The Development of Basic Values of a Sub-Culture: an Investigation of the Changing Levels of Individualism Exhibited By Chinese Immigrants to New Zealand

ABSTRACT - This paper reports a study of the levels of individualism of university students and factory workers as Chinese from the PRC emigrate to New Zealand. A comparative-static approach is adopted, where samples of Chinese from the PRC, Chinese immigrants to New Zealand, Chinese born in New Zealand, and New Zealanders of European ancestry are compared with regard to their individualism. A pattern emerges, with Chinese immigrants displaying intermediate levels-not as individualistic as Euro-New Zealanders, but less collectivistic than Chinese from the PRC. There is no gender effect upon individualism levels identified, but the (lower class) factory workers are more collectivistic than the (middle class) university students.


Roger Marshall, Xu Dong, and Christina Kwai Choi Lee (1994) ,"The Development of Basic Values of a Sub-Culture: an Investigation of the Changing Levels of Individualism Exhibited By Chinese Immigrants to New Zealand", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. Joseph A. Cote and Siew Meng Leong, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 91-96.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1994      Pages 91-96


Roger Marshall, Nanyang Technological University

Xu Dong, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Christina Kwai Choi Lee, University of Auckland, New Zealand


This paper reports a study of the levels of individualism of university students and factory workers as Chinese from the PRC emigrate to New Zealand. A comparative-static approach is adopted, where samples of Chinese from the PRC, Chinese immigrants to New Zealand, Chinese born in New Zealand, and New Zealanders of European ancestry are compared with regard to their individualism. A pattern emerges, with Chinese immigrants displaying intermediate levels-not as individualistic as Euro-New Zealanders, but less collectivistic than Chinese from the PRC. There is no gender effect upon individualism levels identified, but the (lower class) factory workers are more collectivistic than the (middle class) university students.


Human behaviour is a function of both the person and the environment, it is both physical and social (Hui 1988). Some people like to "do their own thing," without caring about the views of others. Other people prefer to share their fellows' problems as well as joys. The former are labelled "Individualist," the latter are called "Collectivist" by psychologists. Individualists believe that they themselves are the "whole world", they are very independent people; whereas Collectivists are those who take themselves as a part of a group, who value interdependence. These people are ready to give whatever they have for the well-being of their group (Leung and Bond 1989). Social scientists and business people have long shown a strong interest in the Individualism/Collectivism (I/C) dimension (Hofstede 1980; Hui and Triandis 1986; Marshall 1994). The interest stems from the relatively mundane motivation of needing to understand different nationals' behaviour for commercial reasons, to a deeper psychological and philosophical interest in the very thought-processes of people from different cultural backgrounds.

The majority of the authoritative published work in the area is oriented toward a Western mode, but Chinese psychologists have also studied this particular aspect for many years (Ho 1979; Hui 1988). China's recorded history spans 5,000 years; its philosophical reflections are firmly rooted in daily human concerns, a strong Confucian influence and an overlay of radical Communism. Indeed, Hoosain (1986) has noted that the country's idiographic script is itself a powerful impetus to the development of an alternative (to Western) cognitive process. The Chinese culture is developed and strong, so that surrounding cultures have tended to be more influenced than influencers. Thus, in a cultural sense, the country has real significance on the World stage. As the research reported here concerns Chinese subjects, the "Eastern" literature is emphasised in the review that follows, so that the resultant hypotheses and design will be more appropriate.

In Leung and Iwawaki's study (1988), it was determined that Japanese subjects had the same level of Collectivism as Americans; this is quite inconsistent with Hofstede's finding (1980). It becomes clear, however, that the major disagreement was actually in regard to the precise meanings of the terms "individualism" and "collectivism". In the present paper, the two concepts are considered as not only opposites, but also as mutually exclusive-thus forming two polar positions on a single (I/C) dimension.

The major concern of this paper is to ascertain the similarities and differences between the Chinese and Western cultures with regard to Individualism and Collectivism, and more particularly, to trace any changes through the immigration process. To date, there seems to have been no cross-cultural study of Chinese (PRC) and Western attitudes to I/C.

It should immediately be recognised that there is no judgemental aspect to a person or culture being labelled as individual or collective; neither one is considered a more or less desirable human characteristic, but is merely a convenient and useful method of categorization (Samson 1977; Waterman 1981).

