Multiliteracies, Discourses and Identities

The Multiliteracy Practices of Chinese Children in Britain

by Jing Sheng (Author)
Monographs 250 Pages


This book explores the everyday reading and writing experiences of children from Chinese families living in Britain. Using an ethnographic approach, the author presents in-depth case studies of three migrant children, all of whom received some education in mainland China before moving to Britain. The theoretical framework is based on the New Literacy Studies approach and the author introduces a new conceptual and analytical term: the «Literacy Events Network».
The study investigates the links between the children’s social domains, identities and multilingual practices, exploring the power relations in which they are embedded and the ways they perceive themselves as they engage in literacy activities that connect their lives in Britain with China. The findings indicate that the children are not passive participants in the process of migration. Mediated by their parents and friends, they take part in a wide variety of literacy activities across multiple social settings, both online and offline. The book provides valuable insights into the uses and meanings of literacy for these children and opens up avenues for further research into the experiences of Chinese communities in Britain.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1: Framing the Children’s Multiliteracy Practices
  • Chapter 2: Researching the Children’s Multiliteracy Practices
  • Chapter 3: Contextualising the Children’s Multiliteracy Practices
  • Chapter 4: Multiliteracies: Multiple Domains and Sponsors
  • Chapter 5: Multiliteracies in a Digital Age
  • Chapter 6: Multiliteracies in Multilingual Worlds
  • Chapter 7: Literacies, Discourses and Identities in a Transnational Age
  • Appendix 1: The Children’s Literacy Activities
  • Appendix 2: Interview Themes and Interview Schedule
  • Bibliography
  • Index

← vi | vii →


There are many people who have helped me with this research, and without their support this book would not exist. In different ways, each of them has made a unique and essential contribution to my work and my life. Therefore, without having to list them one by one, I would like to express my deep appreciation for the part they have played in my research.

There are, however, certain people who stand out, and without whom I would not be where I am now.

First of all, sincere thanks go to Professor Mary Hamilton for her significant supervision, encouragement, advice and constructive criticism at all stages of this research. Great thanks to Mary, also, for helping to create a place and space for me among educational and literacy researchers in the Department of Educational Research and the Literacy Research Centre at Lancaster University, which, for me as a new Chinese researcher, was a rather strange environment. Thanks to all of her endeavours, my research project has now reached the level of quality that I hoped for.

I am most grateful to the three migrant families and, in particular, the children, who kindly agreed to participate in my research and spent their precious time on my interviews and questions every month; to the two schools that provided exceptional warmth and openness for me to observe the children’s school experiences in Lancaster; and to the Lancaster and Morecambe Chinese Committee who helped me look for informants and welcomed me to all the social events they organised in Lancaster and Morecambe.

Over the course of working on this research, I made many wonderful friends in Lancaster. They are Abel, Steve and Anne Margret in the Department of Educational Research; Carmen, Zoe, Stella, Ian and Bob in the Literacy Research Centre; Yufang Qian, Dr Xiao Cheng, Xu Zhang, Hui Lai and Professor Hailong Tian in the Department of Linguistics; and Jun Luo, Ke Xu and Melody in other departments. I wish to thank them for their friendship, comfort, support and useful academic suggestions. ← vii | viii →

Finally, I would like to express my most sincere gratitude to my parents, Guoqing Sheng and Yuqin Zhu, without whose selfless and continuous love and support, financially and emotionally, this research would have been impossible to carry out and finally complete. Special thanks must be given to my husband, Hui Ji, who has been encouraging me since I left China in 2003, who married me during the course of writing my thesis on 26 March 2007, and who tolerated life without me for more than a year.

← viii | 1 →


Framing the Children’s Multiliteracy Practices


This book deals with uses and interpretations of literacy in various aspects of the lives of Chinese migrant children as they move between China and Britain. The main purpose of the study documented in this book is to understand and describe how Chinese migrant children use reading and writing in everyday life when they surf online, socialise at clubs and visit relatives in China; how multiple languages are embedded in Chinese migrant children’s daily literacy activities; as well as how Chinese migrant children perceive themselves when engaging in these literacy activities.

