In Australia “Asians” are often discussed as if a monolithic ethnic group. Even when Asians are subdivided into their geographical origin, knowledge of each specific ethnic group, such as Chinese from East Asia, is still far from comprehensive. In recent years, the Australian government has targeted those who are from culturally and linguistically diverse communities in physical activity and health promotion, as the statistical data have suggested that Asian ethnic groups are physically inactive. In addition, Asian populations have often been discursively described as academic “high achievers” and uninterested in sport. While the educational policies promulgate cultural diversity in schools, the current understanding of the diverse ethnic groups’ practices directs attention to “deficit” rather than “asset” views.
The aim of this thesis was therefore to examine Chinese young people’s narratives of their lives, in particular their engagement with and perspectives about Health and Physical Education (HPE), school sport, and physical activity, contributing possibly new ways of considering physical activity of ethnic populations in Australia. The research questions were as follows,
1. How do Chinese young people talk about their identities in relation to physical
activity and sport?
2. How do the family and living environment(s) of Chinese young people impact upon
their perceptions and experiences of physical activity and sport?
3. How do Chinese young people engage in HPE and school sport and what factors
influence their perceptions and experiences?
The key participants in this study were 12 Chinese young people and 8 Anglo-Celtic HPE teachers from two schools (7 girls and 5 teachers from a non-government school, and 3 girls, 2 boys, and 3 teachers from a government school). During the two years of field work (2010-2011), various qualitative research methods were employed such as semi-structured interviews, observations, drawings, and diaries to elicit a rich description of these young people’s engagement and perspectives of physical activity, HPE and school sport in Australia and overseas.
The thesis utilized an inductive theoretical approach and drew on predominately Bourdieu’s conceptual tools to describe how the interplay of Anglo-Celtic practices at school and the traditional Chinese culture at home were shaping the lives and agencies of Chinese young people. These young people negotiated their “Chineseness” and their physical activity according to these two, at times contradictory, structural forces. Many of these young people had highly organized weekdays and weekend activities, such as musical instrument practices/lessons, and Chinese/academic tutorial classes. Despite these young people’s intention to engage in the diverse range of sport clubs that the schools offered, they often did not have enough leisure time for other kinds of activities. Gender differences were found, with boys given much more freedom and most of the girls not identifying with sport as part of their culture. Family structures were also a factor that influenced the young people’s physical activity patterns, with those from single-parent families, those who did not have parents residing with them, or students whose parents worked long hours, being less likely to engage with outdoor physical activities.
The diverse experiences of these young people and their teachers in HPE and school sport challenged the “exclusive binaries” of “East” and “West”, and raised the Confucian worldview of “complementary differences”. Generally, these young people were able to resist the essentialist notion of Chineseness attributed to them by their peers while at school and, on occasions, believed deficit comments were a compliment that attested to their Chinese cultural capital. As the young people negotiated their identities and different cultural practices between their schools and family lives, they possessed a different set of characteristics which were (mis)recognized as capital within each particular field.
The main findings have implications for how policies and educators promote physical activity, HPE and school sport for Chinese young people living in Australia. The thesis concludes with recommendations for the promotion of agency; a strengths-based and complementary approach to intercultural understanding. It is suggested that parents, teachers and educational institutions should avoid an essentialist representation of the young people. Rather they need to legitimize the students’ transnational identities and resources, which may be different to the Anglo-Celtic norms and also provide support that could go some way towards a critical teaching and learning environment. As a young Chinese woman undertaking this research with the participants in Australia, I have also included reflections on the dilemma of an insider and/or outsider approach in relation to ethics, methods, power and positionality.