Home and away: The effects of patriotic education on Chinese international students in Australia through a critique of identity theories and policy myth making

Author Identifiers

Wei Zhang


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Advisor

Christine Cunningham

Second Advisor

Clive Barstow


As a Chinese student in Australia, I designed this research study to investigate the historical experiences of Chinese female international students (CFIS), who have been studying post-graduate courses in Australian universities, following a lifetime of loyalty and state-based patriotic education in China. The key research question, framed by Bourdieu’s habitus and field concepts, asks: What happens to these students’ identity after studying and living in Australia? The study is grounded in the critical education discipline and draws on literature relating to Moral Education, International Education, and Identity-forming to provide a novel understanding of identity-transitioning for Chinese international students within the intercultural context of Australian higher education.

I adopted a critical and cross-cultural approach in this study, as socio-political research of this nature exists in a complicated web of power, neo-liberalism and meritocracy. Through a critical lens, I am able to distinguish and address implicit power dynamics that constitute dominating educational discourses that highly influence the process of identity-transitioning. I conducted thirty-nine interviews with thirteen Chinese international students, who were all females born after the 1980s and who were enrolled in post-graduate programmes in four universities in Western Australia. I used a thematic analysis for data processing and analysis.

The study identified the key drivers behind the exhibited loyalty and patriotism of Chinese students as originating from a long-term exposure to Moral Education content and learning in China. The main result revealed that personal and national identity of the Chinese are consolidated prior to Chinese students’ visiting Western societies. Thus, despite government goals to promote and instill a more cosmopolitan identity through international education, this rarely eventuates. Thus, the study established an argument that there may be a discordant note in the traditions of teaching and promoting national belonging and loyalty (Osler, 2011) where nationalism and identity-loyalty toward the mother country of China is more often than not maintained despite international educational experiences.

The findings presented in this study contribute to a greater understanding of the identity development process of CFIS in a broader social and political context. It also provides valuable insights into the factors and causes that lead to CFIS’ identification with the country they reside in and the country they came from. This research may also be used to facilitate better understanding of and expectations of CFIS in Australia’s higher education sector.

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