Dreams of Flight: Gender, Subjectivity and China’s Student Transmigrants


Latham Theatre, Redmond Barry (Building 115)


This presentation draws on an in-progress longitudinal ethnographic study of 56 'post-90s' women from China who are studying at tertiary level in Australian cities, in order to consider the gendered dimensions of their experiences of education and life abroad. Around 60% of outgoing students from China are female, and the study aims to help understand how gender makes a difference in the overseas study experience. The study has followed the core participant group over a number of years, from pre-departure in China through several years of study in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, and on to postgraduate destinations internationally.

In this presentation, Associate Professor Fran Martin introduces the study’s conceptual framework and hypothesis regarding how gender may relate to 'overseas study fever', and discusses some findings. First, she considers the gendered dimensions of participants’ motivations for overseas study; especially perceptions of gendered bias in professional labour markets in urban China and the hope that an overseas degree may mitigate male advantage. Then, she explores how study abroad may impact on young women’s gendered life planning. In particular, she will discuss participants’ reflections on how time away from China may prompt them to re-evaluate a normative, middle-class feminine life course in China in which marriage and child rearing are assumed to take precedence over career and self-development in a woman’s late 20s. For some young women, time spent studying overseas may significantly delay this progression – or even contribute to re-routing it completely, making a different sort of life imaginable and perhaps possible.


Associate Professor Fran Martin, University of Melbourne

Associate Professor Fran Martin is Reader in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne and an Australian Research Council Future Fellow. Since 2015, she has been working full time on the 5year research project on which this presentation is based: a longitudinal ethnography investigating the social and subjective experiences of young women from China studying and living in Australia. Martin’s best known prior research draws on her fluency in Mandarin and lifelong engagement with contemporary Chinese cultural scenes to analyse television, film, popular literature, social media, youth movements and other forms of cultural production in the transnational Chinese world, with a specialisation in gender and queer sexuality. Martin’s recent books include Telemodernities: Television and Transforming Lives in Asia (with T. Lewis and W. Sun, Duke U.P., 2016), Lifestyle Media in Asia: Consumption, Aspiration and Identity (coedited with T. Lewis, Routledge, 2016), Backward Glances: Contemporary Chinese Cultures and the Female Homoerotic Imaginary (Duke U.P., 2010), and AsiaPacifiQueer: Rethinking Genders and Sexualities (coedited with P. Jackson, M. McLelland and A. Yue, Illinois U.P., 2008). This talk presents material that will be developed in Martin’s newest book project, Dreams of Flight: Gender, Subjectivity, and China’s Student Transmigrants (under contract to Duke U. P.).