Effects of Stereotyping in Cross Cultural Research: Are the Chinese Really Chinese?

James McCullough, Washington State University
Chin Tiong Tan, National University of Singapore
John Wong, Washington State University
ABSTRACT - Previous research has identified consumer segments in both Western and Oriental societies exhibiting attitudes and behaviors associated with traditional Chinese values. These consumers were said to exhibit high levels of Chineseness. This paper examines the consequences of these findings for the study of ethnicity in consumer behavior. Research results indicate Chineseness is more likely to exist in nonAsian households than in Asian families. Patterns of Chinese attitudes and consumption behavior found in Singapore differ significantly from those found in the United States. This raises questions about the nature of ethnic segmentation and the definition of ethnicity as it is commonly used marketing and consumer behavior, indicating the need for alternate operationalizations of ethnicity.
[ to cite ]:
James McCullough, Chin Tiong Tan, and John Wong (1986) ,"Effects of Stereotyping in Cross Cultural Research: Are the Chinese Really Chinese?", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 576-578.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 576-578

EFFECTS OF STEREOTYPING IN CROSS CULTURAL RESEARCH: ARE THE CHINESE REALLY CHINESE?

James McCullough, Washington State University

Chin Tiong Tan, National University of Singapore

John Wong, Washington State University

ABSTRACT -

Previous research has identified consumer segments in both Western and Oriental societies exhibiting attitudes and behaviors associated with traditional Chinese values. These consumers were said to exhibit high levels of Chineseness. This paper examines the consequences of these findings for the study of ethnicity in consumer behavior. Research results indicate Chineseness is more likely to exist in nonAsian households than in Asian families. Patterns of Chinese attitudes and consumption behavior found in Singapore differ significantly from those found in the United States. This raises questions about the nature of ethnic segmentation and the definition of ethnicity as it is commonly used marketing and consumer behavior, indicating the need for alternate operationalizations of ethnicity.

INTRODUCTION

Interest in ethnic research in marketing and consumer behavior has been stimulated by the growth of large market segments with strong ethnic affiliations. Interest in the characterization and analysis of Black, Hispanic, and other ethnic groups within the American marketplace has been driven by the strong economic impact of these groups on American society. Consumer behaviorists have become interested in the relationship between ethnicity and consumption largely because of the diversity of behavior found in ethnically affiliated consumers and the usefulness of the ethnic consumer as a vehicle for examining other important consumer behavior constructs.

In another context, ethnic research has been undertaken to provide insight concerning international markets and the international dimensions of consumer behavior. Tan and McCullough et al., for example (McCullough, Tan, and Teoh, 1984; Tan, Teoh, and McCullough, 1984; Tan and McCullough, 1985; Ellis et al., 1985), have examined the relationship between affiliation with Asian or Chinese ethnic groups, family decision making, and consumption behavior. This series of studies and subsequent discussions of ethnic behavior at the American Marketing Association meeting in August 1985 have led to this paper.

UNDERSTANDING ETHNICITY

Values and Ethnicity

Central to any ethnic group is a set of cultural values, attitudes and norms since culture represents the social heritage and distinctive life style of a society. According to Linton (1973) it is a configuration of learned behaviors which are shared within a society. Since few ethnic groups exist in homogeneous societies, they commonly represent sub-groups holding a common set of cultural values, attitudes and norms. Since they develop within a larger environment over a period of time, it is often difficult to identify the values of the ethnic group and to separate the group values--the underlying determinants of behavior-from other elements of culture.

Ethnicity-Value-Behavior Measurement

Rokeach has done a great deal to clarify the conceptual issues surrounding the study of attitudes and values. Careful conceptual distinctions are drawn among belief, belief systems, ideologies, values, value systems, faith, sentiments, and attitudes. An attitude for example is defined as a relatively enduring organization of interrelated beliefs that describe, evaluate, and advocate action with respect to an object or situation, and with each belief having cognitive, affective and behavioral components. Each of these beliefs is a predisposition response toward the attitude object or situation or towards others who take a position with respect to the attitude object or situation or toward the maintenance or preservation of the attitude itself. Since an attitude object must always be encountered with some situation about which we must also have an attitude, a minimum condition for social behavior is the activation of at least two interacting attitudes, one concerning the attitude object and the other concerning the situation (Rokeach 1970, p. 132).

