The Analysis of Tendency of Transition from Collectivism to Individualism in China

By Cao, Jia-xue | Cross - Cultural Communication, December 31, 2009 | Go to article overview
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The Analysis of Tendency of Transition from Collectivism to Individualism in China

Cao, Jia-xue, Cross - Cultural Communication


This essay introduces Individualism and Collectivism dimension of a culture and the differences between the two patterns, indicating possible factors promoting the shift from collectivism to individualism, and describes as well as analyses the current changes in China in different fields and tendency of China to transfer from collectivism to individualism.

Key words: Collectivism; Individualism; Post-80s Generation in China

Résumé: Cet essai introduit la dimension de l'individualisme et du collectivisme d'une culture et les différences entre ces deux modèles en indiquant les facteurs possibles de promouvoir le passage du collectivisme à l'individualisme, décrit et analyse les changements actuels en Chine dans de différents domaines et la tendance de la transition du collectivisme à l'individualisme.

Mots-clés : collectivisme ; individualisme ; la génération post-80 en Chine


Individualism and collectivism (I-C) have attracted great attention among cross-cultural scholars and intercultural business researchers, and most of them would categorize China into one of the typical countries of collectivism. Indeed, many Chinese people would like to consider themselves as collectivists and have been proud of this great tradition. However, the assumption made, and most researches done in I-C seem incompatible with the current situations in China.

This paper aims at investigating and analysing the current tendency of transition from collectivism to individualism in China and attempts to explain how and why the shift comes into the life of Chinese people. The argument is based on the contemporary theories of individualism and collectivism, especially Hofstede and Triandis, and supported by the evidences of changes, as there have been a great economic growth and rapid modernization process in the last 20 years, and with the development come the changes, that can be seen in almost every part of social life, as well as in the economy system, political and educational institutions. One of the changes, although arriving quite unexpectedly, is the move from collectivism to individualism, both physically and ideologically. This tendency of individualism, in return, has brought about more changes in cultural dimensions in China, especially among the young people, the so-called "Post-80s Generation", who will be exemplified for the analysis.


2.1 The Features of Individualism and Collectivism

The understandings of individualism and collectivism differ among different people in the different parts of the world. Generally speaking, as social practice, they reflect different social values, attitudes, beliefs, norms, behaviours, obligations and relationships between people in different cultures.

Hofstede (2001) identified individualism and collectivism as one of the five dimensions of Culture (the other four are Power Distance, Uncertainty Avoidance, Masculinity and Femininity, and Long- and Short-term Orientation) and elaborated the individualism and collectivism (I-C) dimension as "the relationship between the individual and the collectivity that prevails in a given society", reflecting "in the way people live together", with "many implications for values and behaviours" (2001, p209).

Triandis (1995) described individualism and collectivism as a "social syndrome" and based on the work of other researchers, summarized the four universal factors of their constructs:

1) The definition of self is interdependent in collectivism and independent in individualism (Triandis, 1995; Tjosvold et al, 2003);

2) Group goals have priority in collectivism and personal goals have priority in individualism (Triandis, 1995; Cai «fe Fink, 2002; Tjosvold et al, 2003; Lu, 1998).;

3) Social behaviours are guided by norms, obligations and duties in collectivist cultures; attitudes, personal needs, rights, and contracts are the focus of social behaviours in individualistic cultures (Triandis, 1995; Cai «fe Fink, 2002);

4) An emphasis on relationships is common in collectivist cultures, while rational analysis of that relationship is common in individualistic cultures (Triandis, 1995; Cai

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