Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Weaving Individualism into Collectivism: Chinese Adults' Evolving Relationship and Family Values 1

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Weaving Individualism into Collectivism: Chinese Adults' Evolving Relationship and Family Values 1

Article excerpt


The implementation of the open-door policy and the one-child policy has resulted in a dramatic cultural and societal shift in Chinese society (Shek, 2006; Short and Zhai, 1998). The interpretations of this evolution and of the subsequent contemporary Chinese cultural framework have far-reaching and significant implications. Although China was found to be among the most collectivistic cultures (e.g., Oyserman, Coon, and Kemmelmeier, 2002), conceptualizing Chinese people as a uniformed whole is unproductive for researching and understanding the Chinese culture (e.g., Dervin, 2011). As such, it would be meaningful to examine how Chinese people differ in their attitudes on the individualistic-collectivistic spectrum because of individual variances in demographics (such as age, gender, and education attainment) and experiences (such as their interaction with foreign media and with their parents), and possible mechanisms through which demographic variables affect individuals' relationship and family values. The author will first briefly review relevant literature on the subject.

Generational Shift

The traditional view of Chinese people as uniformly conforming to collectivistic cultures might describe older generations more accurately than it might younger generations. Older generations of Chinese people were raised predominantly in an enclosed collectivistic context, mostly insulated from the influence of Western, individualistic cultures. The nature of this context, however, has transformed since the implementation of the open-door policy. The influx of Western cultures in particular has influenced younger Chinese people, as the Western cultural influence is generally observed to occupy an increasingly greater presence in younger Chinese generations, with the social environment for such influences also becoming gradually more tolerant and cooperative. Whereas some scholars considered the importation of Western cultures as dangerous and erosive (Wang, 2006), other scholars noted that, in response to the individualistic culture imported under the open-door policy, the state adapted to provide a legitimate context (i.e., regulated individualism) in which Chinese individuals can absorb and develop both individualistic and collectivistic traits (Cheung and Pan, 2006).

Subsequent to these societal and cultural shifts, many empirical studies conducted in the last decade have indicated growing similarities between Chinese and individualistic cultures with respect to people's attitudes. For example, in a cross-cultural comparison study, Peppas (2004) found that the Chinese sample (mean age = 40.3 years) closely mirrored the American sample (mean age = 30.9 years) in five of the 10 values examined. Both groups agreed on the importance of self-reliance, hard work, material wealth, change, and of being direct, open, and frank in working relations. The values of self-reliance, material possessions, directness, openness, and frankness were unexpected responses from the Chinese sample, because these traits are more characteristic of individualistic cultures. Studying 400 Chinese middle-school students, Shi (2006) found that these students presented a mix of Confucian and Western opinions concerning the characteristics of a good student and a good teacher. Referring to the Generation-X Chinese as bicultural (with knowledge of both the collectivistic and individualistic cultures), Zhang (2010) found that younger Chinese consumers between the age of 18 and 35 were equally persuaded by collectivistic and individualistic ad appeals, whereas older Chinese were more persuaded by collectivistic than individualistic ones. Though traditional Confucian relationship and family values remain fundamental to Chinese people, younger Chinese are likely to endorse individualistic relationship and family values more than older Chinese do.

Education Experience

The education experience and the integration of elements of individualistic cultures into the mainstream Chinese education system likely have promoted younger Chinese people's acceptance and approval of individualistic values as constituting part of their generational culture. …

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