IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Building halos: how do Chinese elites seek distinction through (mis) recognising studying abroad?

19 October 2021, 2:00 pm–3:00 pm

Person looking at city in Shenzhen, China. Image: Robert Bye via Unsplash

In this webinar, Dr Ye Liu and DrWenqin Shen will discuss why Chinese elite graduates choose to study abroad and how they construct “distinction”.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE)

The speakers will discuss statistical analyses suggesting that students from leading cadres and managerial families actively pursued study abroad as “extra time” to make distinction, which games out even elite graduates without adequate economic resources.

Using a case study of Peking University (PKU) and drawing upon empirical data from a first-hand survey study, in-depth interviews and observations, a pattern of distinction is found making through “building triple halos”, which encompasses dual processes of educational emulation and (mis)recognition.

The qualitative data reveal a complex process of distinction-making that connects individual agency and educational processes with organisational intermediaries. The elites signal superiority by building three “halos” (elite schools, PKU and the Ivy League scholarship-holders) - a process gradually narrowing the circle of “us” and excluding aspirational “others”. 

This individual level of distinction-making is coordinated with collective consensus, and organisational intermediaries in seeking, justifying, and (mis)recognising studying abroad as a pathway to distinction.

The presenters will further reveal the complexity of the identities of the PKU elites as both possessors and challengers of distinction and yet, the main beneficiaries being the agents of the study-abroad industry - who not only consolidate their client base in PKU but also pursue a new business route of accommodating the challengers. This particular finding will be discussed in relation to China’s recent crackdown on the study abroad industry.

Although this event is free and open to everyone, it will be particularly useful to academics, alumni and students interested in Higher Education, China, international students and Chinese students.


Dr Ye Liu (King’s College London, UK) and Dr Wenqin Shen (Peking University, China).

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Image: Robert Bye via Unsplash.