The Problem of Sub-Culture

Hui and Triandis (1986) polled a sample of social scientists in different parts of the world on their perception of individualists and collectivists, forty-six scientists responded. The conceptual agreement reached by these social scientists of different cultural backgrounds and at different geographical locations demonstrated the cross-cultural generality of the I/C construct. None the less, Hui and Triandis argued that the collectivist tendency can vary across and among target persons. One may be very collectivistic with regard to friends but totally independent and isolated from the family. Another person may be most concerned with family and disregard people outside the family. Theoretically, therefore, different collectivisms are possible. To take this into account, eight target groups were identified: spouse, parents, kin, family, neighbours, friends, co-workers/classmates, and unknown persons/acquaintances. Each item was written to measure collectivism with specific reference to a target group. The results showed the American subjects were higher than the Chinese on the parent, kin, and neighbour sub-scales, but were lower on the spouse, friend, and co-worker sub-scale. The Chinese were lower on the General Collectivism Index. Similarly, Marshall (1994) found that there was more similarity between social class groups than between cultures with regard to I/C in a work situation in Indonesia and New Zealand; yet the between-culture difference was more marked than the between-class in a family situation.

Previous Study of I/C in China

Yang (1986) characterised the Chinese as "socially oriented," and noted that a variety of self-report and experimental studies (typically conducted in Taiwan) have found the Chinese (compared to Westerners) to be less autonomous, more conforming, more authoritarian, more easily persuaded, higher in social interest (that is, social integration, sociability and interpersonal responsiveness) and cohesiveness in authoritarian settings. They seem more collectivist-oriented in their achievement orientation, and less apt to use equity in the distribution of rewards. Hwang (1981) noted that values and behaviours on Taiwan are responding to modernization at varying rates, but that some Chinese values have changed little, particularly "Xiao," or filial piety. This finding was consistent with that of Hofstede, in his multinational research (1980). Gabrenya Jr., LatanT and Wang (1983) showed that the Chinese personality was undergoing change in some societies, but that on Taiwan it remained considerably more group-oriented than most Western cultures.

Singh, Huang, and Thompson (1962) compared the values held by American, Chinese and Indian students, and found that the Chinese ranked highest in society-centred orientation (using the Allport-Vernon-Lindzey Scale), whereas Americans ranked highest in self-centred orientation. On Edwards' Personal Preference Schedule, too, Americans scored the highest on the need for autonomy. Fenz and Arkoff (1962) compared the need patterns of various ethnic groups residing in Hawaii. The Caucasians in their sample scored higher on autonomy than the Chinese, Filipino Hawaiian, and Japanese residents.

A number of studies of Chinese character, culture and history have concluded that the Chinese are passive, dependent, and extremely subject to group influence (Hsu 1970). We can have some confidence, then, that the Chinese tend to be passive, dependent, and extremely subject to group influence in comparison to Americans. But none of the above studies referred to Chinese on the mainland.

Domino and Hannah (1987) used five stories that were presented for completion to children between 11 and 13 years of age in Mainland China and the USA. Analysis of the completed stories supported the hypotheses that American children demonstrate a stronger focus upon physical aggressiveness and economic orientation than did those of Chinese children; the Chinese, on the other hand, placed more emphasis upon natural forces, social orientation, affect, moral-ethical rectitude, and concern with authority than do the Americans.

The Moral Development Test, consisting of five dilemmas, was constructed by Ma (1987) to study the development of moral orientations and moral judgement. Each dilemma describes a hypothetical situation, and subjects were asked to imagine themselves in the situation. Chinese subjects from Hong Kong and mainland China showed a stronger tendency to perform affective/altruistic acts toward others and to abide by the law than did the English subjects. In general, the Chinese emphasise Ch'ing (human affection or sentiment) more than Li (reason, rational aspect), and they value filial piety, group solidarity, collectivism, and humanity. Ma (1987), however, drew his sample from Shenzhen, Guangdong Province in the PRC. This city is in the first special economic zone of the country, and is physically quite near to Hong Kong-the people there are richer and more Western-like than the people in the rest of the PRC. Other studies of Chinese in the PRC have used children rather than adults (Domino and Hannah 1987; Ma 1987).

In a business sense, one of the most far-reaching and significant investigations of I/C that has been undertaken in recent history is that of Geert Hofstede (1980). Over a period of some ten years Hofstede and his team of investigators worked within a major multinational organisation to uncover the cultural differences between over one hundred thousand of the company's employees working in more than forty countries. New Zealand was included in the analysis, and found to be oriented heavily toward individualism rather than collectivism. Unfortunately, China was excluded from the study because of the lack of relevant business representation.


