title: Pressure from “Involution”: Understanding Parents’ Expectation and its Relation with Mental Health Among Chinese International Students
(1) Define “involution” and relate it to English Context: Chinese original definitions and their equivalence in the English language context (e.g., limited resource environment leading competence)
(check article: https://www.britannica.com/topic/involution-anthropological-and-economic-theory. / https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/chinas-involuted-generation. /https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-12-04/-Involution-The-anxieties-of-our-time-summed-up-in-one-word-VWNlDOVdjW/index.html
(2) Comparative analysis of the sources and causes of involution——— compare them with similar phenomena among US students（e.g.， parents’ high expectations can be seen in both Chinese and American or high expectations from Asian American families)
(3) Involution: interaction of various factors， do these factors interact the same way among Chinese international students in the US and American international students who study in other countries? (this can also be used in the future directions section)
(4) How do”involution” and parents’ expectation influence mental health? (e.g., parents’ expectations on academic performance, pressure from your peer or society)
———————————————- (It’s hard to write about it and it’s an introduction for thinking)
Key Word: Involution, Parents’ Expectation, Mental Health,
The idea of involution within Social Science originally comes from anthropologist Clifford Geertz (Form & Nico, 2020) who found a process of inward over-elaboration within agricultural development, such that putting more effort and work would not lead to further growth or expansion in production. Sociologists then adopted the term “involution” to describe the phenomenon that occurred during the post-Open Door China era where young generations were competing against each other much harder than before but had neither significant breakthroughs among their living standards nor growth in per capita output since the rice economy of the Yangzi Delta (Huang, 1990; Little, 2010). Essentially younger generations were trapped in a pattern of “involutionary growth” (Huang, 1990). The Chinese term for involution is Neijuan (“内卷”), which is composed by Nei (“inside”) and juan (“rolling”) at the same time (Liu, 2021). According to Liu (2021), anthropologist Xiang Biao describes Neijuan as a process that spirals inward, entangling its participants in an “endless loop of self-flagellation”. Involution as it is referred to in the context of sociology, is defined as the sense of being locked in a competition that one eventually realizes is pointless (Liu, 2021). Furthermore, Xiang Biao states that in the 1990s, heated competition began because people were afraid of being left behind (Zhou, 2020).
China’s economy has been actively involved in the global economy since the implementation of the Open-Door Policy in the 90’s (Zou, 1996). Many Chinese entrepreneurs started their businesses and gained money from various investments through the Open-Door Policy. The economy was growing rapidly, offering citizens at the time much room to climb the socioeconomic ladder. The generation that had the first bite of the cake did not need to compete excessively as all the big cities were filled with opportunities. However, this generation was involved in the formation of involution within domains of education, career, and income. In other words, the next generation is likely to just find crumbs on the table since the big pieces are gone. Another term that often shows up with the involution among Generation Z is “996”, which means a work culture that requires employees to work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This working culture is popular among many Chinese internet giants that encourages employees to work as long as they can every day. The competition in the real world now becomes much more intense than before, so Chinese parents start to prepare their children to get ready to this “fight and survive” type of involutionary competition and workaholic environment as early as enrolling after school programs since kindergarten.
A derivative of this pressure and involutionary competition is that parents are urging their children to study abroad. According to a 2018 report from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, as of 2017, over 608,400 Chinese students study abroad annually. The downstream effects of the One-Child Policy alongside a developing middle class resulting from economic growth (Li, 2010; Waters, 2006; Yeung, 2013) has resulted in a dynamic where Chinese parents channel their resources towards their single child. Sending their children abroad for university education provides them an opportunity for social mobility and success (Li, 2010; Tsong & Liu, 2009; Tu, 2016; Zhou, 1998). Studying abroad reflects the nature of competition from involution. These parents often have high expectations of their children who study abroad. The expectations in part are a result of the involutionary environment and the sacrifice and expense from international education. Some parents evaluate the studying abroad experience as an investment, so that they expect a high return on investment (ROI), such as pursuing high-income jobs afterward. The high expectation may put additional pressure on their children’s shoulders who study worldwide.
Most studies that examine the cause of international students’ stress mainly focus on acculturative stressors and challenges to college adjustment, such as language barriers, academic performance, and loneliness as they relate to student’s pressure and related-mental issues (Williams et al., 2018). However, parents’ high expectations may also be related to students’ pressure and mental health as well. For instance, the high expectations from parents may pressure students to perform well academically or increase stress about their career pathway. Chinese international students as a community not only compete with the domestic students in the United States for career opportunities, but also compete with the domestic students in China. Neijuan (Involution) provides a meaningless and negative competitive environment. The highly competitive environment may become a tremendous pressure and cause anxiety. Another serious issue is that international students are mostly unaware of how their parents’ expectations are correlated with their pressures and mental health status. It may influence them not to seek help from a peer or the university center.
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