Seeing through the Confucian ceiling: Chinese and Korean mothers in England

Dr Hyun-Joo Lim

This year’s British Sociological Association annual conference was held at Glasgow Caledonian University on the theme of ‘Societies in Transition: Progression or Regression?’ Taking place in April each year, it is the biggest Sociology conference in the UK. With so many great opportunities to meet new and old academics, I always find this event utterly exciting and inspiring. 

At this conference I presented a paper examining the experiences of Chinese and Korean mothers in England – titled ‘Seeing through the Confucian Ceiling’. This paper is drawn from life history interviews with ten Korean and eight Chinese mothers living in England. I analysed my data using six analytical categories, which are: motherhood and gender ideology; educational level; reasons for migration; the length of stay in England; economic circumstances of the family; and the local communities in which they reside. The paper has been submitted to Families, Relationships and Societies and is currently under review. It aims to address the following questions:

1. In what ways does the motherhood ideology of Chinese and Korean mothers in England differ, and what impact does this have on their decision towards childcare and employment?

2. What are the major factors affecting such attitudes and behaviours in a diasporic setting?

3. What implications does this have on gender relations at home for these women?

I focus on the different motherhood ideologies of Chinese and Korean women and how this impacts on their employment and childcare.

Historically both China and South Korea have been heavily influenced by Confucianism, an ancient Chinese tradition that is refined by Confucius, which supports patriarchal gender relations. The key principles of Confucianism include: hierarchical human relationships, fulfilment of individual duties, communitarian values over individual ones, filial piety, and importance of seniority. Yet, simultaneously China and Korea have undergone divergent socio, political and economic development. For instance, China has only opened up the economy to market competition since 1978, much later than Korea, whilst maintaining its socialist political system. On the other hand, Korea has followed the capitalist market economy and the democratic political system since the establishment of the Republic of Korea in 1948. As a consequence of this, China and Korea have developed different ‘national cultures’, founded on the distinctive socio, economic and political characteristics of the individual countries. In line with this, existing studies conducted in these countries have indicated that despite the impact of Confucian patriarchal ideals on both societies, women in China and Korea have heterogeneous understandings of what constitutes ‘good’ mothering (e.g. Cho, 2002; Rofel, 1999). Thus, there are notable differences in the employment patterns of women with dependent children between China and Korea (see Brinton, et al. 1995; Cook and Dong, 2011).

My findings suggest that Korean mothers retained their traditional values and gendered roles, having chosen not to get involved in paid employment in order to undertake childcare responsibilities. They strongly supported intensive mothering, in which the mother takes the major responsibility for her children. Often the women described mother’s employment as having a detrimental impact on their children’s emotional wellbeing. Even those who were in employment did not show much difference in terms of their support for intensive motherhood.

By contrast, Chinese mothers did not endorse intensive mothering and showed their strong inclination to work even after moving to England, similar to their middle-class counterparts living in urban China. They constructed this as an effect of Mao’s socialist work ethic, under which they were brought up, irrespective of their economic circumstances and educational levels. In this sense, their paid work was not a mere means to provide financial support for the family, unlike existing literature has suggested, but also a crucial part of their identity.

However, despite seemingly stark differences between the two groups, gender relations at home appear to be similar. Although the accounts of Chinese mothers seem to indicate gender equality on the surface, their interview data suggest continuing gender inequality for the majority of these women, taking the double burden of childcare and paid work. Although Chinese and Korean mothers showed very different beliefs and attitudes towards employment, all the women took the primary responsibility for household labour, regardless of their educational level and employment status.

In terms of intersecting analytical components, Chinese and Korean women’s motherhood and gender ideology as obtained in their country of origin, along with their settlement into respective ethnic communities, continued to have a dominant impact on their lives in England. As for the other four analytical categories, they seem to have had less obvious impact on Chinese and Korean women’s lives. However, drawing on Hall (1990), it could be suggested that what is considered to be ‘an East Asian way’ in a transnational setting is not the same as what it is in their ‘home’ countries because it is ‘imagined’ and ‘reconfigured’ in a diasporic context. In this sense, I argue that the mothering ideologies and gendered lives for my participants are ‘hybridised’ forms that are distinctive from those existing in both their ‘home’ countries and England.