There are more and more Chinese immigrants to New Zealand. In 1991 Chinese (from Hong Kong, Taiwan and PRC) were the single largest ethnic immigrant group. New Zealand business persons are keen to know about the speed with which this group becomes acculturated into the larger New Zealand society. Although some cultural habits of the immigrants will tend to change the overall cultural (and purchase) behaviour of the host nation, other cultural aspects may never change, or only change very slowly. Thus there has been a marked increase in the availability of Chinese cuisine and foodstuffs in the country in recent years, but what of basic values such as individualism? It seems from the literature discussed above that the Chinese are more collectivistic than New Zealanders. This study takes a series of cross-sectional samples to test Hypothesis 1, that Chinese immigrants to New Zealand will display intermediate levels of collectivism; neither as collective as Chinese in the PRC nor as individualistic as born-in-New Zealand Chinese and New Zealanders of European descent.

To further investigate the phenomenon, the sample in each case includes factory workers (representing the lower social-economic classes) and university students (representing the middle/upper classes). The expectation, reflected in Hypothesis 2, is that the lower classes will hold more collectivistic attitudes than their middle/upper class counterparts. Similarly, half of the respondents in each group are male, the other female. There is no expectation of any difference in I/C emerging in this regard, although Ma (1989) made what he called a "Moral Orientation and Moral Judgement" study among adolescents in Hong Kong, Mainland China and England, and found that English female subjects showed a stronger orientation to perform affective and altruistic acts and to abide by the law than did English male subjects. Hence Hypothesis 3 is that there will be no difference in between-gender individualism.


The dependent variable is Individualism, measured on an instrument developed for the purpose. Surveys within China and New Zealand provide a 2 x 4 sample that enables differences in I/C to be assessed between social groups and between nationality conditions.


In order to satisfy the requirements of the research, people from two social classes were approached. The lower class is represented by factory employees and the middle/upper by university students. Employees are taken as samples for cross-culture study by many psychologists and academic researchers (Hofstede 1980; Marshall 1994). The use of students as respondents in cross-cultural studies has already been shown to be useful within the present context (Ma 1989), and has been widely defended in the academic literature. In general, college students are more educated and are considered middle class in both societies; while factory workers are less educated and are generally considered as lower class both in mainland China and N.Z.-thus occupation serves as a rough proxy for social class. All subjects were aged between 18-40 years, because people of this age cohort will be dominant culturally for the next thirty years or so. There is no statistical difference in the mean age between cultural or social class groups.

There was no attempt to randomise the sample, each group of 30 people was selected on a convenience basis. The total number in the sample is 240 (30 respondents in 2 social classes over 4 nationality classes). Although a random sample is preferable, research constraints precluded this option; thus it was considered that a cell size of 30 would be the minimum requirement to allow an assumption of normality of the distributions around the means. The sample contains an equal number of female and male respondents. The PRC sample was drawn from the population of Beijing (the political and commercial capital of the People's Republic of China). The "Western" sample, consisting of N.Z. Chinese immigrants, N.Z.-born Chinese and New Zealanders of European descent, was drawn from Auckland (the major commercial centre of New Zealand). Most of the population in Beijing are Han people, who account for over 95% of the whole population of Mainland China.



The survey instrument

The questions used in this study to judge I/C are drawn from 13 aspects of I/C identified by previous cross-culture researchers who have worked with Eastern cultures. The questions used are developed here, the items used are included as Table 1. A Likert-type format is used for the questionnaire. Thus a single statement describes a situation or reveals a feeling that has been found to relate to collectivism; an average score over the whole scale provides a single "score" that enables between-group comparisons to be made.

All the questions used have been validated in three previous cross-culture researchers' studies. Questions 2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 are from Marshall (1994); 1, 3, 7, 11, 12, 13 from Hui (1988); and question 10 from Hofstede (1980). In question 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 10 and 11 a lower score in answering each question indicates a higher level of collectivism, while in questions 4, 6, 7, 8, 12 and 13 the opposite is true. Cronbach's Alpha for the 13-item scale is .77, which indicates a satisfactory level of reliability.


The questionnaire was designed in English. Judgments of both the concepts and meanings of each question were made by academic staff of the University of Auckland. The primary translation into Chinese was made by one author, then back-translated by two Chinese bilingual students studying at the University. Several anomalies thus identified were rectified at this stage.

