Desiring Mobiles, Desiring Education: Mobile Phones and Families in a Rural Chinese Town

Part of the Mobile Communication in Asia: Local Insights, Global Implications book series (MCALIGI)


This chapter draws on ethnographic data to examine the relationship between mobile communication technologies (especially mobile phones) and learning in a small rural town in North China. Building on a wide body of literature that emphasises the enduring importance of education within Chinese culture, this chapter demonstrates how contemporary attitudes towards learning become constructed and expressed through mobile phone use. The chapter illustrates how most rural parents regard mobile phones as having an adverse impact on their offspring’s academic achievement and are keen to limit their usage. Young people nevertheless continue to find ways of accessing and using mobile phones, including creatively appropriating such devices for their own (formal and informal) learning. The chapter calls for greater consideration of the multiple domains of society that such technologies cut across – including school, family and elsewhere – in order to expose the specific instances where mobile telecommunications interact with educational ideals.


China Education Mobile phones Rural Family 



I am incredibly grateful to Elisabetta Costa, Nell Haynes, Daniel Miller, David Jobanputra, Razvan Nicolescu, Jolynna Sinanan, Juliano Spyer, Shriram Venkatraman, Sun Sun Lim and Xinyuan Wang who provided extensive comments on several draft versions of this chapter. I am particularly grateful to Ying Zhang, Zhixian Liu and Yinxue Li from Minzu University of China for their support throughout the fieldwork period. Thanks must go to the people of Anshan Town, especially the staff and students of the town’s middle school for their eagerness to help with this project. This research was funded by the European Research Council (ERC Project 2011-AdG-295486 SocNet).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong

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