This article looks at the difference between global digital nomadism as a disruptive form of mobile sociality within the space of flows and Chinese lifestyle migration as a sedentarist form of lifestyle mobility. Mobile sociality is understood as the ability to remain connected with home despite being on the move while lifestyle mobility is understood as the need to make and unmake homes while on the move. The use of mobilities paradigm as a theoretical lens demonstrates the fundamental difference between the two lies in their orientation towards territority as a homing desire. The article concludes that Chinese lifestyle mobility has yet to achieve the mobile sociality of global digital nomads, despite both being equally imbricated within the state of constant connectivity.
- Digital nomad
- Constant connectivity
- Mobile sociality
- Lifestyle mobility
1 Travel and Mobility in China
Movement has been associated in its long history with notions of freedom, progress, and agency. Similarly, it has also been treated with suspicion, distrust, and at times outright hostility. In other words, movement is hardly, if ever, empty of significance. Meanwhile, the identities and knowledge we form through it are the result of the various meanings we attach to what might otherwise be a simple fact of displacement or travel. The meaning that emerges through movement constitutes our understanding of mobility and identity according to Cresswell, who considers places as imbued with contested meaning and power. This becomes readily apparent when we consider religious pilgrimage as an example of mobility practice, where the identities of pilgrims and their sense of agency or purpose are inseparable from the meanings attributed to a sacred place of worship and the journey undertaken towards it, whether this is Lhasa in Tibet or Mecca in Saudi Arabia. It is in this sense that we can understand Cresswell’s claim: “If movement is the dynamic equivalent of location, then mobility is the dynamic equivalent of place.”Footnote 1 In a more secular sense, we may also understand the identity formation of migrants because of physical displacement from their homeland. From an ontological perspective, if being alive is to be animate in one way or another that presupposes movement, then mobility can be considered a manner of living and thinkingFootnote 2 or a way of being in the world.Footnote 3
Since the reform and opening up policy four decades ago, China has 285 million migrant workers in 2020,Footnote 4 approaching the population of the United States as well as the largest annual human migration on the planet during the Spring Festival, which CNN estimated to involve some 3 billion trips in 2020.Footnote 5 A review of the literature confirmed that this is the case, with attention largely focused on rural–urban migration involving “floating labourers”;Footnote 6 student mobility for Chinese scholars in terms of tourism and travelFootnote 7; or in relation to the hukou system in China.Footnote 8 However, there are only two studies that specifically focus on lifestyle mobility in China.Footnote 9 Apart from conventional tourism, what is immediately clear is that mobility and travel in China tend to take place at both ends of the spectrum: between the rural–urban migrants and affluent retirees.
This chapter adopts the mobilities paradigm as a theoretical lens to examine travel in China within the context of information revolution to see how they contribute to meaning and identity formation. As a paradigm, mobilities was conceived as a sociological concept that could overcome the categories of migration, exile, tourism, nomadism and encapsulate the movements of goods, people, capital, and information. Despite the large numbers of migration and tourism within China, a recent study noted that mobility is not a common theme within China.Footnote 10 This is interesting because the mobilities paradigm has become increasingly prevalent within sociology. What are the reasons for this difference in relation to travel, what are the implications for identity formation and how can we better understand this? By examining lifestyle relocations within China made by Chinese retirees in recent years, this chapter employs the mobilities paradigm to understand how this lifestyle mobility differs from the mobile sociality exhibited by other groups in the West and what this difference reveals in terms of their fundamental orientation.
Cohen et al. introduced the term “lifestyle mobilities” as a way of exploring the intersection between travel, leisure, and migration in relation to digital nomads and their chosen lifestyle practices, which they claimed to “provide both a unique sense of personal identity to their adherents on the one hand and a distinct and recognisable collective identity on the other.”Footnote 11 In other words, lifestyle mobility is intrinsic to identity formation as it is also a sustained and fluid process carrying over time, as opposed to more temporary forms of mobility such as tourism and its associated consumption practices noted in various studies.Footnote 12 It is also useful to note here the asymmetry between the two modes of travel, with migration associated with displacement and economic necessity while lifestyle mobility tends to be related more to agency and choice as a result of economic affluence. To better understand what constitutes lifestyle mobility, this chapter will also briefly discuss digital nomads and see how their mobility practice compares with mobility practices in China.
