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‘I am proud to be Chinese’ Mandarin Chinese community schooling in Britain: Language, culture and pupils’ identities

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Sara GanassinORCiD



This paper illustrates the findings from a 14-months ethnographic study of Mandarin-Chinese community schools in Britain. The study was aimed at investigating the significance of the teaching of Chinese language and culture in the lives of pupils, parents and school staff. Through an analysis of narrative data, cartoon storyboards and ethnographic observations, this paper explores the perspectives of 23 pupils across two schools. Aged between 5 and 18, they have a variety of background (e.g., migrants from Mainland China, British-born Chinese from Cantonese speaking families, pupils from Hokkien speaking Chinese-Malaysian families, pupils from mixed heritage families). As often to them Mandarin is a SL rather than a heritage language, pupils also have different motivations to learn Mandarin. For example, pupils having Cantonese as their heritage language consider Mandarin important as a means to engage and seek affiliation with other Chinese people. A tension emerges between the focus of the schools on Mandarin as “the” Chinese language and “traditional” Chinese culture and the ways in which pupils’ understand their own identity as Chinese. As they engage with others in the schools, pupils see a multiplicity of languages as contributing to somebody’s Chinese identity. They also suggest that the Chinese identities constructed through these languages can be multiple, overlapping, and contextual. As far as the pupils’ construction of Chinese culture is concerned, the findings demonstrate how, through the experiential activities at the schools, pupils began to think about culture as informing their own lives. The findings show that pupils value the transmission of Chinese culture but, unlike the adults, they are interested in its meaning for their family histories and identities rather than in the interiorisation of values. Finally, community schooling plays a positive role in British-Chinese pupils' lives as it encourages them to claim the right to construct their identity as Chinese, regardless of their spoken language(s), their life trajectories, and family background.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Ganassin S

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: 5th International Conference on Chinese as a Second Language Research (CASLAR)

Year of Conference: 2018

Online publication date: 15/06/2018

Acceptance date: 25/04/2018

Date deposited: 17/08/2018

Publisher: CACLER