A tale of two cities: digital place-making and elderly Houniao migration in China

Yongjian Li*, Amanda Paz Alencar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


The last four decades have seen a growing trend of Chinese ageing migrants originating from the North move to the South during winter and return during summer, resembling snowbirds. The flexibilization of the household registration system, increasing urbanisation, and infrastructure development have led to a new spatial pattern of mobility and the search for new lifestyles among elderly populations with the support of ICT, the so-called Houniao (‘snowbirds’) migration phenomenon. Building on the results of a qualitative study with 24 elderly Houniao participants in the city of Sanya, China, this study applies the concept of digital place-making to explore elderly’s use of smartphones and social media in daily practices during their seasonal migration to Southern cities in China. Our study distinguished three digital place-making-related themes:
(1) making social contacts and establish a sense of community in their new city,
(2) rebuilding their identity and place through food by using digital media,
(3) connecting to places and feeling active in older age.
The findings of this study revealed the importance of improving the design and implementation of inclusive policies concerning the digital lives of elderly people.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1032-1049
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the China Scholarship Council [Grant number: 201908420262]. The authors are grateful for the helpful feedback and suggestions from the anonymous reviewers on an earlier draft of the paper. Sincere thanks to all the participants for their selfless sharing of their fascinating life stories. Special thanks from Yongjian Li to Mr. Bo Zhang: ‘your vital support and encouragement made me be proud of and fight for myself, which I will never forget.’ This paper is dedicated to my grandfather, Mr. Chunlan Li, all my family members, and my beloved friends both in China and the Netherlands. Author contributions: YL, AA designed the study; YL analyzed the data; YL, AA wrote the paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


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