The social sciences at BU

In response to an open email invitation, a group of social scientists from across BU met on Tuesday 17 March to discuss prospects for inter-Faculty collaboration. As in previous meetings between FMC and HSS colleagues, it was apparent that there were opportunities for more collaborative work than currently exists, and that there is considerable enthusiasm for developing links. A growing presence of the social sciences in BU, and of BU in the social sciences, was felt to be essential to BU’s development as a university with a rich intellectual community. If you haven’t received the report from this meeting by email, and would like to do so, please email Prof. Barry Richards (

New paper by Dr. Mastoureh Fathi

Congratulations to Mastoureh Fathi for her latest paper: “I Make Here My Soil. I Make Here My Country” in Political Psychology.


Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen


NIHR Panels and Boards are Recruiting

NIHR research programme boards and panels select the most important research questions to commission, and make funding recommendations on project applications.

They are looking for additional expertise for the boards or panels of the following programmes:

  • Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation (EME) Programme
  • NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research (HS&DR) Programme
  • NIHR Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme

For more information please see: Opportunities to influence Health Research


Australia endorses “New Learning and Teaching Standards for Environment and Sustainability Higher Education”

As colleagues will be aware, I have been a passionate advocate of education for sustainability (EfS) and global citizenship. I have worked across the sector to support change, and within BU have contributed to such things as the People and Planet Green League, Eco-campus and many other iniatives to enhance our environmental credentials but also to ensure that through education, we prepare students to lead (and make a difference) in a context that is global but also has to be sustainable.

We have more to achieve at BU in relation to the educative agenda, so in this regard I am sharing this work from Australian colleagues. I would not suggest that we need to impose standards but I would suggest that we might all consider how we could do more to ensure that the learning we provide enables our graduates to become better custodians of the world.

New Learning and Teaching Standards for Environment and Sustainability Higher Education

New national standards for tertiary qualifications in Environment and Sustainability have now been released. The standards are endorsed by the Australian Council of Environmental Deans and Directors (ACEDD) and have been developed through an intensive twelve month process, including consultation with the broad Australian and international stakeholder community of tertiary educators and researchers, employers and practitioners, students, indigenous people and other environmental educators. These standards can be used to design and deliver innovative environment and sustainability higher education in Australia. The standards are included in the Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement for Environment and Sustainability, available from or via the Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching website ( For more information about the standards and the process of their development please contact the project co-leaders:

Dr Bonnie McBain ( or

Dr Liam Phelan (



Representations of PR – online resource

Representation of professions and employment takes many forms and is often shaped by books and visual and aural media.

In the public relations field, characters such as Edina in Absolutely Fabulous and the foul-mouthed spin doctor Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It are well known, as are terms like “PR success” and “PR disaster”, even though the events may have little to do with public relations practices or activities.

Apart from one US researcher, Professor Joe Saltzman of the University of Southern California, there has been little investigation of representations of public relations in books and entertainment media.

Working with colleagues in Australia, Sweden and the US, Professor Tom Watson of the Faculty of Media & Communication developed the PRDepiction blog:​ in 2012.

“We wanted to create a resource that would offer a catalogue of books, films, TV and radio, as well as articles, and encourage interdisciplinary research,” said Professor Watson.

As the blog has a relatively simple structure, additions and amendments can be made quickly. It has just been overhauled with a new look and revisions and more entries.

“PRDepiction has grown over the years and become more international. The latest additions include TV series in Australia and the UK, and a three-book series on a fashion PR guru from Australia,” said Professor Watson.

Additions can be sent to PR Depiction as blog Comments or to The blog also has a Twitter address, @PRDepiction.

