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II Going Back Home or Not?

The Pragmatic Cosmopolitan: The 'Serving China' Discourse, Career Plans, and Cosmopolitan Dispositions of Chinese Students in Japan

Herby Lai


In recent years, Japan has been a popular study destination for Chinese students. Among member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Japan is the third most popular study abroad destination for Chinese students, after the United States and Australia (OECD, 2012, pp. 378-379). For the last ten years, Chinese students have consistently accounted for around 60 per cent of the total number of foreign students in Japan. In 2012, there were 86,324 Mainland Chinese students - 62.7 per cent of the total number of foreign students in Japan (Japan Student Services Organization, 20042010, 2012, 2013). In addition, as of 2012, there were 3,478 Mainland Chinese short-term international students (those engaging in language or cultural exchange in Japan, usually for a period not longer than one year), as well as 15,079 Mainland Chinese students in Japanese language institutes (ibid., 2013). But with the exception of the excellent work of Gracia Liu-Farrer (2009, 2011a, 2011b), there has not been much literature in English on the qualitative study of work-related experiences and evaluations of such experiences among Chinese migrants in Japan. In this chapter, I aim to add to the existing literature by treating the career aspirations of Chinese students in Japan as a way into the dispositions and values of these students. In the process, I will highlight that, while their career plans were likely to eventually bring them back to China, how they explained the rationale behind their plans suggested that 'serving China' - a strong discourse actively promoted by the Chinese government - was a much less important factor than personal and instrumental ones. Further, their evaluations of contemporary Chinese society suggest that their eventual return will be more complicated than the formula in the 'serving China' discourse suggests.

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