Xu and Wu adopted the concept of lifestyle mobility to illuminate complex social changes concerning retirees in Sanya and lifestyle entrepreneurs in Lijiang who pursued self-realisation despite having no prior business experience. Their study revealed a degree of alienation from locals in addition to their dominant purchasing power in the local housing market.Footnote 13 Meanwhile, Zhang and Su looked at lifestyle migrants and the “simultaneity of alienation and belonging” in making second homes in Lijiang, or downshifting for the purpose of pursuing leisure.Footnote 14 They noted that “[d]riven by a conscious ethos of autonomy and comfort, lifestyle migration is often regarded as a privileged mode of mobility. Nevertheless, being privileged does not necessarily mean that lifestyle migrants can escape from this not-so-ideal world and indulge themselves in a self-centric living condition.”Footnote 15 Conversely, downshifters and lifestyle migrants share a common ground since they are aware of the negative consequences brought by “a high-speed, work-dominated, consumerist lifestyle”Footnote 16 and they make efforts to discover what they need in their life journey. Therefore, privilege or political asymmetry cannot be divorced from the fact of travel for the Chinese lifestyle migrants and constitutes a crucial aspect of their identity formation.
While being on the move has arguably become a normative state for many people in late modernity, this was also amplified by advances in information and communications technology (ICT), which have enabled a new form of mobility practice by offering the possibility of location-independence. With nearly one billion internet users and 67% mobile internet penetration with 5G networks at this time of writing, it is difficult to ignore the network effects this may have on mobility practice in China, although the lack of attention in current literature makes this even more intriguing. Although this may now seem self-evident in a post-COVID world characterised by online meetings and the reality of work from home for many, this was hardly the case in 1997 when the idea of digital nomadism was first proposed.Footnote 17 Makimoto and Manners speculated that the pace of silicon chip development would eventually result in what they called “location-independence” as information networks matured sufficiently to enable real time video-conferencing between different locations on the globe. Instead of substituting the need for travel, this technological development would in fact intensify the need for co-presence as people became more aware of other cultures and places, ushering in what Makimoto and Manners called digital nomadism.Footnote 18
If we accept that movement contains within it asymmetries represented by social actors—such as refugees (war/conflict), exiles (political), migrants (economic), tourists (leisure), and nomads (classless)—then the answer to that question may well have subversive potential, because it can loosen the statist control of governments whose sovereignty is delimited by geographical borders, or disrupt social norms and traditions that have acculturated over time in a place.Footnote 19 To better understand this, the chapter will juxtapose the form of lifestyle mobility in China with the recent emergence of digital nomadism as a mobility practice, since current discussions have predicated heavily upon the concept of home for these lifestyle migrants in China, yet without fully taking into consideration how technological advancements have also blurred the boundaries between “making and unmaking home.”Footnote 20
In both studies on China (Xu and Wu, Zhang and Su), the use of lifestyle mobility was useful in exploring “the changing relationships between individuals, communities and the state, between rural and urban contexts, and between the concepts of ‘home’ and ‘away’ in China.”Footnote 21 Just as digital nomads balance life-work and blur the conventional dichotomies of home and away, these Chinese lifestyle migrants engage in a similar practice although they do so for quite different reasons. In the case of pre-modern China during the late nineteenth century, the free movement of individuals was restricted, and in 1958, the hukou system was implemented to prevent Chinese cities from becoming over-populated due to rural–urban migration. According to Bosker et al., there were two main purposes to the implementation of the hukou system. The first served as a restriction to accessing public provisions such as education, healthcare, and housing, while the second provided a demographic distinction between agricultural and non-agricultural workers.Footnote 22 Not only did this have the intended effect of restricting movement domestically, acting as a form of domestic visa to travel within the country, this also limited international mobility.Footnote 23 The consequence was that hundreds of millions of Chinese workers were unable to fully exploit their earnings potential.Footnote 24 In other words, the hukou system stemmed to a large degree both capital and human flows, and rather than living in a liquid form of modernity, the moorings of the hukou system as a political expedient or state science of classification discouraged mobility within China.
