Cultural Values and Behavior: Chineseness Within Geographic Boundaries

Seth Ellis, University of Arizona
James McCullough, Washington State Univesity
Melanie Wallendorf, University of Arizona
Chin Tion Tan, University of Singapore
ABSTRACT - This exploratory study suggests that traits associated with the ethnic identity of one culture may be exhibited by a substantial portion of the population of another culture. The trait of Chineseness was measured in an American sample and it is demonstrated that this trait and certain associated behaviors were exhibited by a significant portion of the sample.
[ to cite ]:
Seth Ellis, James McCullough, Melanie Wallendorf, and Chin Tion Tan (1985) ,"Cultural Values and Behavior: Chineseness Within Geographic Boundaries", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman and Moris B. Holbrook, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 126-128.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 12, 1985      Pages 126-128

CULTURAL VALUES AND BEHAVIOR: CHINESENESS WITHIN GEOGRAPHIC BOUNDARIES

Seth Ellis, University of Arizona

James McCullough, Washington State Univesity

Melanie Wallendorf, University of Arizona

Chin Tion Tan, University of Singapore

ABSTRACT -

This exploratory study suggests that traits associated with the ethnic identity of one culture may be exhibited by a substantial portion of the population of another culture. The trait of Chineseness was measured in an American sample and it is demonstrated that this trait and certain associated behaviors were exhibited by a significant portion of the sample.

INTRODUCTION AND CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUND

Is a person Chinese because his or her parents are of Chinese ancestry? Or can a person also be considered to be Chinese because his or her current residence is in China? Alternatively, might we say that a person is Chinese because he or she usually eats Chinese food, speaks a Chinese language, wears Chinese-style clothing made in China, and chooses a marriage partner who is considered to be Chinese? Finally, might we say that a person is Chinese because he or she has a high level of respect for elders, sees the family as being of primary importance, is very concerned that favors be returned, and chooses not to openly show affection?

Clearly each of the above is a component of cultural identity, yet each one alone is an imperfect measure of the abstract concept of Chinese ethnicity. Ethnicity is often operationally indicated by one's genetic background, geographic place of residence, language spoken, behavior patterns, associational involvement, and value patterns.

Sociologist have identified seven components of assimilation into a new culture which are used to determine the extent to which a person has taken on the identity expected in a new culture (Gordon, 1964; Montero, 1981; Schoen and Cohen 1980). These components can also be used to understand the basis of ethnicity and culture in behavior, as each specifies a form of behavior linked to a particular ethnic or cultural identity. Thus, cultural identity derives from: (1) adjustment of behavior patterns such as language, dress, place of residence, and food (also called acculturation); (2) associational involvement in the social structure through occupational groups and primary groups: (3) choice of marriage partner; (4) self-identity based on a particular culture or ethnic group; (5' being accepted (not discriminated against) by others in the culture or ethnic group, and (6) adopting the values and power structures of the culture or ethnic group. Thus each of these is an indication of a component of ethnic or cultural identity. Each can be used to assess the extent to which a person holds a particular ethnic or cultural identity.

However this is quite different from the traditional orientation taken in cross-cultural studies of consumer behavior. In most such studies, cultural or ethnic identity is a nominal, dichotomous trait; that is, one is either black, white, Hispanic, or other; one either is or is not Chinese, is or is not French. Although there have been exceptions (cf. Hirschman, 1981), this measurement approach in consumer behavior has limited our conceptual understanding of the meaning of ethnicity or cultural identity.

The approach to be taken here is to examine degree of ethnicity as indicated by degree of adherence to values consistent with a particular culture. Thus, typically one's cultural background (as indicated by place of residence or ancestry) is believed to produce certain value orientations which lead the individual to behave in a particular way. That is, here the usual cultural indicators of place of residence and ancestry are ignored. Instead, degree of Chinese ethnicity is determined by degree of adherence to a set of values often believed to be characteristic of Chinese culture.

This approach enables the researcher to identify people with values which are congruent with a particular culture. Then the research can examine differences in behavior which are associated with different cultural values. In so doing one need never assume a particular cultural identity based on geographic location.

This study is one of Chineseness in which respondents geographic place of residence and ancestry are controlled. That is, only individuals who do not live in China and do not consider themselves to be Oriental are included. Thus, this is a study of Chineseness done on a sample of Americans living in the southwestern part of the United States.

Most studies of cross-cultural behavior done in a consumer behavior context have assumed that by taking two samples, one with a particular cultural identity and one without (e.g. a French and an American sample), all differences between the two reflect cultural differences. Yet there is certainly variation within each of the two groups - culture is not a wholly monolithic unifying force for a group of people. In fact, it may well be that some French respondents are more "American" than some of the Americans.

What makes them so? The closest concept appears to be values. That is, it may be that some individuals in a French-based sample hold a set of values often more closely linked with American culture. This may in turn lead them to behave in very "American" ways.

In this research we turn this notion on its head and attempt to locate, in a sample of Americans, those who are particularly "Chinese" in terms of their value orientations. In this sense although they are Americans, they score highly on a value-based measure of Chineseness. Thus we do not equate being Chinese with Chineseness and being American does not preclude Chineseness. Instead the attempt is to isolate the consumption behavior patterns associated with high levels of Chineseness.

THE STUDY

Data for the study were generated through an in-home survey administered by undergraduate students in a consumer behavior course in a southwestern metropolitan city. Teams of students identified respondents from cells formed by the crosstabulation of family life cycle categories (Well and Grubar 1966; Murphy and Staples 1979) with social class categories (Coleman 1983). For example, one term interviewed respondents who were in the upper middle class and full nest I, while another term interviewed respondents from the lower middle class who were newly married. The resulting sample size for this survey is 355.

