Walking out of the Mountain: Cultural Identification and Education of Rural Migrant Muslim Students in Northwest China
The economic boom in China has brought major changes in its geographical and cultural landscapes. Significant among these is the magnitude and directionality of demographic mobility. It is estimated that 170-180 million rural populations come to the cities to find jobs and live their lives. Hui (10.6 million), one of the largest ethnic minority groups in China, and Dongxiang are very much a part of this mobility of migrating from rural to urban areas in Northwest China. After moving to the urban environment, communication with other ethnic groups, predominantly the Han (the majority ethnic group in China), becomes inevitable, even though the Hui and Dongxiang tend to live in separate communities in the cities. Hui and Dongxiang children attended mostly mixed-ethnicity rather than single-ethnicity schools. Contradictions of rural-urban differences, ethnicity and religion sparkle wide attention and discussion. This study explored this migration phenomenon from the perspectives of the education, social adaption, and identity development of a small group of Hui and Dongxiang students who have migrated to the city from rural communities. The seven participants in the study went to seventh and eighth grades attending a middle school in Lanzhou. Qualitative research analyses of data generated from narrative stories, thematic photos, group discussions, semi-structured interviews, and field observations produced four major findings. These were: 1) Islam and its denominations are deep influences on migrant Hui and Dongxiang students’ identification, and caused some notable conflicts with the urban and school culture. They penetrated in many aspects of their lives such as clothing, dietary restrictions, and religious practice and literacy. 2) There are some salient differences in the education of and adaptation to urban life of male and females. The roles of females in family, marriage and careers resulted in pressures and motivation on their education and adaption to urban life. 3) Rural migrant Hui and Dongxiang students are strongly attached to their rural identity even as they adapt to the urban life and culture. They developed complex and reflective response on their urban and previous living. 4) Hui and Dongxiang students also experience heavy pressures from standardized testing and urban schooling. Based on the results, some recommendations for further research and practice were suggested. These included addressing multicultural education in educational policies; developing a system of differentiated citizenship for Hui and Dongxiang migrant students to ensure more educational equity; and continuing to study Hui and Dongxiang students in greater numbers, in a variety of educating settings, and in different stages of their entering and adaption to living and learning in urban cities and schools. Other ethnic minorities in China should be similarly studied. The results of such research could contribute significantly to advancing the cause of educational equity, justice, and excellence (as well as national unity among diverse group) for ethnic minorities in China.
- Education - Seattle