The other factor that accounted for the difference between mobility in China and global mobility was cultural. The sociologist Fei Xiaotong described Chinese traditional society as an “acquaintance society,” which meant that people built small social circles based on personal relationships that subsequently orient their interactions.Footnote 25 More commonly known as guanxi, these are relationships that are also based upon kinship and belonging, which is also expressed in the notion of laoxiang (meaning “hometown folk”), which is an imaginary provincialism based around a nostalgic sense of place. Trust is more readily accorded to folk who hail from the same town or city. This is not surprising, because according to Cresswell the moral geographies of place and mobility interact to inform ontology, epistemology, politics as well as both practice and material culture—which he referred to as a form of sedentarist metaphysics. The sense of place serves “as an authentic insurer of authentic existence, and as a center of meaning for people” while mobility threatens or disrupts the moral sense of place.Footnote 26 In this way, place and rootedness is an extrinsic criterion of authenticity and morality for the Chinese. If we take into further consideration that China has been a landed agrarian empire for most of its 5,000-years of recorded history, then it is easy to understand the form of sedentarist metaphysics that Cresswell is forwarding. Writing about European history rather than China, Cresswell noted: “Feudal society was intensely territorial. Kings, as figures close to God, granted land to their vassals and demanded obedience in return. These new landholders could, in turn, collect tribute from those who worked on their land.”Footnote 27 In China, this would also foster a sense of collectivism, the nuclear family becoming the syntagm of power for ruling emperors within a Confucianist social order. The question here is, would technological advancements and internet penetration in China be capable of “melting the solids” and enable a similar mode of lifestyle mobility that has been observed in the West?
2 Digital Nomadism and the Space of Flows
Manuel Castells’s The Rise of the Network Society (1996) theorised a distinction between space of flows and space of places. According to Castells, the space of flows refer to the “simultaneity of social practices without territorial contiguity,”Footnote 28 and within the space of flows information and capital are intersected by nodes of communication infrastructure while hubs organise exchanges or movement of people (such as airports, harbours and bus stations). Calling for a sociology without recourse to a rigid and sedentary view of society, John Urry proposed viewing the “social as mobility” instead, thus establishing the mobilities paradigm.Footnote 29 This means that any understanding of society needs to take into consideration the flows of movement enabled by advances in communication technologies. This on the one hand increases similarity in travel practices between China and the West in view of China’s internet penetration, but on the other hand also reveals some fundamental differences.
To further understand the impact of technology on travel and mobility, it is useful to consider existing literature that connects nomadism as a conceptual metaphor with the fluidity of network society. The information revolution is seen within the historical context of similar revolutions that have hitherto shaped human society, following the agricultural and industrial revolution. Media theorist McLuhan first argued that with the advent of electric media humans became nomadic gatherers of knowledge and information,Footnote 30 and this was extended by Meyrowitz to claim that the development of wireless communication would finally untether us from a fixed place or territory, reverting to a prelapsarian state of being “global nomads.”Footnote 31 Understood in this sense, the nomad emerged as a metaphorical figure of mobility that embodied the principles of movement, freedom and connectivity according to the network logic of the information revolution, and her revolutionary character was that she also formed a sort of classless unit beyond the classification of state science or control.Footnote 32 It is therefore not difficult to see why the nomad is often romanticised as an ideal or even ethical state of existence within the space of flows. As human civilisation had only settled down around 8,000–10,000 BCE to practise agriculture, the possibility of location-independence would ultimately raise questions as to whether we are settlers or nomads at heart, since life-sustaining labour is no longer tethered to a specific place or territory.Footnote 33 Would the information revolution finally bring us full circle to a time before the sedentary forms of life and society which were necessitated firstly by agriculture, and later the factory, freeing the human potential to move unhindered by government control? In a time marked by travel restrictions, border closures, and COVID lockdowns it becomes easier to understand the emancipatory appeal represented by the figure of the nomad.