The term “Chinese migrant children” refers to those who have received some Chinese education up to the primary or secondary level in China before moving to Britain (Swann, 1985). As the second generation of migrants, different from British-born Chinese whose effective knowledge of the parental mother tongue disappears, Chinese migrant children learn English as much as they can, but speak Chinese at home. In addition, considering the fact that the three research subjects engaged in this study were 8, 12 and 15 years old respectively, I would like use the concept of “children” to refer to children in their early teenage years, as well as those at primary school age.

Even though the multiple language uses of Chinese migrant children initially interested me, this book does not explore migrant children’s abilities to code and decode words and sentences while using multiple languages, nor does it investigate Chinese or English texts alone. This is not a study about how children can be taught to read and write texts at school. It is not about bilingual acquisition, nor focused on analysing the linguistic ← 1 | 2 → features of Chinese and English languages. Rather, this is a study about how migrant Chinese children deal with multi-language reading and writing and how they value and use these activities. It deals with social and cultural activities, which involve migrant Chinese children using different texts for communication via oral and written means.

Texts and social interactions around texts are central to this research study. Textbooks, newspapers, invoices, ID cards and instant messages online are various types of “texts”, which mediate the overseas lives of migrant children not only in China, but also in Britain. Understanding a piece in a newspaper, or sending instant messages to a Chinese or English friend, are called “social uses of literacy” or “literacy practices” (Street, 1984, 1993a, 1993b; Barton and Hamilton, 1998). Both phrases emphasise the embeddedness of texts in social activities, cultural values and ideological purposes. In this book, “multiliteracy” conveys three meanings of text embeddedness in Chinese migrant children’s daily activities. Firstly, multiliteracy refers to literacies – literacy in plural form. Literacies indicate multiple ways of reading and writing and using written texts across multiple social settings. Secondly, multiliteracy refers to multiple linguistic, gestural, kinaesthetic and visual modes embedded in texts – the multimodality of literacy (Street and Lefstein, 2007). Thirdly, multiliteracy refers to multiple language choices in the process of migrant children’s literacy communications. The variety of language choice suggests the multiple communicative purposes (Martin-Jones and Jones, 2000).

This study examines these three dimensions of the social uses of literacy in Chinese migrant children’s daily lives. It focuses in depth on three Chinese migrant families living in Lancaster, England. The particular interest of this study lies in the reading and writing activities of migrant children in after-school contexts. Therefore, the core sections of this study do not illustrate migrant children’s school lives in detail, but pay a great deal of attention to analysing children’s after-school activities.

This book firstly argues that literacy artefacts play a significant role in mediating the daily lives of people, reconstructing power relations and shaping people’s identities. This point is demonstrated by eliciting children’s literacy activities and analysing the roles of literacy artefacts in sustaining or challenging specific power relations. Furthermore, in doing so, this book ← 2 | 3 → demonstrates that we have to attend to the way literacy is linked to the creation and dissemination of social identities. In the cases documented in this book, there are new social identities that arise with the changing lifestyles of Chinese migrant children in Britain.

Another main argument is that the powers that shape the children’s identities are sponsored by a number of interconnected institutions and organisations across multiple social domains and countries. New technologies, especially computers and the Internet, have strengthened multicultural communication, and accordingly enhanced the influence of particular language powers on the identity formation of agents.

It is important to note that non-dominant literacy practices are as important in shaping people’s identities as dominant literacy practices. Both dominant and non-dominant literacy activities enable migrant children to adapt to new lives in Britain.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (September)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2016. VIII, 250 pp., 1 b/w ill., 15 fig.

Biographical notes

Jing Sheng (Author)

Jing Sheng is Associate Professor at the University of International Relations in Beijing. She is a graduate of Beijing Language and Culture University, the University of York and the University of Lancaster. Her recent publications include articles on literacies, identities and overseas Chinese families.


Title: Multiliteracies, Discourses and Identities
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259 pages