The Self-Perception of Ability of Chinese Children in China and Hong Kong: Gender and Grade Differences

Article excerpt

The purpose of the study was to examine the self-perception of ability by Chinese children with respect to gender and grade differences. A total of 1,679 boys and girls in three primary grade levels from Mainland China and Hong Kong were included, and an indigenously developed multidimensional self-concept scale (MMSI) was used. Results showed that in both the China and Hong Kong samples, boys were found to score a little lower than girls in three self-concept domains: academic, social, and general. Primary One students were found to score higher than Primary Three and Five students in all four domains: academic, appearance, social, and general. Results also indicated that children from China were higher than children from Hong Kong in appearance, social, and general self-concept. Significant interaction effects of society by grade and gender by grade were found. The findings were discussed with respect to the developmental process of Chinese children.

Recent research has given considerable attention to the study of the development of Chinese children. Such attention is due very much to the interest in understanding the reasons for Chinese children's high academic performance (Sue & Okazaki, 1990). In general, this line of research has been able to yield findings to expand and modify concepts in traditional Western developmental theories (e.g., in the meaning of parental control in childrearing practices, Chao, 1994a, 1994b, Wu, 1985). Apart from this amount of effort, the focus of research is mainly on the academic and cognitive development of Chinese children (cf. Stevenson & Lee, 1990). Relatively limited research has thus been done on other aspects of Chinese children's psychological development. The perception of abilities or competence, a major aspect of one's psychological make-up and driving force for various behaviors (White, 1959), is in particular worthy of research attention. The present study was to examine this area of development.

In brief, how would Chinese children perceive themselves with respect to their ability in different domains of life? Moreover, how would Chinese children of different genders and grade levels perceive themselves? The answers to these questions are not at all clear as relatively little research has been done. The uncertainty is also partly due to the lack of any indigenously developed research instrument. The purpose of the present study was therefore an attempt to fill this empirical gap by examining the self-perception of abilities by Chinese boys and girls of three grade levels with an indigenous self-concept measure. Moreover, in order to provide a broader understanding of the self-perception of Chinese children, samples of children in Mainland China and Hong Kong were included for investigation and comparison.

Previous research has shown that the construct of self-concept or self-perception of ability is multifaceted in nature (Harter, 1982; Shavelson, Hubner, & Stanton, 1976). The domains of academic ability, appearance, social ability are common aspects of self-evaluation of competence among children. The MMSI (Multi-Perspective Multi-Domain Self-Concept Inventory) instrument used in the present study, apart from general ability, would thus include the measure of the above domains. This instrument is an indigenously developed self-concept measure and has been shown to be high in reliability and validity among younger and older (from grade one to nine) Chinese children in previous studies (Lau & Cheung, 1991; Lau, Chan, Lau, & Hui, 1997). One special feature of the MMSI is that it includes perceived parent, teacher, and peer appraisals as well as self appraisals (Cheung & Lau, 1997). The inclusion of Multiple perceived appraisals in the design of the instrument is unique and important as these persons are significant others and major sources of evaluation for children and adolescents (Cooley,1902; Felson, 1985; Festinger, 1954). …