As an example of mobility practice that arguably captures this form of movement within the space of flows as well as providing a useful analogue to understanding lifestyle mobility in China, we will briefly consider the emergent phenomena of digital nomadism in the West. Digital nomads can be considered within the subset of global nomads, and the latter is described by Kannisto as location independent travellers who stay away from home for extended periods of time rejecting the ideology of settled society.Footnote 34 What distinguishes digital nomads from global nomads is that they are the most connected travellers, using social media extensively to generate knowledge about their lifestyle.Footnote 35 This in turn creates a “mobile sociality” as an added layer of identity, which refers to their ability to stay connected with home despite being on the move, blurring the boundaries between home and away as digital nomads construct, edit, filter, and share their trips interactively.Footnote 36 The digital nomad is therefore a hybrid identity that intersects work, leisure, and travel. I will look at the inward and outward motivations behind this choice of lifestyle, before finally turning my attention to China to see what the lack of digital nomadism or lifestyle mobility might reveal about its social fabric.
Reichenberger offered a working definition of digital nomads based on three levels of activity and independence drawn from respondents:
Digital nomads are individuals who achieve location independence by conducting their work in an online environment, transferring this independence to mobility by not consistently working in one designated personal office space but using the possibility to simultaneously work and travel to the extent that no permanent residence exists.Footnote 37
According to Reichenberger’s definition, one may be considered a digital nomad if one were to work on an ad hoc basis at different cafés or at different coworking locations in the same city without a consistent designated office space (level 1). One might also travel intermittently with returns to a designated home base (level 2), or travel full-time without a designated home base or permanent residence (level 3). With each increasing level the ties to a sense of place becomes progressively weakened as the transference of location independence towards mobility is maximised. A useful distinction may also be drawn between digital nomadism as an assemblage of work and living that is technologically enabled at a macro level, and the practitioners who adopt location-independence as part of their lifestyle design in pursuit of their self-directed goals and motivations at a micro level.
Freedom is a key motivating factor in the decision of many digital nomads, and while there is professional freedom and personal freedom because of location independence, the freedom to pursue their chosen leisure activities supervenes both. In doing so, digital nomads re-prioritise intrinsic values that are self-determined over external forms of hierarchical evaluation.Footnote 38 However, the pursuit of leisure and enjoyment inevitably comes with the cost of social isolation and loneliness.Footnote 39 Stebbins’ theory of “serious leisure” is relevant here, as the choice of location for many digital nomads is oriented by their leisure interests rather than local employment possibilities.Footnote 40 This is not entirely different from the Chinese lifestyle entrepreneurs who move and relocate to seek self-actualisation. In this sense, digital nomads are different from migrants who travel to work in a sedentary job at the place where they land.
Travel constitutes the key part of the mobility practice of digital nomads. A meaningful question here is to ask how does their mode of travel differ from conventional tourism apart from the duration and degree of immersion? Or, in choosing locations for their leisure pursuits how do they differ from regular tourists? The first distinction is that within the field of tourism and migration studies, the assumption of a home is implied as the origin and end of travel. Tourists travel, depart, enjoy leisure time and return home while migrants move from one home to another.Footnote 41 Meanwhile, as part of their mobile sociality, digital nomads are at home wherever they are; or, to put it differently, they revel in their state of homelessness. As a result, they develop a reflexive attitude of cosmopolitanism. Genuine cosmopolitanism is described by Hannerz as “first of all an orientation, a willingness to engage with the Other. It entails an intellectual and aesthetic openness toward divergent cultural experiences, a search for contrasts rather than uniformity.”Footnote 42 In this way, Kannisto suggested that global nomads (and by extension digital nomads) can provide us with a useful mirror of society,Footnote 43 recalling the Simmelian figure of the stranger whose objectivity is due to his distance, being near and far at the same time.