A difficulty encountered in conducting research in mainland China is that modern research methods are new to Chinese subjects (Domino 1987). To counter this problem, a Chinese university colleague was recruited to personally administer each questionnaire in the PRC. This process, although somewhat laboured, enabled all responses to be collected within a period of three months during 1990.

Data collection in New Zealand was relatively simple except from New Zealand-born Chinese workers. An interesting reflection of the educational achievements of this immigrant group is provided by the fact that New Zealand-born Chinese in factory process work are so rare that some clerical workers had to be substituted into that sample group.


Intra-Cultural Comparison

The first-level analysis of the data consisted of a comparison of I/C level between the two social classes and genders within each cultural group. Gender difference in I/C level is not an issue that has attracted much attention in the literature, but still it is worth observing in the light of the comments of Ma (1989) noted above.


To test for significance in variance of I/C in response to gender, a two-way ANOVA was performed between culture and gender. An effect for culture is present (F=60.18, d.f.=3, mean squares=35.73, p< .001, w2=.42), thus vindicating culture as a significant determinant of I/C level; but the main effect for gender only approaches significance (F=2.58, d.f.=1, mean squares=.51, p=.11). Furthermore, no 2-way interactions occurred between the two variables (F=.97, p=.408), so that gender is not important no matter what cultural group the respondent belonged to. A further inspection of each group, by t-test, shows that in no case is there a significant between-gender difference in I/C. Thus Hypothesis 3 is supported.

Social class.

An ANOVA test by culture and social class (shown in Table 2) reveals that both the effects of group and social class are highly significant, although the effect size for social class is small.

T-tests were then performed to seek for significant differences in I/C between the two social classes in each of the groups. The results are summarized in Table 3. All the results, except those of the New Zealand-born Chinese group, show that there is a significant difference between students and workers. The lack of difference between the two social classes in that group may be explained by the sample including a few shop assistants, secretaries and receptionists within the factory worker category. It is an interesting commentary on the work-ethic of immigrants that, in spite of an exhaustive search, there were insufficient born-in-New Zealand Chinese working in factories to provide the required survey number.

In this instance, social class has been assessed using education/employment as a proxy variable. In the present instance the possibility that education level is the driving force behind the observed differences in individualism cannot be overruled, but in so far as education is typically considered as a component of social class the assumption of a difference in individualism between social classes per se seems reasonable.

The social class a person belongs to also has, then, an influence on their individualism, and Hypothesis 2 is supported. This finding also supports other work that has reached the same conclusion (Marshall 1994). The effect size (w2(Social class)=.03, w2(Culture)=.42) suggests that social class plays a much smaller (but still significant) role than culture in determining individualism. Nationality was commonly used as a variable in previous cross-cultural studies on I/C. Hofstede, for instance, nowhere makes reference to social class, simply pointing to a difference in the individualism factor between national cultures.





To take this point a stage further, a comparisons of I/C level between the two social class without reference to nationality was made by performing a t-test between the mean I/C values of the 120 factory workers and the 120 university students. As would be expected, in the light of the analysis already conducted, the test reveals a significant difference (t-value -2.66, p<0.001). This finding broadens the I/C issue from not only a cultural sense, but also in a "global" context. It is premature, from the evidence collected here, to claim that (middle and upper-class) students are everywhere more individualistic than (lower class) workers in every nation in the world, but at least support for the concept, and general support for Hypothesis 2, is provided.

Cross-Cultural Comparison

The comparison of I/C scores across cultural groups approaches the heart of this research. First, the significance of culture in explaining differences among all four cultural groups was investigated by analysis of variance. A main effect was present (F=59.80, d.f.=3, p < .001, w2=.43), thus culture is highly significant as an indicator of I/C levels. The comparison between each of the cultural groups, shown in Table 4, provides further information. The results show that there is a significant difference in variance between all groups except the New Zealand-born Chinese and the Euro/New Zealander group. It is interesting to note the significant difference in I/C level between the Chinese-born group and the Chinese immigrant group. This could, perhaps, indicate that those people who emigrate from China have higher I/C levels than the general Chinese population, or that an enhanced level of individualism is adopted even after a short stay in New Zealand. The above results also indicate that although there is a significant difference in I/C levels between the Chinese immigrant group and the New Zealand-born Chinese, there is no significant difference between the New Zealand Chinese group and the Euro/New Zealander group. There is at least a suggestion here that the longer one lives in a culture, the closer to that cultural norm his or her I/C level becomes. Hypothesis 1 is thus at least partially supported.


