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Whose culture has capital?

Class, culture, migration and mothering

Bin Wu

In no previous generation have so many educated Chinese women with young children immigrated to western countries. Whereas most of the existing research literature in this field tends to study Chinese immigrants in general, this book focuses on a group of skilled female migrant mothers in New Zealand. It aims at understanding the dilemmas and ambiguities particularly concerning skilled female migration: although they belonged to a privileged group in their native land, these women become members of a visible minority in the new country. Middle-class professionals in their birth country, they experience downward social mobility when taking on unskilled jobs in their adopted land; besides having to shoulder heavier domestic workloads as the traditional support for childcare is no longer available in New Zealand. Centering on their mothering practices, this book provides detailed descriptions of how mothers deploy various strategies to maximise the benefits for their children’s education amidst changes and readjustments after migration.


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15 1 Introduction In 1998, Alison2 emigrated from mainland China to New Zealand with her husband and their five-year-old son. After arriving in Auckland, the couple had their second child, a daughter. In China, Alison had a Masters of Sci- ence in chemistry and worked as a senior engineer. Although coming to New Zealand as a skilled migrant, she could not find a job that matched her pre-migration status. Her husband, who had a degree in physics from a prestigious Chinese university, took up IT training in New Zealand and finally landed a full-time job with his New Zealand qualification. The job meant Alison’s husband left early in the morning and returned late in the evening because of long hours of working and commuting. In China, Alison and her husband were upper-middle-class profes- sionals. With the help of her mother and maids/nannies, Alison was able to continue with her fully-fledged career after the birth of her son. How- ever, after coming to New Zealand, without the support of extended fam- ily and affordable domestic help, Alison had to shoulder a heavier do- mestic workload while her husband became the sole breadwinner of the family. She had taken on low-level office work but found it difficult to balance paid work and childcare. Finally, Alison decided to become a full-time mother. The current study is concerned with women like Alison, Chinese skilled migrant mothers, and their experiences with their young children in New Zealand. This research project depicts a complicated and am-...

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