Digital nomads tend to regard their own mode of travel as being more authentic or embedded than regular tourists, although their consumption habits show little perceptible difference. Thompson noted that “the behavior of the digital nomads in these decidedly tourist destinations does not distinguish themselves from the tourists or ex-pats in their selection of living with other Westerners, staying oblivious to local culture, traditions, and language, and socializing with other foreigners and service workers.”Footnote 44 For many digital nomads, this is a source of alienation despite the mobile sociality and their ability to maintain contact with home. In the absence of a curiosity that focuses on the encountered landscapes, objects, and people in which digital nomads live, the curiosity generated through the lifestyle change reflects much more on the inner self. Digital nomads hence become curious about the impact of travel and space on the possibility to remake home.
Location independence is an enabling factor that is common to all digital nomads, just as freedom as a motivating factor is common to all. This is deeply significant, because pursuing digital nomadism as a lifestyle first involves a choice that is not forced upon its adherents due to an inability to find regular sedentary jobs. This is not a decision most of us within the sedentary population would consider lightly as it involves planning, commitment, and sacrifice—unless the freedom involved also consisted in the freedom to do something in addition to the freedom from something else. The pursuit of leisure therefore constitutes the pull factor of that freedom; while conversely, the escape from alienation constitutes the push factor towards the need for freedom. In the following section, I will consider the effect of alienation and how it affects identity of Chinese lifestyle migrants.
3 Alienation and the State of Constant Connectivity
In the Chinese context, capital flows and forces of modernisation have resulted in a sense of self-alienation. It is worth noting that the nomadic state also involves alienation from others as a result of isolation from family and friends back home as well as local culture, although it seems that digital nomads would rather experience estrangement from others than self-estrangement since they can just as easily end their nomadic state.Footnote 45 This sense of alienation is found in work that is devoid of personal meaning commonly known as the rat race in the West or the recent phenomenon of involution in ChinaFootnote 46 that manifests itself as a desire to understand the self through encounter with alien culture,Footnote 47 or the alienating nature of digital infrastructure itself. Many respondents in Zhang and Su’s study look at how affluent Chinese lifestyle migrants withdraw to Lijiang from metropolitan Chinese cities to pursue a different lifestyle characterised by greater ease and slower pace of life: “I was so engrossed in my work that my body and spirit became disorganized. Hence, I decided to migrate to Lijiang for rest and recovery. When you work very hard and spend over 14 h every day doing business in big cities, you suffer from mental disorder and an irregular life.”Footnote 48 The sense of alienation experienced in the lack of meaning in one’s work pushes these lifestyle migrants to seek autonomy and self-actualisation. One may also note here the paradoxical consequence of the network society, as humans become self-estranged nodes that are bereft of meaning despite the surfeit of information/capital flows. At the same time, the lifestyle migrants in China are motivated by a recuperative need for holism and balance between work and life,Footnote 49 and in this regard, it is not different from those in the West: “In the morning, I carry a basket and walk through the old town to buy vegetables in the fresh market nearby. This is an authentic life, replete with autonomy and ease.”Footnote 50 Nevertheless, there is a difference in terms of how Chinese lifestyle migrants view their estrangement from others due to a more collectivist culture, which necessitates them to make and unmake homes in order to find that balance.
