1990s, particularly three schemes targeting China. The second part unfolds around a symbolically rich event observed during the China leg of my fieldwork, which illuminates the ways in which Chinese students are shaped as subjects of educational desires. It is argued that Chinese educational desire is shaped according to two logics simultaneously, one involving an ideologized normalization emphasizing virtues and values, the other being a pragmatic attitude stressing extrinsic utilities and instrumental outcomes. This has important implications for the Chinese scholars’ subsequent educational experiences in Singapore. （Keywords: Singapore; foreign talent policy; PRC scholarships; SM1/2/3; Chinese middle school; educational desire）
- Selecting scholars for Singapore: the SM2 program
This chapter uses the case of the “SM2” scheme to illustrate how Singapore recruits foreign talent students. Installed in 1997, the SM2 program is one of the three long-running PRC scholarships that have been channeling Chinese students to Singapore; it annually provides 200-400 teenage senior middle-school students full undergraduate scholarships with living stipends, and in return legally obligates the scholarship-recipients to work in Singapore for six years after obtaining their degree. After a general overview of the SM2 program, this chapter provides a first-hand ethnographic account of the 15th batch SM2 recruitment in 2011 in the southern Chinese province of Jiangxi. It offers unique and rare insights into the ways in which this Singaporean scholarship scheme is perceived and received by its Chinese targets. （Keywords: SM2 scholarship; recruitment; China; Jiangxi; Nanchang; ethnography）
- Singlish and the Singaporean: cross-cultural encounter and othering
This chapter looks at the PRC scholars’ cross-cultural experiences on a Singaporean university campus by focusing on their encounters with Singlish and the figure of the Singaporean student. Singlish, the creolized informal local lingua franca, is experienced as an obstacle by many Chinese scholars when it comes to cross-cultural communication and engagement. The scholars’ ways of negotiating with it range from partial adaptation to resistance or symbolic struggle that rests on a micro cultural politics of language. Meanwhile, some PRC scholars also develop certain judgmental stereotypes about their Singaporean peers on campus based on their biased observations of the latter. Such stereotyping stems not only from the failure of the local host and PRC scholars to engage each other meaningfully, but owes also to the differences between their respective cultural backgrounds and educational subjectivities. (Keywords: Chinese international students; interculturality; cross-cultural encounter; adjustment; Singlish; stereotyping)
- Being “very China”: self-consciousness and identity transformation
This chapter is an ethnography of a psychosocial experience of the PRC scholars revolving around the notion of being “very China,” an idiom that captures the intertwinement between their development of self-consciousness and their identity transformation. Indexing the undesirable embodied differences as well as educational subjectivities that some PRC scholars critically discover about themselves upon being reflected through the otherness of the local/Singaporean figure, “very China”-ness is a transient identity label, the negation of which marks the PRC scholars’ subjective expansion. Not only is this drama of “very China”-ness played out in the context of the local-foreign relation, it also manifests in the “intra-ethnic othering” between the SM1/2/3 scholars. This chapter is a case of how exactly subjective transformations take place among international students. (Keywords: othering; stereotyping; discrimination; identity; self-consciousness; Chinese international students)
- Desiring an education: scholarly idealism and anti-scholarly entrepreneurialism
This final chapter looks at how the PRC scholars experienced and perceived the UIS education, and how their educational desires are met with frustration, disillusionment and/or transformation as a consequence. While the scholars necessarily had a variety of experiences and expressed a wide range of views and voices, by and large these seem to lie on a spectrum defined on the two ends by what I venture to call a scholarly idealism on the one hand and an anti-scholarly entrepreneurialism on the other. Scholarly idealism stems from the PRC scholars’ Chinese educational subjectivity, and manifests in their discontent against the overwhelming pragmatism of higher education in UIS/Singapore. Anti-scholarly entrepreneurialism seems to develop from the very disillusionment of this idealism, and manifests in a militantly anti-scholarly discourse and/or attitude that devalues academic learning. (Keywords: educational desire; scholarly idealism; anti-scholarly entrepreneurialism; higher education pedagogy; Chinese international students; Singapore)