Study Gods

Study Gods

How the New Chinese Elite Prepare for Global Competition

Yi-Lin Chiang


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How privileged adolescents in China acquire status and why this helps them succeed

Study Gods offers a rare look at the ways privileged youth in China prepare themselves to join the ranks of the global elite. Yi-Lin Chiang shows how these competitive Chinese high schoolers first become “study gods” (xueshen), a term describing academically high-performing students. Constant studying, however, is not what explains their success, for these young people appear god-like in their effortless abilities to excel. Instead, Chiang explores how elite adolescents achieve by absorbing and implementing the rules surrounding status.

Drawing from eight years of fieldwork and extensive interviews, Chiang reveals the important lessons that Chinese youth learn in their pursuit of elite status. They understand the hierarchy of the status system, recognizing and acquiring the characteristics that are prized, while avoiding those that are not. They maintain status by expecting differential treatment and performing status-based behaviors, which guide their daily interactions with peers, teachers, and parents. Lastly, with the help of resourceful parents, they rely on external assistance in the face of potential obstacles and failures. Chiang looks at how students hone these skills, applying them as they head to colleges and careers around the world, and in their relationships with colleagues and supervisors.

Highlighting another facet of China’s rising power, Study Gods announces the arrival of a new generation to the realm of global competition.


Yi-Lin Chiang:

Yi-Lin Chiang is assistant professor of sociology at National Chengchi University in Taiwan. Twitter @chiang_yilin Instagram @yilin.chiang