A common aspect that features prominently in both digital nomadism and Chinese lifestyle migrants is the dichotomy between home and away. Migration studies have pointed out that as a consequence of constant connectivity and global cultural flows, the home is “not so much a local, particular or self-enclosed space, but rather […] more and more a ‘phantasmagoric’ place.”Footnote 51 The consequence of this is that while digital nomads are able to practice a form of mobile sociality that is location independent, this is not the case for the Chinese lifestyle migrants. They engage in an idealised process of home making that consists in “an experience of ideal lifestyle, a place of comfortable dwelling, and a site of control and resistance.”Footnote 52 This form of dwelling is related to an originary manner of inhabiting a place. While both digital nomads and Chinese lifestyle migrants suffer from a degree of isolation and uprootedness as a result of mobility, the reasons behind it are quite different. To understand this, Cresswell’s distinction between sedentarist and nomadic metaphysics is useful here:
The first (sedentarist metaphysics) sees mobility through the lens of place, rootedness, spatial order, and belonging. Mobility, in this formulation, is seen as morally and ideologically suspect, a by-product of a world arranged through place and spatial order. The second (nomadic metaphysics) puts mobility first, has little time for notions of attachment to place, and revels in notions of flow, flux, and dynamism. Place is portrayed as stuck in the past, overly confining, and possibly reactionary.Footnote 53
For Chinese lifestyle migrants, the notion of home is always tied to an originary sense of place and rootedness as a form of dwelling and belonging, which is defined in territorial and thus sedentarist terms. Having said this, it is interesting to note that Chinese lifestyle migrants bear some similar attitudes towards place as described by Cresswell, because they view themselves as more “modern” in seeking self-actualisation and potential while viewing natives in Dali and Lijiang as being “backward.”Footnote 54 However, this is probably more motivated by relative economic class and privilege than simply the sense of place. This bears some correlation to Zhang and Su’s observations: “I think I am a local. Tourists also regard me as a local. Nevertheless, I never regard myself as a Lijiang native.”Footnote 55 Being local (by choice) is not the same as being native (by birth), since it is the exercise of autonomy due to economic privilege that marks the identity of these lifestyle migrants as being hegemonic or superior. Nevertheless, these nuanced differences cohere with Cohen’s observation that “the destabilisation of home and away characteristic of lifestyle mobilities engenders tangled senses of identity and belonging.”Footnote 56
At the same time, home making is a process of creating a sense of belonging that draws upon both material and imaginative elements, through social and emotional relationships.Footnote 57 However, because of the collectivist culture in China, “the boundaries of home can go beyond rooms and walls to touch upon neighborhoods, cities, and even countries.”Footnote 58 This is quite different from the mobile sociality that digital nomads in the West are able to construct via social networks and online communities, where the ability to stay connected with home through communication networks creates a travelling community centred on the traveller rather than the native community.Footnote 59 This mobile sociality exhibited by digital nomads also allows individuals to portray, construct (and reconstruct), and relieve their trips interactively within their mobile sociality as they experience them.Footnote 60 The dislocation of homeness takes place both through the replicated co-presence of one’s personal communities (which become mobile, accessible anywhere and anytime) as well as the perpetual contact with everyday life. By contrast, Chinese lifestyle migrants may choose to “unmake home, that is, leave for a new destination for another ideal home or return back to their original place.”Footnote 61 This homing orientation is strong for the Chinese due to the sedentarist metaphysics that is implicitly assumed in their culture so that they “make” and “unmake” home as physical sites to dwell in despite being on the move.