PRDepiction's Twitter logo

“I should have married an Englishman”: East Asian women’s perception of their husband’s ethnicity on gendered division of household labour


Dr Hyun-Joo Lim, Faculty of Health and Social Sciences

University of Bristol’s Centre for East Asian Studies at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies organised a workshop on Europe and East Asia for PhD researchers and early careers academics on Friday 27 March. This was a great opportunity for an academic like me, whose interest lies in East Asia and migrants from this region, to present my work and to network with emerging scholars in the field.

My presentation in this workshop focused on East Asian (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) women’s perception of their husband’s ethnicity in the division of housework and how they construct different modes of masculinities based on ‘race’ and ethnicity. This paper was drawn from my PhD, which examined the life stories of first generation East Asian women living in England. One of the objectives of the study was to explore gender relations at home and the ethnicity of the husband emerged as a major factor affecting them. My findings indicate a certain degree of differences in the division of household labour between couples, depending on whether they have got married to British men or East Asian men. Three participants reported to have egalitarian gender relations at home with men sharing housework and childcare either equally or even taking primary roles. All the women in this category got married to white British men. By contrast, 11 women said that they took almost sole responsibility for housework and childcare, regardless of their employment status. Among this group all but one woman were married to East Asian men.

Whilst the above findings are interesting and illuminate some degree of reality in these women’s experiences, the aim of my research is not to present a generalisable fact. Rather, I was interested in how these women construct divergent modes of masculinities in their talk and its theorisation. Therefore, my paper focused more on the nuanced meanings of East Asian women’s narratives and the impact of cultural imperialism on their perception of masculinities. More revealing than my above findings is the way women divide masculinities along the racial line and place a kind of hierarchical order. Often in their stories British men were depicted positively as egalitarian and doing a lot in the house. If they didn’t, they were represented as outdated like East Asian men. In contrast, East Asian men were portrayed as backwards and traditional, who did not move a finger in the house.

The idea of ‘racialised masculinities’ was developed from the concept of ‘racialised femininities’ based on the work of Pyke and Johnson (2003), which explored the way second generation Korean- and Vietnamese-American women construct femininities in their everyday life. According to this study, young Asian American women depicted American and Asian femininities in a dichotomised way, similar to the way my participants talked about British and East Asian masculinities. Their participants represented American femininity as independent, active and assertive, superior to Asian femininity, which is seen as passive, weak and hyperfeminine. My paper illuminates East Asian women’s internalisation of the discursive construct of the Orient by the West (Said’s 1978) and how it continues to affect their everyday psyche, resonating in their language. I concluded the presentation, arguing that racially divided masculinities overlook persistent gender inequality in Britain as well as variation within a society. For instance, it is well documented that women continue to take the majority of household work, including childcare, in Britain, despite some increase in men’s participation (e.g.  Crompton, et al. 2007; Geist 2010; Kan 2012). Simultaneously, a growing number of East Asian men, especially those who are well educated and have professional jobs, are contributing more and more to housework and childcare (Ishii-Kuntz, et al. 2004; Schwalb, et al. 2004, 2010; Yoon and Chung 1999). The paper was very well received with a lot of follow-up questions and round table discussions.



We regret to inform you ….

It is always disappointing for an academic author to receive a rejection letter.   Today I received yet another one from Midwifery (published by Elsevier).   Sometimes I think academic publishing in good journal is not getting any easier over time.  Neither does the experience of having  over two hundred peer-reviewed academic papers make a rejection easier to deal with.  This was my third paper in a row that got rejected by Midwifery.  All three papers were rejected on resubmission, so a lot of extra work had gone into these papers after the initial peer review and the editor’s feedback.  These three papers where led by three different postgraduate students (Sharma, Baral & Burton) as first authors, and in each case co-authored by myself and different BU academics and/or from other universities.

