Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 303–321 | Cite as

Confucius or Mozart? Community Cultural Wealth and Upward Mobility Among Children of Chinese Immigrants

  • Wei-Ting Lu


Most studies of Chinese upward mobility focus on how immigrant community institutions sustain ethnic culture to foster educational success. In contrast, I analyze how community-based music schools develop a cultural strategy to guide immigrants to pursue enrollment in prestigious colleges by utilizing high cultural capital in classical music. Chinese immigrant families take advantage of information networks in these schools to develop a bonding form of social capital that allows not only middle-class families but also working-class families to redefine the meaning of ethnicity. This is theoretically surprising, because some theory predicts that middle class status is needed to benefit from such cultural capital. Through competence in Western classical music, Asian students signify their well roundedness, an achievement that goes beyond rote learning. Chinese families pursue this musical cultural strategy to incorporate themselves into mainstream educational institutions. Research on the strategic use of nonoppositional musical culture for educational mobility suggests the limitation of segmented assimilation theory.


Cultural capital Social mobility Chinese Americans Immigrant community Music education 



The author thanks Robert Sauté, Philip Kasinitz, Robert Courtney Smith, Paul Attewell, Pyong-Gap Min, David Seitz, Pei-Chia Lan, Kuan-Yi Chen, Lihuan Chuo, the journal editors and reviewers for their insightful comments, and the study’s participants for sharing their stories with me.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, The Graduate CenterThe City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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