Individual Versus Group

Individual versus Group

One big difference between Chinese society and Western society is the concept of individualism. While out West, we are encouraged to be our own person, and develop our own ways of thinking, this concept isn’t as pronounced in Chinese culture, which lean towards Confucian principles.

Testing in schools is usually based around exams with only a single, right answer for each question. How students fare in these tests tends to dictate what classroom they might be placed in, what level of school they can attend and possibly what jobs might be available for them when they graduate. As a result, parents tend to encourage their children to excel in subjects that require more linear thinking, as opposed to ones that require creativity.

Interactions between people is often governed by the relationship that defines them. An interaction between a boss and his employee would follow defined principles, as would one between a father and son, husband and wife or two friends. Status is accorded to elders or those with authority. One can build up their status through loyalty and giving face where appropriate. While Western culture might reward qualities such as creativity, innovation and aggression, Chinese society instead promotes modesty, loyalty and conciliation.

The lack of individualism can also be found in the tendency for Chinese people to keep their expressions to themselves and not be emotional in public situations. This is a trait that is taught from when children are young, which is why they often find novelty in the expressive nature of foreigners. People are encouraged to keep their opinions and expressions to themselves and not be too overt. When matters are being discussed in meetings, decisions are usually made by consensus, which have to followed afterwards, regardless of whether personal beliefs differ.

Individuals in China are also used to managing with much less personal space. Much of this is a direct result of living in highly populated areas, as well as in a tropical climate. Doors tend to be left open, even during classes or important meetings. When standing in line, you are expected to lean right up to the person in front of you to maintain your position. When parking a vehicle, a much smaller gap is left between vehicles than you might see out West.

As it is common for multiple generations of family members to live together, there is also much more closeness and interest in each others’ affairs. Neighbors tend to be a lot more “nosier” so expect a keen interest from others on where you happen to be going and coming from each day. Some of this lack of privacy is a direct result of strict government controls in mainland China. Everyone from security personnel and service attendants to the general public is taught to keep an eye out for suspicious activity and report it to the relevant authorities.

While Chinese society is certainly a lot more open in present day than it was in the past, a lot of these characteristics have ingrained themselves as part of culture. The increase in the numbers of foreign companies now operating in China has created more exposure among local Chinese to foreign methods and ways of thinking. However, those wanting to better integrate themselves into Chinese society can do well by understanding the roots and appreciating the values that govern people today.

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