UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Chinese international students' engagement with democratic discourses and practices in Canada and the United States Li , Gang


This dissertation situates current Chinese international students in the historical flow of internationally mobile Chinese people since the late 19th century. Informed by their predecessors’ significant contributions to China’s political transformation in the 20th century, the doctoral research conceives of these students as political subjects ‘in the making’, and examines them as potential influencers on China’s democratization efforts in the upcoming decades. This doctoral study examines how Chinese international students become and/or are made into political – and possibly democratic – subjects through their engagement with democracy while pursuing degrees at universities in Canada and the United States. Adopting a qualitative case study approach, the study recruits twelve students from two sites, one on the Canadian West Coast and the other on the U.S. East Coast. It collects data on participants’ engagement with democratic discourses and practices in their two host countries with three methods (i.e., qualitative interviewing, observations, and document gathering). Findings demonstrate that international mobility in higher education has significant bearings on participants’ political subjectivity. Particularly noteworthy is that half of the twelve participants emerge with increased commitment to democracy and increased competence to effect democratization in China. Increased commitment and competence were closely related to students’ engagement with three kinds of democratic practices: 1) those associated with learning and unlearning about democracy, 2) those associated with democratic elections at the regime level, and 3) those associated with organization design and management. Further, students’ engagement with democratic practices occurred largely in two spaces related to their education: 1) the conceptual space entailed in disciplinary studies, especially those in the social sciences, 2) the structural procedural space entailed in the electoral politics of the two host countries and politics in Chinese international student organizations. Finally, the dissertation research illustrates how democratic practices were related to different spaces, including conceptual and structural procedural spaces.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International