Cultural Values and Communication Online: Chinese and Southeast Asian Students in a Taiwan International MBA Class

Article excerpt

Whereas many researchers have examined differences in values and behavior between Westerners and Asians, fewer have investigated differences within Asian cultural groups. A recent government initiative in Taiwan to encourage international education has led to the development of an international MBA program at the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan; both Chinese and Southeast Asian students participate in the program. They exhibit different behaviors in their classes, particularly in their postings in online discussion boards. For reasons that can be partly explained by the students' responses on a Chinese-Value Survey, Chinese students tend to post fewer messages than Southeast Asians, and both groups post fewer messages than Westerners in the classes under study. instructors in multicultural classes have to consider such differences when they design assignments and set expectations for students in online discussions.

Keywords: Chinese values; cultural differences in online behavior; differences in Chinese and Southeast Asian MBA students


DIFFERENCES IN VALUES between Westerners and Asians have been analyzed by many researchers (Hall, 1976; Hofstede, 1980, 1997; Triandis, 2004). Nevertheless, differences also exist within Asian cultural groups, differences often not recognized from a Western perspective. A recent initiative by Taiwan's government to encourage international education gave us, at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Tainan, the opportunity to study differences in cultural values between Chinese and Southeast Asian students. This article reports on one research project that analyzed the impact of those values on student participation in an online portion of two MBA classes.


The recent government initiative was a major contributor to the development of our international MBA (IMBA) program. NCKU is a well known and highly ranked university within Taiwan and internationally. The IMBA program was inaugurated in July 2003 with a limited yearly enrollment of 55 students, with 25 of those slots reserved for local Taiwan students. Although Taiwan universities have always accepted applicants from overseas, with large numbers of overseas Chinese traditionally applying, non-Chinese-speaking foreign students entering Taiwan face the often insurmountable problem of language. Even though textbooks written in English are often used, lectures in Taiwan are given in Mandarin Chinese, which non-Chinese-speaking students find difficult, especially the technical vocabulary used at the MBA level.

With the launch of the IMBA, for the first time a Taiwan business program has specifically reserved space for foreign applicants to ensure a multicultural classroom setting. In the context of Taiwan's diplomatic isolation by the People's Republic of China, this, and other similar programs, is an attempt at directly creating business and social relations with other countries. Although anyone can apply, accepted foreign students are mostly from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Local Asian MBA programs are common and are offered at all top universities, along with executive MBA (EMBA) programs; both tend to focus on local business issues and are taught exclusively in local languages. Exceptions include the use of English in classes offered at some business schools in Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. With existing MBA, executive MBA, and international management programs within the College of Business, NCKU was able to draw on resources and experience to create the new program that differed from previous offerings by holding class lectures completely in English and emphasizing an international perspective. Locally applying students were required to pass a minimum TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) score, and international professors were actively recruited for teaching. The result was a program set in a Chinese cultural environment, but the emphasis within the program was on Western MBA approaches taught in English. …