A value by contrast is a type of belief, centrally located within one's total belief system about how one ought or ought not to behave, or about some end-state or existence worth or not worth attaining. Values are thus abstract ideals, positive or negative, not ties to any specific attitude object or situation, representing a person's belief about ideal motes of conduct and ideal terminal goals.... (Rokeach 1970, p. 124).

If the definition of ethnicity goes beyond geographic terms, the values, attitudes, and behaviors of the ethnic group should be studied. In attempting to determine what are valued between ethnic groups, either observed behavior or verbalizations concerning behavior are usually examined. From observations of individuals, consistent behavior patterns in given situations can often be noted. When a consistency can be established, it is then possible to infer a degree of liking, commitment to certain kinds of behavior. Thus the different elements of value, attitude, and behavior among ethnic groups can be established.

Chineseness

The Chinese exist as ethnic subgroups in most countries and as the dominant group in many parts of Asia. Although the Chinese are culturally diverse, comprising a wide variety of dialectically defined groups, there are some unique cultural characteristics to describe the values and behavior of the Chinese in general. These unique cultural characteristics have been documented in the anthropology, sociology, and political science disciplines (Greenblatt, Wilson, and Wilson, 1981; Greenblatt 1979, Wilson 1970). For example, Hsu (1981) has proposed that in comparison to the American, the Chinese are by and large situation-centered, the Chinese are inclined to be socially or psychologically dependent on others. They are tied closer to the world and their fellow men. Thus their happiness and sorrow are milder since they are shared. Other values that are general to human social existence but have been operated differently within the Chinese are family loyalty, filial piety, group orientation, the concept of face and the concept of reciprocity in social exchange. Bennett (1979) has generated a list of 34 identifiable value statements peculiar to the Chinese. Some examples are shown in Figure 1.

FIGURE 1

TYPICAL CHINESE VALUE STATEMENTS

1. Age should be respected over youth.

2. Established authority is preferred over innovation.

3. The public welfare should be placed ahead of individual welfare.

4. Social classes and severe inequality are desirable if not natural.

5. Conspicuous consumption and material possessions should be taken as leading indicators of status.

6. Favors must be repaid equivalently, otherwise one is under obligation and loses face.

7. Men should go to work to support their families, and women should stay home and take care of household duties.

8. The building blocks of interpersonal relationships should be connections--a confident feeling of reliability arising from accumulated obligations.

9. Face is the prestige and reputation one achieved through material or social success, ostentation or generosity. Also, having face is the respect from others for a person or a family with a good moral reputation.

10. Filial piety is a virtue.

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MEASURING CHINESENESS

The study of Chineseness was begun in Singapore in 1982 as part of a study to explain differences in patterns of family decision making. The scale used to measure Chineseness that was developed for that study is shown in figure 2. Before examining the problems caused by the use of the scale, it is important to understand the origin of the elements. Singapore is a complex society composed of several significant ethnic groups dominated by the Chinese. The

elements of this scale were extracted from a list of statements proposed by a group of predominately Chinese university students for use in consumer behavior research in an Honors (graduate course) in consumer behavior and marketing research. The ten elements used in the studies were identified by consensus from among the elements originally proposed.

FIGURE 2

CHINESENESS SCALE

The following items were identified as possible indicators of Chinese attitudes. Beginning with a list of stereo-typical Chinese belief and input from Chinese students in Singapore, focus groups modified the items to arrive at the following scale items:

1. A woman's place is in the home (Agreement).

2. Caring for one's aged parent is the duty of every person. (Agreement).

3. I often do the right things so as not to lose face. (Agreement).

4. I feel strongly about returning favors to others. (Agreement).

5. Every family should have a son. (Agreement).

6. My relationship with my parents is formalized. (Agreement).

7. I interact frequently and closely with my relatives. (Agreement).

8. Showing your affections openly is acceptable. (Disagreement).

9. Marriage should be a lifetime commitment. (Agreement).

10. One should not go to the extremes in one's behavior. (Agreement).

Subjects respond to the above statements using a Likert scale (agree-disagree) and after item 8 is reversed in the scoring a summed score is calculated for each respondent. Low scores (i.e.: high agreement) are termed highly Chinese.