The results offer general support for previous cross-cultural studies on I/C about the Chinese in Mainland China; the Chinese do seem more collectivistic than people in Western cultures. This finding is not surprising, but is significant, since the Chinese population is one fifth of that of the world. The PRC is of particular interest to marketing practitioners and researchers because it represents a vast untapped market that now seems committed to market socialism.

That there does seem a difference in I/C level between social class for each of the cultural groups tested here (except for the New Zealand Chinese group) does support Marshall's suggestion that a group orientation seems to apply more to low rather than high socio-economic groups in any culture. On the other hand, his suggestion that social class plays a larger part in determining individualism than does nationality is not supported here. Once again, this should, perhaps, not surprise, as the weight accorded to each of the variables must surely differ between cultures, and his work concerned New Zealand and Indonesia rather than China. It is thus possible that the Chinese culture is, overall, stronger, or more different to that of New Zealand with respect to social class structure, in comparison to Indonesia. The point of interest is that culture alone is insufficient to establish differences in I/C. Marketers thus are offered a guide to a better understanding of consumers' behaviour, and the shape of possible cross-cultural market segments.



One of the most interesting findings reported in this study concerns the Chinese immigrants in New Zealand. Most of the results show that there is a significant difference in I/C level between the Chinese in Mainland China and the Chinese immigrants. This suggests that I/C level is not "fixed," but is "fluid" in reaction to a different cultural context. In other words, one cultural group may not have the same "programming" (as Hofstede termed it) in a new environment as they had in the old. The implication of this finding is important not only for New Zealand's marketers but also for the whole country in the long run. In recent years, New Zealand has been more open to immigrants from all over the world, particularly Asia. Each year the number of immigrants coming to the country is expected to increase; New Zealand is becoming a "melting pot" country, in the mode of the United States. Some previous studies have shown that immigrants, especially those who come from Asian countries, have a tendency to follow native people, because they want to be more accepted by a society (Stayman and Deshpande 1989). For the Chinese, it is probable that some elements of their life style (e.g. cooking or eating habits) would remain nearly the same after having lived in a Western society for quite a long time. Indeed, these same elements are, to a point, adopted by the host countries, the two sets of behaviours becoming interchangeable and mutually acceptable. But the I/C level does seem to change, even after a short time in a Western society, perhaps because it is felt that one should follow the mainstream of a society when he or she is deeply involved in it.

Are immigrants a viable target segment? Certainly, this research shows that basing segmentation strategy upon the ethnic origin of "born-in-New Zealand" New Zealanders may be suspect in some circumstances.

Gender research has blossomed in recent years. This research, however, shows quite clearly that there is no difference in I/C level in the various groups, or at different levels of aggregation of sample cells, because of the gender of the respondent. It should be noted, however, that the cell size at the group level is only 15, therefore mean comparisons lack power at this level.

There are, of course, limitations to the work. First, is that a convenience sample was used, which has implications for the overall universality of this study. Hopefully, replications will strengthen the case that has been presented here, so that the results drawn from the two groups can be applied to the general populations. A second limitation is more serious. The need to include several shop assistants, secretaries and receptionists in the New Zealand Chinese workers sample caused a bias that flowed through to the results. Finally, there is the possibility that Chinese emigrants are already more individualistic than the general population of their home country. It is hard for a cross-sectional study, that relies on comparative statics, to control for this. Longitudinal studies are uncommon in marketing work, but this type of study is required in order to truly answer the problem. The fact that Chinese subjects born in New Zealand do have higher levels of individualism than immigrants does suggest, however, that there is an element of "fluidity" to individualism levels through the emigration process.

The opportunities for further research in this area are legion. The scale that has been developed here has proven both valid and reliable. Although further analysis of the scale is required before advocating its general adoption, simple replications of the study that extend the sample to other (Eastern) countries and social class groups, on a more random basis, will increase the universality of the study.

Culture, and to a lesser extent social class, seem important factors in determining I/C dimension. While the world economy is moving towards a global market, differences do exist in even basic values both between and within cultures. To understand the differences and also the similarities of different consumers' value-based behaviour poses a continuous challenge, both for marketing practitioners and academics; it is in the hope of assisting those concerned with meeting that challenge that this research is presented.


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Roger Marshall, Nanyang Technological University
Xu Dong, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Christina Kwai Choi Lee, University of Auckland, New Zealand


AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1994

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