When visiting China I found Hofstede’s cultural dimension of individualism vs. collectivism to demonstrate the most significant difference between Eastern and Western societies. Evidently The New York Times columnist David Brooks agrees with me, as he stated in his 2008 article, Harmony and the dream, “One of the most striking is the divide between societies with an individualistic mentality and the one with a collectivist mentality.” Even though long-term orientation has been documented with the largest spread between Chinese and American scores (Purdue University, N.D.), I believe that understanding the differences between an individualistic vs. collectivism philosophy and approach to life would be beneficial for visitors and managers of business ventures alike.
Cultural Dimension Scores of U.S. and China (Purdue University, N.D.)
|Power Distance||Individualism||Masculinity||Uncertainty Avoidance||Long-term Orientation|
According to the China PR Country Landscape report (Global Alliance, 2012), China is a highly collectivist society. Its rich culture is more than 3,000 years old and strongly influenced by Confucianism which offers guidelines to maintain a well-ordered and harmonious society.
As stated on the Hofstede website (2015), individualism vs. collectivism addresses the “degree to which individuals are integrated into groups.” People in collectivist societies, such as China, are “integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.” Further, in collectivist societies, people tend to value duty, underestimate their own performance and are not comfortable taking credit for their contributions (Brooks, 2008).
My personal observation is that family is key to most Chinese citizens. I frequently saw many multi-generational groups of people. It is also clear that children are cherished. I’ve never seen so many fathers carry their sons and daughters! Further, our tour guide proudly shared many stories about or frequently referenced her grown son. In addition, whenever I asked Chinese locals how their families had fared during the typhoon that hit Shanghai they were very appreciative of this recognition and eager to speak of their loved ones.
But looking beyond personal relationships to a business venture, I’d like to note that whenever someone in our group expressed appreciation for something, no individual accepted the compliment. Instead, they acknowledged the tour company’s role.
Armed with such understanding, I think it is fascinating to anticipate and look for indications of potential conflict in China, a country that embraces a collectivist mentality at the same time it is moving to a free-market economy, encouraging its citizens to make purchases, and championing entrepreneurship.
Brooks, D. (2008, August 11). Harmony and the dream. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/12/opinion/12brooks.html
Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management. (2012). China PR country landscape. Retrieved from http://www.globalalliancepr.org/website/ sites/default/ files/nolie/PR%20Landscapes/China-2012.pdf
Hofstede, G. (2015). Dimensions of national cultures. Retrieved from http://geerthofstede.nl/dimensions-of-national-cultures
Purdue University (N.D.). Working across cultures – China: Cultural profile. Retrieved from https://globalhub.org/resources/2731/download/012_Working_Across_ Cultures_China.pdf