In comparison, the boundaries between home and away are blurred for digital nomads due to digital technologies so that they can be “at home” while at the same time being “away.”Footnote 62 This practice of travelling beyond the spatial boundaries of home and not home generates knowledge specific to the technology based nomad lifestyle and in turn transforms the identities generated through digital nomadism in China. Digital nomadism as a lifestyle mobility assumes there is no singular or originary place of return, and “pre-supposes the intention to move on, rather than move back. Through lifestyle mobility, there is no ‘one’ place to which to return, and through time there may be multiple ‘homes’ that one can return to and/or visit.”Footnote 63 This should also clarify why Chinese lifestyle mobility is ultimately different from the mobile sociality demonstrated by digital nomads due to a difference in sedentarist and nomadic orientation, which is informed by culture. Although the literature also points to the importance of informal social circles or quanzi as sources of support for Chinese lifestyle migrants,Footnote 64 this does not constitute a mobile sociality in the sense significant for digital nomads. Natives are excluded and Chinese “lifestyle migrants still retain their original local and familial relationships in their home areas, which leads them to visit home at certain times every year and allows them to go back if they face difficulties.”Footnote 65 In other words, Chinese lifestyle migrants retain an originary place of return despite being on the move due to a fundamentally sedentarist orientation that can cause dissonance or difficulty for a hybridised identity.
A useful place of discussion can be found in the history of Chinese diaspora and migration. In particular, sinologist Wang Gungwu recommends understanding historical Chinese migration patterns through the lens of the sojourner: “Migration was simply not an option; only sojourning on official duty or as a trader was permissible […]. Leaving home was feared, and seeking settlement elsewhere was an unwelcome prospect.”Footnote 66 In this sense, the Chinese sojourner or qiao suggests a journey marked by a temporary stay as a prelude to eventual migration with extended options. For the overseas Chinese population, this continues to have significant implications for their sense of identity despite centuries of movement, leading Ang to comment: “What I would like to propose is that ‘Chineseness’ is a category whose meanings are not fixed and pregiven, but constantly renegotiated and rearticulated both inside and outside China.”Footnote 67 As China becomes increasingly a mobile society with a rising middle class that is able to exercise its privilege and autonomy,Footnote 68 this renegotiation of meaning and identity is likely to have social effects as we observe an opposite move from urban to rural or touristic destinations, just as the labour migration of floating observers towards cities have in the past. For this reason, lifestyle mobility is likely to become an emergent area of research interest despite the current dearth of studies.
This chapter looked at the lifestyle mobility of Chinese lifestyle migrants relocating to rural or touristic destinations in China to escape from the sense of alienation in urban city life. Taking into context postmodernity and the information revolution, we looked at the mobile sociality exhibited by digital nomads in the West as an analogue to understanding the motivations and implications for this social demographic in China. While there are certain similarities shared between Chinese lifestyle migrants and digital nomads in their search for self-actualisation, meaning and self-identity, the discussion also revealed important differences. By employing the mobilities paradigm to understand this emergent social trend in China, we were able to draw a useful distinction between sedentarist and nomadic orientations to understand the process of identity formation and knowledge production in relation to their mode of travel. We noted that the lifestyle mobility of Chinese lifestyle migrants did not reach the level of mobile sociality exhibited by digital nomads in the West, and this is interesting despite the large internet penetration in China and the prevalence of social media usage. Will this change in the future? Looking briefly at the history of Chinese diaspora and movement suggests that despite centuries and generations of migration the Chinese have generally viewed this as a sojourn or temporary travel despite making and unmaking homes in new destinations, which result in a constant renegotiation of hybridised identities.
What is common to both Chinese lifestyle migrants and digital nomads is that alienation constituted a push factor towards the adoption of a mobile lifestyle to recuperate a sense of holism despite triggering other forms of alienated identities in relation to their local communities. Despite the enabling factors of network logic and communication technologies in facilitating movement and travel, the Chinese lifestyle migrants do not appear to be “at home on the move” in achieving mobile sociality as a substitute for family ties or originary notions of home. Future research should focus on their use of social media to stay in touch and how they construct a local community as part of their identification process that is distinct from the native community while they travel.
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Tan, K.C. (2022). Mobility and the Middle Kingdom. In: Mueller, C., Salonia, M. (eds) Travel Writings on Asia. Palgrave Series in Asia and Pacific Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-0124-9_11
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