Chinese Ethnicity: Value Structure and Family Orientation a Comparison With American Culture

Yigang Pan, DePaul University, Chicago, U.S.A.
Wilfried R. Vanhonacker, INSEAD, France
ABSTRACT - This paper explores the differences in the overall value structures in the Chinese and American cultures. The study shows that the underlying value dimensions in the Chinese culture are different from those in the American culture. The Chinese respondents seem to be more cohesive in identifying their value structure than the American respondents. Further, this study shows that different cultures have different set of distinctive value constructs. In other words, certain value constructs may not be directly comparable across different cultures, in that they may be defined differently and have different scope and depth in meaning in different cultures.
[ to cite ]:
Yigang Pan and Wilfried R. Vanhonacker (1993) ,"Chinese Ethnicity: Value Structure and Family Orientation a Comparison With American Culture", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 222-225.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 222-225

CHINESE ETHNICITY: VALUE STRUCTURE AND FAMILY ORIENTATION A COMPARISON WITH AMERICAN CULTURE

Yigang Pan, DePaul University, Chicago, U.S.A.

Wilfried R. Vanhonacker, INSEAD, France

ABSTRACT -

This paper explores the differences in the overall value structures in the Chinese and American cultures. The study shows that the underlying value dimensions in the Chinese culture are different from those in the American culture. The Chinese respondents seem to be more cohesive in identifying their value structure than the American respondents. Further, this study shows that different cultures have different set of distinctive value constructs. In other words, certain value constructs may not be directly comparable across different cultures, in that they may be defined differently and have different scope and depth in meaning in different cultures.

INTRODUCTION

Cross-cultural consumer behavior has received growing attention from consumer behavior researchers across the world. Studies have been published that address the ethnic difference in consumer behavior. For example, Hirschman (1981) looks at the Jewish ethnicity; Mehta and Belk (1991) address the consumer behavior of Indians; Ellis, McCullough, Wallendorf and Tan (1985) and McCullough, Tan and Wong (1985) study the Chinese ethnicity. Many other studies attempt to use value differences in different cultures in explaining behavior differences. For example, Tan and Farley (1987) find that cultural differences affect advertising. Tse, Lee, Vertinsky and Wehrung (1988) relate the cultural differences to executive decision making. Graham, Kim, Lin and Robinson (1988) examine the cultural influence on negotiation process.

However, our knowledge regarding the differences between the oriental and western cultures remains scarce. This study attempts to uncover such differences existing in the Chinese and American cultures through comparing and understanding of the basic value structures in both cultures.

CHINESE ETHNICITY

Researchers have long attempted to identify the ethnic differences between oriental and western cultures. Tan, Teoh and McCullough (1984) study the family buying behavior in an oriental culture. Montero (1981) looks at the changing values of Japanese immigrants in America. Wilson, Wilson and Greenblatt (1979) address value change in the Chinese society. The question of what is Chinese ethnicity and how to measure it remains a challenge for researchers. Ellis, McCullough, Wallendorf and Tan (1985) develop an instrument to measure Chineseness based on the seven components identified by sociologists in measuring the assimilation into a new culture. They find that their Chineseness measure could not clearly distinguish the Chinese from members of other cultures. McCullough, Tan and Wong (1985) also develop a different Chineseness measure and find that ethnically white consumers living in the United States were as Chinese as ethnically Chinese consumers living in Singapore based on the score of their Chineseness scale.

A couple of possible reasons are speculated that could be responsible to such phenomenon. First, our current understanding of cultural differences between oriental and western cultures is extremely limited and exists in bits and pieces. Based on such limited knowledge of cultural differences, it is hard, if not impossible, to develop a set of questions that would distinguish the Chinese from the Americans or the French. Therefore, it is not surprising that such measures of ethnicity yield poor results.

Second, it is possible that cultural differences are becoming less distinct as the world appears smaller with the advent of modern telecommunication, transportation and global business presence of firms. Societies are much more open and inter-related than in the past. People in different cultures learn from each other faster than in the past. Culture differences, i.e., the differences in core set of values, attitudes, customs, and norms, could be smaller today than in the past. If this is the case, it is best to study cultural difference between the Chinese and the other ethnic peoples by comparing mainland Chinese and other peoples. Mainland China is where the influence from the West has been kept to the minimum compared to Singapore, Taiwan, or HongKong.

THIS STUDY

This study takes a different approach in uncovering the cultural differences between the Chinese and Western cultures. Instead of starting with a set of few items that supposedly measure Chineseness, this study is the beginning of a long-term effort in this area and starts with an attempt in understanding the value structures in both Chinese and Western cultures. The results of this study will be the basis for later efforts in achieving a better understanding of the differences in two cultures.

Specifically, this study draws on previous literature in psychology and social psychology and develops a survey instrument that contains 160 items of questions, which incorporating measures for such scales as need for cognition, inner/other directedness, family orientation, social conformity, and high/low context. Data were collected in mainland China and USA. It was hoped that the underlying value structure could be identified for both cultures and value dimensions be compared, which would be conducive to a better understanding of behavior differences in the two societies.

DESIGN AND DATA

The survey questionnaire contains about 160 questions from different scales, which are randomly assorted. Two versions of questionnaire were created: English and Chinese. The Chinese version was the exact translation of the English version and was used by about one third of 96 Chinese subjects. 96 Chinese business students in Beijing and 96 American business students in Chicago participated in this study.

VALUE STRUCTURES

Separate factor analyses are performed on the Chinese and American data sets. The four major factors for the Chinese respondents are tabulated in Table 1. The four major factors for American respondents are tabulated in Table 2.

