How mobilities and schooling experiences of Chinese cross-border students (CBS) affect their sense of belonging to Hong Kong?

Dr Anita Chan, Education University of Hong Kong

Research Highlighted:

Chan, A. K.-W., Chiu, M. M., Yang, S., & Ngan, L. L.-S. (2020). Mobility, belongingness and schooling experiences of Chinese cross-border students. Children and Youth Services Review, 111, 104870. doi:

In the last two decades, globalization has caused students of diverse migration statuses to flow into school systems, which contribute to the rising concerns of educational or international student mobilities. While the educational mobilities of young people and students of higher education have received much academic attention, those of younger children have not, despite the rising trend of many young children in Asia, China in particular, have crossed local or regional borders for better education (eg. Yeoh, et al. 2012).

On the other hand, belongingness has been a pertinent topic for scholars interested in immigrant students. As schools play a central role in integrating immigrant children and youth into their new society, studies have found that when immigrant students’ needs for belonging are met in schools, they show positive emotions, life satisfaction, and greater commitment to stay in the country of destination (eg. Chiu et al. 2016). Nevertheless, few research has examined whether and the ways in which young, mobile child migrants develop belongingness in the context of mobility, and whether and how schooling experiences mediate their belongingness. Therefore, our study on Chinese cross-border students (CBS) addresses these research gaps.

CBS in Hong Kong offers a unique example in the growing trend of young mobile children, because their daily commuting to school comprises physical, spatial and cross-border mobilities. CBS are young schoolchildren who are permanent residents of Hong Kong but live on the mainland and travel across the border to school every day. The phenomenon first emerged in the twenty-first century and intensified in relation to the changing economic relations between Hong Kong and the mainland, border policies and formation of diverse cross-border families (Chan and Ngai 2018). The growth finally subsided in 2012, after the Hong Kong Government introduced the zero-quota policy (see Chan et. al. 2017). The 3,567 CBS in 2002/3 skyrocketed to 28,106 in 2015/16 (with about 10,000 CBS kindergarteners and 15,000 primary school students). In 2018/19, about 20, 000 CBS attended primary school.

Our study, based on 417 Chinese CBS, has three research questions.

How did the sociodemographic characteristics of the CBS affect their sense of belonging to Hong Kong (SOBHK)?

How did the mobility of the CBS affect their SOBHK?

How did schooling experiences of the CBS affect their SOBHK?

We first used factor analysis to validate the instrument and create the construct index SOBHK, and then a structural equation model to assess whether sociodemographic characteristics, mobility or different dimensions of schooling experiences are linked to CBS’ SOBHK.

Our results indicated that SOBHK was not significantly affected by the cross-border students’ sociodemographic characteristics (age, gender, parents’ Hong Kong permanent resident statuses, educational attainments or occupations). Our analyses also showed that cross-border mobility (hours on commuting) was not significantly related to the students’ SOBHK. Instead, we found that the CBS who had better relations with local peers, whose friends were mostly from Hong Kong, or who engaged in more extracurricular school-based activities in Hong Kong experienced stronger SOBHK.

This study has several important contributions. First, it includes mobility – an increasingly important feature of immigrant students – to education and migration studies of belongingness and schooling experiences. Second, it disentangles the relationships between sociodemographic characteristics, mobility and schooling experiences that may affect the belongingness of Chinese CBS to Hong Kong. Third, it widens the current concern of Chinese immigrant students, an important growing population (Kaisr, Ma, and Chao 2019), from higher education to other age groups.

Our study has also practical implication. In view of the rising tensions between Hong Kong residents and mainlanders (Xu 2015), which are further aggravated by the anti-extradition protests in 2019, we believe more positive intergroup interactions among young students of diverse cultural groups will foster mutual understanding and friendships, and reduce such tensions.


Chan, A. K. W., Ngan, L. L. S., Wong, A. K.W., & Chan, W. S. (2017). “Border” matters in discussions of cross-border students. Social Transformations in Chinese Societies, 13(1), 56–70.

Chan, A. K. W., & Ngan, L. L. S. (2018). Investigating the differential mobility experiences of Chinese cross-border students. Mobilities, 13(1), 142–156.

Chiu, M. M., Chow, B. W. Y., McBride, C., & Mol, S. T. (2016). Students’ sense of belonging at school in 41 countries: Cross-cultural variability. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 47(2), 175–196.

Kaiser, M., Y. Ma, and Q. Chao. 2019. “Are Western Universities Doing Enough for Their Chinese Students?” Times Higher Education

Xu, C. 2015. “Identity and Cross-Border Student Mobility: The Mainland China–Hong Kong Experience.” European Educational Research Journal 14(1): 65-73.

Yeoh, B., A. E. Lai, C. Alipio, L. A. Hoang, T. Lam, and M. C. W. Lu. 2012. Report for Children’s Geographies: Inter-Asia Roundtable on Transnational Migration and Children in Asian Contexts.” Children’s Geographies 10(1): 123–129.

Author Biography

Dr Anita Chan is Associate Professor at The Education University of Hong Kong. Her research interests cover gender, education, family and migration studies. She is currently involved in several research projects on topics ranging from adoptive families, masculinities of young men, global childhoods, transnational families, and older women’s subjectivities. Her publications can be found in academic journals such as Mobilities, Children and Youth Services Review, Urban Studies, Journal of Consumer Culture, Gender and Education, Compare, and History of Education.

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