Midwifery is the journal in which I have published more papers than any other journal (see top blue piece of pie in ‘Documents by source’) as reported on SCOPUS today (26 April 2015).  Moreover, I am co-author of one of the top five most downloaded papers in Midwifery for 2014 (see recent BU Research Blog), and this paper is also the most cited Midwifery paper since 2010!   Still I manage to have three papers rejected in a row.

What is does show to me is that the journal’s peer review system is robust (i.e. blind and impartial) because I am also a member of Midwifery’s editorial committee.  I think it is back to the drawing board and discuss with each set of authors what the next step should be for our papers.  To be fair we had a paper published already this year in Midwifery, namely:  Grylka-Baeschlin, S., van Teijlingen, E.R., Stoll, K., Gross, M.M. (2015) Translation and validation of the German version of the Mother-Generated Index and its application during the postnatal period. Midwifery 31(1): 47–53.

As an editorial board we try continuously to maintain a high quality of papers to be published in our journal, and we would like to encourage potential authors to keep submitting their papers to Midwifery.

Prof. Edwin van Teijlingen


BU SDRC Contributions to WIT Contact & Surface 2015 International Conference

BU SDRC Director Dr Zulfiqar Khan (Associate Professor) organised a special session on “Surface Engineering” at the WIT 2015 Contact and Surface International Conference and contributed as a member of the International Scientific Advisory Committee (ISAC) as a reviewer during 2014-15.

SDRC Professor Mark Hadfield chaired the special session and also helped the conference as a member of the ISAC to support review process.

BU academics and researchers along with the SDRC international partners from Gazi University Turkey contributed presentations and have submitted the following extended full length papers to the WIT International Journal of Computational Methods & Experimental Measurements (CMEM), which are all currently under review for publication.

  1. Khan, Z., Pashaei, P., Bajwa, R., Nazir, M. H., & Cakmak, M. (2015). Fabrication and characterisation of electrodeposited and magnetron sputtered thin films. In Contact and Surface 2015. València, Spain. Retrieved from
  2. Saeed, A., Khan, Z., & Hadfield, M. (2015). Performance Evaluation of Surface Protection Applied to Large Vehicles. In Contact and Surface 2015. València, Spain: Wessex Institute, UK. Retrieved from
  3. Gultekin, A., Pashaei, P., Khan, Z., Ozturk, M. K., Tamer, M., & Bas, Y. (2015). X-ray and ab initio study of structural, electronic, elastic and optical properties in Be1-xZnxS alloys depending on Vegard’s law. In Contact and Surface 2015. València, Spain. Retrieved from
  4. Nazir, M. H., Khan, Z. A. (2015). Maximising the Interfacial Fracture Toughness of Thin Coatings and Substrate through Optimisation of Defined Parameters. In Contact and Surface 2015. València, Spain: WIT. Retrieved from

WIT is currently collaborating with BU in Corrosion research through a post doc programme Mark Hadfield (PI), Zulfiqar Khan (Co-I) led by Dr Adil Saeed as a post doc researcher.

Corrosion (experimental, modelling and simulation) and Surface Engineering (nano coatings) research within BU SDRC is conducted in collaboration with multinational industrial partners through match funding with significant in-kind experimental support.

For further details on current research activity in SDRC please visit the Centre webpage. If you have interests in these areas and would like to find more please contact Dr Zulfiqar Khan

CEMP / CEL Research Bulletin April 2015




The latest CEMP bulletin, now combined with the Centre for Excellence in Learning, is now available as a PDF  CEMP CEL bulletin April 15  or word doc  CEMP CEL bulletin April 15

The bulletin provides a ‘top 20′ of research funding opportunities related to education, learning and pedagogy research and grouped into the the three BU learning research sub-themes: Media and Digital Literacies, Practitioner Enquiry and (Higher) Education Dynamics.

To follow up any of these opportunities, please contact Julian or Richard in CEMP or Marcellus Mbah in CEL.

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