Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Culture and Management - a Study of Small Chinese Family Business in Singapore

Academic journal article Journal of Small Business Management

Culture and Management - a Study of Small Chinese Family Business in Singapore

Article excerpt

Since 1965, Singapore has achieved rapid economic growth through industrialization, resulting in a major change in its social and economic structures. However, small industries, mostly family businesses run by manager-owners and employing between 10 and 100 workers, still comprise about 80 to 90 percent of the industrial firms in the country. They play a vital role in the national economy.

Because Singapore is an open economy and is lacking in natural resources, it is exposed to and has heavily relied on the outside world. With the recent emergence of larger-scale multinational corporations adopting advanced technology and modern management methods, the local small-sized Chinese organizations are under the strong pressure of a changing environment to upgrade their present level of technology and management know-how in order to compete in the local, regional, and international markets. As a result, local Chinese organizations are facing a dilemma - whether to retain traditional Chinese management practices or to adopt modern Western management styles. There is a strong desire to find a proper balance between acquiring the knowledge needed for the modern economy on the one hand, and maintaining character development, moral values, and loyalty to the country on the other. This article aims to contribute to the understanding of the characteristics of Chinese management and the problems small Chinese family businesses face in Singapore.

The Characteristics of Chinese Management

There are four key features of Chinese management that are distinctive from Western management and are persistent in most of the Chinese organizations: human-centeredness, family-centeredness, centralization of power, and small size. Each of these are discussed below.

Human-Centeredness. Chinese management is perceived as a human-centered management style, emphasizing human relationship (Warrington and McCall 1983; Sheng 1979; and Menkhoff 1993). People are the center of concern, and great attention is paid to issues of emotion and trust. Any management decisions have to take emotion into consideration. "For Chinese, the business relationship is always subsumed under the moralistic notion of friendship, loyalty, and trustworthiness" (Sheng 1979). Highly associated with concern for feelings and respect of relationships is the concept of "face" (Redding and Ng 1982). "Face" is used as a mechanism for inculcating a strong sense of group responsibility and serves as a mediating force in social relationships. The Chinese have been characterized as being very particular in dealing with others. The so-called "Five Relations" - sovereign-minister, parent-child, husband-wife, elder-younger brothers, and friends - represent the acceptable patterns of interpersonal relationships. There are five corresponding virtues: loyalty, filial piety, faithfulness, care, and sincerity.

Family-Centeredness. Family is important in any culture; however, it is extraordinarily so in Chinese culture. "Chinese have learned relationships with others almost exclusively from the family experience" (Hsu 1984, 758). Being the primary agent of socialization for Chinese culture, the family has exerted the most significant influence on the individual's value system and role expectations. These personality features form the basis of cooperation and interaction with others. "Relation among family members provided the human basis for the moral virtues of the Chinese" (Nakamura 1964, 268); a Confucian saying advises that "Those who love their parents, dare not show rudeness to others" (quoted from Lin 1935, 179). Many Chinese organizations are family-run businesses; family relationships are inevitably brought into organizations, and organizations are run like a family. For example, the Chinese consider filial piety to be the first and the ultimate of all virtues. Thus parental authority has a strong impact on Chinese management. In an organization,the boss-employee relationship follow the model of filial piety found in the parent-child relationship. …

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