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Clearly, in the case of Chineseness, the measurement of ethnicity became largely an evaluation of values, although the elements relate to both beliefs and behaviors. Once the scale was developed, it was used to try to explain differences in family decision making activity (Tan and McCullough, 1984) and in consumption behavior (Tan and McCullough, 1984) among consumers drawn from the Chinese community in Singapore. This work was extended to consumers in the United States who were compared with the Singaporean sample (McCullough and Tan, 1984). It was from these studies that a disquieting result emerged--ethnically white consumers living in the United States were as Chinese as ethnically Chinese consumers living in Singapore based on scores on the Chineseness scale. The Chineseness scale was no longer measuring uniquely Chinese characteristics, but an underlying construct common to both groups.

WHY STUDY ETHNICITY?

Increased interest in the international dimensions of consumer behavior has spawned a number of studies of "crosscultural" consumer behavior. Most of these have examined the differences in behavior between to national markets chosen more for the convenience of the researchers than for their scientific justification.

Ethnicity provides a vehicle for examination cultural difference in a systematic fashion across national boundaries by identifying similar subgroups in a variety of countries rather than by describing specific groups in selected environments.

WHAT IS ETHNICITY?

From a marketing perspective, ethnicity was initially a demographically defined concept. A consumer was defined as a member of an ethnic market segment on the basis of race. This concept was reasonable in an operational sense as long as the black consumer was identified as a reasonably isolated, homogeneous consumer within the American market. The integration and fractionation of ethnic groups within this market has mate segmentation based on race less useful, and the emergence of other large, but less easily definable groups presents even greater problems.

In looking at the Hispanic market, for example, Valencia (1984) points out the difficulty in defining "Hispanicness" due to the wide variance in acculturation. Hirschman (1981) discusses the same problem in the American Jewish group. Although the relationship between ethnicity and acculturation can be discussed in conceptual terms, it is difficult to develop a useful framework for using ethnicity in the study of consumption.

The fact the similarities in values and behavior associated with ethnicity can be found in apparently unrelated and diverse groups in different international environments provides a clue to an operational definition of ethnicity: affiliation with a group of individuals in a cultural holding similar values, attitudes, and beliefs, and exhibiting similar behaviors without regard for race, religion, or national origin. Ethnicity becomes, therefore, not a demographic, but a psychographic characteristic, and similar ethnic groups would be expected in a variety of cultures, regardless of the demographic structure of the society.

Using this definition, it is not surprising to find Americans who are as Chinese as the Singaporean. Both groups hold the same values, attitudes, and beliefs, and exhibit similar behaviors. Although their social role may be different--the Chinese in Singapore are the dominant group while the traditionalist in the United States does not play as strong a role--they exhibit similar consumption behaviors and may serve as target markets for similar marketing programs.

HOW CAN ETHNICITY BE DETERMINED?

There appear to be three approaches to evaluation of ethnicity offering potential in the study of consumer behavior.

Demographic Measures

Demographic measures of ethnicity are the easiest to use as they are by definition objective characteristics. The increased intermingling of races and nationalities, however, makes these traditional ethnic determinants less reliable. More significantly, if ethnicity is a behavioral construct, using demographic variables may prove unreliable.

Values and Attitudes

Culture is usually defined in terms of values and behaviors, and ethnicity is generally considered to be closely related to culture. As the Chineseness studies indicate, however, there can be wide acceptance of "ethnic" values among individuals who are obviously not part of the ethnic group of interest. This approach should facilitate extension of marketing programs and consumer behavior concepts internationally, facilitating identification of important subgroups which are "ethnically" similar.

Self Reports

Ethnic assimilation is an important parameter in the evaluation of ethnicity. As the demographic determinants of ethnicity are discarded, individuals become free to adopt a wider variety of ethnicity. Their assessment of their own ethnicity may be the best measure to their true ethnicity. The degree of affiliation with the group in question is a good measure of ethnically related consumption.

CONCLUSION

In Asian cultures, young, modern consumers (demographically defined) commonly adopt Western values and behaviors, but report themselves as belonging to a particular dialectical ethnic group. This indicates the complexity of the issue. In order to understand international consumer behavior in an age of mixing and change, ethnic behavior needs to be better examined and better understood. A redefinition and reevaluation of ethnicity and ethnic stereotypes will be necessary before we can understand and evaluate white, Anglo-Saxon Chinese.

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