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Working Paper

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International schools are commonly depicted in the academic literature and popular press as offering elite educational credentials to an elite, oftentimes international, student body. In this paper, I draw on a case study of a Canadian international school to argue that a new form of international school is emerging in China – one that offers a haven for domestic students from certain competitive and discriminatory features of the Chinese educational system. Fieldwork was conducted at a Canadian curriculum high school for Chinese citizens in Beijing. Most students at the school were internal migrants or children of China’s ‘new rich’ entrepreneurial class; that is, their families had economic resources but occupied precarious social positions in contemporary Chinese society. Analyses reveal that the international school offers a pathway to obtain baseline academic credentials in the absence of other opportunities for progress in the Chinese educational system. Together with evidence of dramatic growth in international schools and tracks in China, this case study suggests the emergence of a new type of international education program that departs from a picture of international education as ‘elite’ in terms of student body, academic environment, and expected educational trajectories of graduates. The paper also develops our understanding of class and educational strategies in contemporary China.


This work was supported by a Gertrude and Otto Pollak Summer Student Travel Grant (2014) from the Department of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. It was also supported by Student Research Grants in 2014 and 2015 from the Center for the Study of Contemporary China at the University of Pennsylvania.


international education, educational inequality, social stratification, educational strategies, new rich, internal migrants, global cultural capital, cosmopolitan cultural capital



Date Posted: 11 September 2020