China’s Emphasis on Social Belongingness

China, along with Japan and Korea, is one of those countries whose cultures put great emphasis in forming a collective society, striving for harmony and a sense of belongingness within a group, whether it is with a family, a group of friends, co-workers, a class, etc.

This is in direct contrast to the individualism practiced in Western countries such as the United States, France, and Germany. These cultures emphasize personal achievement even if it comes at the expense of the goals of the group. This results in competitiveness among group members.

China scored 20 on the Geert Hofstede scale, which measures different aspects of a country, such as the levels of inequality, uncertainty avoidance, and individualism. This score led the Hofstede Centre to rank China as a “highly collectivist culture,” where people will act in the interest of the group and not necessarily of themselves.

In spite of this ranking, recent studies have shown that the culture of China is greatly influenced by Western values. Television ads targeting the general public place more emphasis on collectivist values, but the magazine ads that target the younger generation stress individualism and modernity.

Within the Chinese Culture, one can find collectivism in how individuals define themselves with the group to which they belong and the achievements of those within same group. Bearing that in mind, it is also common practice within the Chinese culture to have an obligation to the group, exchanging favors frequently and putting loyalty above all else.

Chinese collectivism dates back to the country’s early history. According to M. Lockett (1988), group orientation is considered a key feature of Chinese society, and is common not only to the People’s Republic of China, but also Taiwan, Hong Kong, and overseas Chinese communities.

The collectivist way of thinking is rooted in Confucianism, where people with social personalities and “community men” are valued. The Chinese culture encourages each person to conform to society, to keep silent about beliefs or opinions that go against the group, and to do what’s best for the unit rather than for the individual.

The tenets ren and yi are central to Confucianism. Ren is the obligation of each individual to be altruistic and help others, while yi is the need to be righteous and aspire to a good moral disposition. Confucianism requires that people be ready to sacrifice their lives if necessary to uphold the tenets of ren and yi.

On the other hand, researchers have observed more Western ways of thinking and “a growing spirit of Chinese-style individualism” among young managers in China.

These practices make Chinese companies vastly different from those found in the west, where companies become like a family of sorts. The result of this is the tendency towards a “less professional” relationship between employers and employees, evidenced by how employers will extend financial assistance to their employees without much question. This is similar to the Chinese concept of Guanxi. Nevertheless, employees still show respect for their employers, despite the kind of relationship they share with each other.

Next: What is in Store for China?