Cultural identities of Chinese visitors to the UK: an exploratory study of structure and agency
Author(s)Cheng, Man Tat
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AbstractThis exploratory research seeks to understand the practices and experiences associated with Chinese tourists from the People’s Republic of China to the UK, both the reception by UK citizens and their own reflections of self. This PhD situates individual experience within collective historical structures and contemporary socio-political and economic forces. It investigates the partial identity of Chinese individuals through the frameworks of globalisation, nationalism, post-colonialism and traditionalism. These frameworks are empirically driven, which offer explanations to Chinese visitors’ public identity and self-identity, which are interconnected and interdependent (Alcoff, 2000). Identity has become a prism through which various aspects of contemporary life are exposed and observed (Bauman, 2001). The debate between structure and agency (Archer, 1982) is the key to address this dimension of identity. This study will establish a set of perspectives that attempts to understand contemporary Chinese people, drawn mainly from historians’ scholarly efforts. These perspectives involve the role of the Chinese state, historical contingencies and consumer capitalism (i.e. structure) in conditioning contemporary Chinese people’s values and behaviours. Following Sandberg and Alvesson (2011), this research is drawn from problematisation of existing theories. It is a response to the dominance of quantitative empirical research that concerns business marketing and a lack of in-depth exploration into the values, and political and socio-cultural implications to Chinese individuals. It calls for a departure from essentialist and deterministic perspectives of Chinese culture; and from the uncritical analysis of the political context of the development of tourism in China (Nyíri, 2006). In so doing, the thesis has employed multiple methods to explore virtual media spaces, and tourism spaces where it is possible to observe the identities of Chinese visitors. Adopting documentary source analysis, discourse analysis, ethnomethodology and ethnography, the research explores particularities, deeper meanings and subtleties associated with the practices and narratives of Chinese visitors. Drawn from two sample news articles from The Guardian and The Daily Mail, it is found that Chinese visitors are represented primarily through shopping patterns, which were however appropriated by online readers, who utilised a range of discourses (e.g. anti-immigration, economic dependency, international trade relations) to frame and discuss the Chinese subject (Weimann, 2000). This set of public identity of Chinese visitors is considered as UK’s host nation perspective, which was not expressed by English employees in retail servicescapes (Bitner, 1990). Adopting ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1976), I worked alongside these workers and attempted to illicit their responses to Chinese visitor behaviours. Their presentation of self (Goffman, 1967) suggests that their authentic views were not obtained. With the aim to dwell into the subjectivity of Chinese individuals, I travelled with a group of Chinese students who came to London for a three-week educational tour. I observed their experiences in the classroom, during sight-seeing and relations with their host families. I conclude that the Chinese state has not extended cultural authority (Nyíri, 2006) in UK tourism and pedagogical spaces. Following Zhang and Schwartz (1997), after Derrida (1994), I adopted the theory of critical inheritance to investigate how Confucian values are adapted and redacted in contemporary China. To explore students’ gift consumption practices through the deconstructed framework of guanxi and filial piety, I discovered that students were not free from disassociating filial love to consumer goods. Many students had a strong patriotic identity, shaped by anti-Western sentiments, expressed in quotidian ways of speaking and action (Billig, 1995). With respect to global identity, they distinguished themselves from the peer through their appreciation of Western popular culture (Bourdieu, 1984), and exhibiting an aspirational identity (Hall, 1996b). Although institutional Black racism (Fanon, 1986) is prevalent in China, students’ individual morality was found confronting racial prejudice, observed from their relationships with host families. Chinese individuals are historically and politically conditioned, however they negotiated wider structures in both their home society and in a culturally different environment. The researcher is influenced by the cultural studies tradition (Hall, 1980) and post-positivist realism (Moya and Hames-Garcia, 2000), which rejects the position of epistemological relativism. This research topic arose from the connection between public issues of social structure, relating to China and its international relations, and the researcher’s personal observation and sensitivities towards conflicts that could be described as relating to the politics of place arising from these issues (Mill, 2000).
University of Exeter
TypeThesis or dissertation