Open Access
Yang, He
Graduate Program:
Recreation, Park and Tourism Management
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
January 11, 2007
Committee Members:
  • Harry C Zinn, Committee Chair
  • Garry Chick, Committee Member
  • Geoffrey Clay Godbey, Committee Member
  • Eva Sharon Lefkowitz, Committee Member
  • emerging adults
  • affordance
  • constraints
  • discretionary time activities
  • Chinese college students
  • cultural identity
  • meanings of leisure
  • gender difference
The overarching aim of this qualitative research was to understand the experiences of college students in China, with focus on discretionary time activities, perceived changes in cultural orientations and leisure meanings. Because data collection was in progress partly during the 2003 SARS medical epidemic in China, when restrictions were imposed on students, this research also includes an examination of the impact of SARS on students’ discretionary time choices. This research is reported in three separate articles that address three unique sets of research questions, but all data come from time diaries and in-depth interviews of a sample of 16 college students in Xi’an, China, in 2003. The focus of the first article is how people make choices about activity engagement during discretionary time. Discretionary time choices are of increasing interest to those studying quality of life issues. Assuming choices are made to maximize individual welfare, several factors are believed to influence these choices. Constraints theory from leisure research suggests these choices, within a set of motivations to maximize personal welfare, are heavily influenced by intrapersonal, interpersonal and structural constraints. Leisure affordance theory focuses on these motivations by suggesting the importance of more positive influences on choices within a set of constraints. In this study an inventory of discretionary time activities and reasons for choosing these activities was documented for a sample of Chinese college students. Because of the occurrence of an unanticipated SARS epidemic, the impact of the SARS crisis on students’ daily choices was also examined in detail. Findings revealed that, despite the constraints imposed by SARS, particularly the suspension of off-campus activities, some students did not perceive a change in daily life, while others perceived positive changes in attitudes and behavior. Findings are important not only because they shed light on the experiences of college students in China, but also because decisions made during this very influential time of life may affect future choices related to discretionary time. The second article focuses on the extent to which Chinese college students perceived globalization impacts on their cultural orientations, or cultural identity. This is an important research topic as college students, or “emerging adults,” are going through a critical life stage of transition from adolescence to adulthood, with active exploration in worldviews and identity as an important characteristic. Worldviews and cultural identity achieved at this stage of life is likely to persist through adulthood. Students with a variety of characteristics were asked to describe western and traditional Chinese cultural orientations towards many aspects of life, and discuss their perceptions of shifts in orientation among young Chinese students as a result of increased exposure to western orientations. A majority of participants thought that the cultural identity of college students in China today is a mixture of some traditional Chinese attitudes and beliefs and some Western attitudes and beliefs. These students believed that the primary sources of traditional orientations are family, community, school, books, and the media, whereas the primary sources of Western characteristics are media, books, peers, school and society. Students reported that they find the mixture of traditional and western cultural orientations is good, or at least acceptable. The competition/cooperation spectrum, one major aspect of citizenship roles, was explored specifically. Competition was believed to be extremely important by these Chinese college students, while cooperation, although also believed important, was observed less in behaviors. Participants identified many contextual factors that encourage competition in the lives of college students in China and identified fewer opportunities to cultivate cooperation. Findings suggest that emerging adults in China, and possibly in other non-Western countries, are susceptible to developing bi-cultural, or multicultural, identities as a consequence of globalization-caused increase in exposure to other cultures, and that this shift will likely be evident in changing citizenship roles, leaning increasingly towards individualism and away from collectivism. The focus of the third article is an investigation of how Chinese college students view the role of leisure in their lives. Emerging adults are believed to enjoy more freedom and opportunities to explore identity through leisure activities than during their adolescent years and adulthood, and leisure provides an important context for both individual and social identity exploration. This article explores gender differences in leisure preferences and the self-reported likelihood of persistence of college leisure activities into later stages of life. Women were found more likely than men to orient their leisure toward relationships with others. In contrast, men were more likely than women to report participating in physical activities, structured organizational activities, and playing cards and chess. Men also seemed to show more interest than women in starting new leisure activities or improving skills related to leisure activities. The majority of men in this study perceived that it was unlikely to continue their current college leisure activities after graduation, while the majority of women believed their current college leisure activities would persist into later stages of life. Time spent on leisure activities was also explored through examining shifts in activity choices in and the intensity of participation between high school and college. Findings revealed a substantial increase in engagement in leisure activities in college, suggesting strongly that the transition from high school to college is especially beneficial to Chinese emerging adults in terms of identity exploration through leisure.