For the Chinese, the first factor is interpreted as Status Quo / Non-Innovative Thinking (10.13%), the second factor is Personal Achievement (6.76%), the third factor is Social Orientation (4.40%), and the fourth factor is Family Orientation (3.52%). These four factors explain 24.81% of total variance.

For the Americans, the first factor is interpreted as Personal Achievement (7.03%), the second factor is Status Quo / Non-Innovative Thinking (5.46%), the third factor is Family and Self Security (4.86%), and the fourth factor is Attitudes Toward Changes (4.41%). These four factors explain 21.76% of total variance.

TABLE 1

FACTOR ANALYSIS ON CHINESE RESPONSE

The results show that the Chinese seem to be more cohesive in identifying their value dimensions than the Americans. The first two factors account for 16.89% of total variance for the Chinese and 12.49% for the American respondents. This is expected as individuals in the oriental society are inclined to be socially or psychologically dependent on others and are tied closer to their fellow people (Hsu, 1981). They are more likely to have a set of common value dimensions than people in the western culture. In the American culture, individuals are encouraged to be different from others and to be of themselves. Thus, the value dimensions seem to have a lower degree of commonality.

As expected, Status Quo / Non-Innovative Thinking is the factor that explains the largest portion of variance for the Chinese respondents. Bennet (1979) provides support for that. He suggests that the established authority is preferred over innovation in their culture. The second major factor is the Personal Achievement.

On the American side, the first major factor is Personal Achievement, which is as we expected. What is fascinating to us is that Status Quo / Non-Innovative Thinking is the second major factor in the American culture. Traditional common belief seems to suggest that Americans highly regard innovativeness, pioneering spirits, and risk seeking instead of the opposite. This preliminary finding certainly calls for more future research to verify this.

The third factor for the Chinese is Social Orientation. Chinese society is high-context and individuals' status in the society is related to that of others. It is based on emotion and fun/excitement with family and colleagues. For the Americans, Social Orientation is less distinct a factor and seems to be incorporated in a broader notion including family relationships, work relationship, and monetary status in society.

It is also fascinating and important to note that for the Chinese, Family Orientation is a clear and narrowly defined notion. The three questions are all tied directly to family: "concerned for family, family is most important, and spend a lot of time with my family". For them, family clearly stands on itself as an important independent component of cultural values. On the other hand, for the Americans, family does not stand on itself as an independent component. As previously discussed, it is part of a broader notion of individual's status in society. Family importance relates to one's work relationships, one's wealth, fame, and power in society.

TABLE 2

FACTOR ANALYSIS ON AMERICAN RESPONSE

The Americans' concern for the changing environment and how they deal with it is a unique component, as demonstrated in the fourth factor.

In sum, the results of factor analysis show that both the Chinese and the Americans are alike in their emphasis on personal achievement, staying with status quo, and discouraging innovative thinking. The differences are in degree of importance and belief in these dimensions. The intriguing differences are that each culture has value factors that exist in different units or components. Family and social orientations are narrowly defined and exist as independent constructs in the Chinese culture. In the American culture, on the other hand, family and social orientations do not exist as independent units, but are closely related to be part of a broader concept.

FAMILY ORIENTATION

The results of factor analysis show that certain constructs, like social and family orientations, are narrowly defined and are distinct value dimensions in the Chinese culture, but may not be so in the American culture. To know how the Americans would respond to the family concept the way the Chinese define it, we construct a four item measure from the existing questionnaire that relate only to family. The highest score for this index is 20, meaning that family is most important, and the lowest score is 0, suggesting the opposite. Table 3 provides the results of the 2x2 ANOVA: American/Chinese and Male/Female. The main effort for culture is significant (p<.01), the main effect for gender is not significant and the interaction effect between culture and gender is marginally significant (p<.1).

The surprising results are that both American males and females regard family as more important than their Chinese counterparts (p<.01), when the family importance index consists of items that relate only and directly to family. This unexpected result deserves some speculative explanations.

As discussed above, family does not operate as an independent dimension in the American culture. Instead, family is part of a broader value base or unit that includes wealth, fame, power and work relationship. American culture strives for personal achievement. It is more likely that individuals regard family as the part of self or an extension of self. In other words, family is less perceived as an extension of the society. For individuals to succeed in such a society, family is part of their goals and is highly important.

In the Chinese culture, on the other hand, individuals are expected to follow the norms of the society. The importance of individuals is at a low level. Family is often perceived as a unit of society or an extension of the society to which one belongs. Individual's status in the society is determined by his/her relationship with others in the family, in the social group, or in the society as a whole. Thus, we see that third major factor for the Chinese is the Social Orientation and the fourth factor is Family Orientation. For individuals to succeed in such a society, family is important and so are other social groups. In sum, it seems that family is more important to the Americans, because family is part of themselves, and family is less important to the Chinese, because family is only part of society. The Chinese need to spill their concerns (importance) over to other social groups, like relatives, friends, neighbors, colleagues, enemies, and societal movements, etc.

TABLE 3

FAMILY ORIENTATION

CONCLUSION

This paper explores the differences in the overall value structures in the Chinese culture and the American culture. While common value dimensions are found in both cultures, differences exist in the degree and order of importance, for example the American culture most emphasizes personal achievement, while the Chinese culture emphasizes status quo and discourages innovative thinking. This study points out that different cultures have different set of value dimensions, which are not the same in their scope and definition.

For example, family orientation exists as a distinct component of Chinese value structure and is independent of other factors. In the American culture, on the other hand, family is part of a broader notion. Future studies should verify these preliminary findings and continue this stream of research in order to achieve a fair understanding of differences in consumer behavior in different cultures.

REFERENCES

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