MEASURE OF CHINESENESS

The measure of Chineseness consists of a group of Likert scaled questions intended to measure various aspects of the concept of Chineseness. These items were included because they reflect traditional Chinese value orientations (Hsu, 1948; Kingston, 1976; Levy 1949).

An index to measure Chineseness was created by submitting the Likert scale items to a principal components factor analysis. The analysis results were used to appropriately weight the scale items in an additive index. Thus, rather than constructing a nominal variable indicating whether or not a respondent is Chinese, an interval scale was constructed indicating the extent to which a respondent held values and attitudes characteristic of Chinese culture. The factor loadings are shown in Table 1.

TABLE 1

FACTOR LOADINGS FOR CHINESENESS INDEX

The sample was divided into three roughly equal size groups: the two extreme segments indicate a high and a low degree of Chineseness and the middle segment indicates relatively moderate amounts of the concept. Given the American basis for the sample, it was necessary to ensure that this segmentation actually split the sample into groups that exhibited Chineseness and non-Chineseness, instead of three groups that all exhibited some degree of non-Chineseness. Thus, the sample was split based on defined cut-off overall scores. A cut-off score equivalent to a Likert scale response of 2 on each of the seven point scales was necessary in order to be included in the group with some degree of Chineseness; a cut-off score equivalent to a LiKert scale response of 5 on each of the seven point scales was necessary to be in the group with some degree cf non-Chineseness. This segmentation criteria applied on the factor measure split the sample into three groups of roughly equal size. This is one indication that there was sufficient range in the responses of the Americans sampled to extend from a high degree of Chineseness to a low degree of Chineseness.

A second test of the validity and range of the scale was performed. Five individuals were interviewed who claimed to be of Oriental ethnicity when asked for a self-designated report of ethnic group membership. Of these five, the responses of three led them to be included in the third of the sample representing high levels of Chineseness. One was in the middle third, and one was in the non-Chineseness group. These results indicate a directional relation between self-designated Oriental ethnicity and Chineseness as measured by values. However, it is clear that place of residence, self-designated ethnic group membership, and cultural value orientation are separate although related indicators.

RESULTS

The survey contained questions concerning the types and amounts of foods that would be consumed by the respondent during the upcoming Thanksgiving dinner. As this event is a ritual connected with culture, it was believed to be an interesting context for examination. The question comes to mind as to whether a Thanksgiving celebration is different depending on one's level of Chineseness.

Chi-square analysis of food types cross-tabulated with the factor index of Chineseness split into thirds failed to indicate any significant differences between the types of foods eaten and the Chineseness measure. Clearly, within American culture there is some variation in the food consumed at the Thanksgiving dinner, but there is also an overall pattern of ritual devotion to a small set of traditional foods.

It was hypothesized that those cases exhibiting greater levels of Chineseness would be more likely to be involved in ritual celebrations such as Thanksgiving dinner that included members of the extended family (siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles) in addition to members of the nuclear family (parents and offspring).

Chi-square analysis of these variables cross-tabulated with the factor index of Chineseness split into thirds was somewhat inconclusive. As Table 2 indicates, the group indicating a high degree of Chineseness was more likely to have Thanksgiving dinner with their spouses, children and in-laws than was the group with a low degree of Chineseness. There was no significant difference with regard to friends or parents. The inclusion of in-laws indicates some extension beyond the nuclear family, but the extent of this relationship is not clear.

TABLE 2

FAMILY PRESENT AT THANKSGIVING DINNER

However, it is clear that higher levels of Chineseness are also associated with day-to-day inclusion of nuclear family members in meal sharing. As is shown in Table 3, those with a high level of Chineseness are most likely to begin the dinner meal when all family members are present. Similarly, they are least likely to follow the emerging American pattern of each-family member eating separately at the time most convenient for him or her. This behavior pattern appears to be consistent with Chinese value orientation.

TABLE 3

DAILY MEAL PATTERNS

CONCLUSIONS

This paper suggested that a concept of ethnic identity, in ,his case Chineseness, is influenced by the culture of the country of origin, but may not clearly distinguish members of that culture from members of other cultures. The empirical results of a preliminary study indicated that a trait such as Chineseness can be exhibited by a substantial portion of the population of another culture. The usual cultural indicators can be replaced or enhanced by a measure of the degree of adherence to a value set that has been identified as being characteristic of a Particular culture.

REFERENCES

Gordon, Milton M. (1964) Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race. Religion, and National Origin, New York: Oxford University Press.

Hirschman, Elizabeth C. (1981) "American Jewish Ethnicity: Its Relationship to Some Selected Aspects of Consumer Behavior," Journal of Marketing; 45 (Summer) 102-110.

Hsu, Francis (1948) Under The Ancestor's Shadow. NY: Columbia University Press.

Kingston, Maxine Hong (1976) The Woman Warrior. NY: Knopf.

Levy, Marion J. (1949) The Family Revolution in Modern China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Montero, Darrel (1981), "The Japanese Americans: Changing Patterns of Assimilation Over Three Generations." American Sociological Review, 46 (December), 829-839.

Murphy, Patrick and William Staples (1979), "A Modernized Family Life Cycle," Journal of Consumer Research 6 (June), 12-22.

Schoen, Robert and Lawrence E. Cohen (1980), "Ethnic Endogamy Among Mexican-American Grooms: A Reanalysis of Generational and Occupational Effects," American Journal of Sociology, 86 (September), 359-366.

Wells, William and George Gubar (1966) "Life Cycle Concept in Marketing Research," Journal of Marketing Research 3 (November), 355-363.

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