Cultural Considerations for China

June 17, 2010

Many may remember our blog post on ‘Accounting for Culture in Marketing and Sales’. It was a widely read post in which we discussed how to utilize the methodology of Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. Mr. Hofstede believed that there were 5 significant cultural dimensions that affected how people of specific cultures and countries perceived the world. The key criteria utilized to define and give insight into culture are; Collectivism-Individualism The degree to which a person is responsible to self or the larger group or society. Uncertainty Avoidance The degree to which a society is risk averse or risk takers. Power Distance The emotional distance between superiors and subordinates. Gender Orientation The degree to which a society exhibits behaviors associated with gender stereotypes. Time Orientation A complex measurement of a variety of factors including sequential versus synchronous, the perception of past, present, and future, and short versus long term orientation. Each culture is rated by their propensity across these criteria to gain a better insight into cultural expectations and responses. In this post we want to discuss Hofstede’s theory in specific relation to China and Chinese culture. China/Asia/US/World.

Collectivism-Individualism: China: 20 Asia: 24 US: 91 World: 43

The higher the rating the more an individual within this society is expected to look after himself and his/her immediate family. The lower the rating the more we see individuals integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families. The US has the globe’s highest Individualism score at a 91 which can be seem in the US emphasis on individualism and rugged independence. China has a similar score to most Asian countries if not slightly less than the rest of Asia. This score indicates that the Chinese have a very strong sense of loyalty to close and extended families as well as to large groups of friends and communities. Loyalty to these groups is paramount within Chinese culture. Many factors have shaped these communities including China’s far flung geography, historical lack of resources, and and lack of government and civil infrastructure as well as the focus of the government on a collectivist society.  While China has seen many of these realities change with major urbanization and infrastructure projects as well as family moving to major urban centers in search of employment, the impact of these historic influences on this cultural dimension remains. Those developing materials for the Chinese market should incorporate traditional family and friends, emphasize group interaction, and focus on the overall success of the group.

Uncertainty Avoidance: China: 40  Asia: 63 US: 46  World: 64 

Countries that score high on the uncertainty avoidance index are countries that have strict laws and regulations, a highly structured society, and tend to be more homogenous. Countries that score low tend to be more accepting of different opinions, beliefs, and cultures. The US has a score of 46 indicating a more accommodating culture accepting of differences in belief and opinions. China has a score significantly lower than the rest of Asia, but very similar to that of the US. Both are the result of wide geographic areas that have historically contained many different ethnic groups and nationalities. Historic difficulties of the Chinese government overseeing such a large geographic area has limited their ability to exhibit direct control, but when combined with their high Power Distance Index (see below) the government retains a tremendous degree of influence over the population.

Power Distance: China: 80  Asia: 60 US: 40 World: 55

A higher power distance rating assumes a greater inequality between societal levels, organizations, and within families while a lower rating assumes greater equality. The US rating is a 40 which is indicative of greater equality. The Chinese Power Distance Rating is significantly greater than both Asia and the US. The Chinese people are significantly removed from those in power both geographically and culturally. There are also great disparities in wealth. These inequalities are not viewed as something forced upon the Chinese, but rather as part of their heritage.

Gender Orientation:China: 53  Asia: 57  US: 62  World: 50

The Masculinity/femininity index indicates that the higher the score the more assertive and competitive the culture (Masculine), the lower the score the more modest and caring (Feminine). The US has a score of 62. The Chinese and Asia in general have higher cultural indexes than the rest of the world at large. This is most commonly seen in the stereotypes of Asian children in education. Most are instilled with a strong desire to compete.

Time Orientation: China: 118  Asia: 90 US: 29  World: 45

Long term versus short term time orientation provides several insights into the focus of a particular culture. Cultures with a short term orientation focus on values such as ‘saving face’ and respecting tradition while cultures that focus on the longer term tend to focus on thrift and perseverance. The US has a score of 29 in this dimension indicating preference for a short term time orientation. China has a score of 118. Time Orientation is the highest ranking cultural dimension of China, as it is for most Asian countries. This abnormally high time orientation means taht the Chinese see them selves as persevering withthe ability to overcome obstacles if not with time than certainly with strength and will. An excellent example of how Coca-Cola has incorporated many of China’s cultural dimensions can be found here.

Considering Color in China

The following colors have specific influential meaning in China. Many are stark contrast to their meaning in the US. Red – Is the most dominant color in Chinese culture and represents a variety of positive attributes including fertility, success, good luck, happiness and marriage. Black – celebration White – death, mourning, purity, truce Orange – family, learning Green – growth, life, repels evil Yellow – health, money, respect, royalty This post is part of a series that will offer specific examples of each criteria as well as specific applications for a variety of different cultures and countries. Feedback, comments, and specific inquiries can be forwarded to Jason Pineda at

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