A quick look at cultural dimensions and how they apply to both countries.

While the Chinese and American governments consider themselves adversaries if not competitors in trade, political aspirations, as well as geopolitical positioning and posturing, amazingly Chinese and American people are able to forge strong friendships based on mutual respect. In fact of those people living in these two countries on both sides of the Pacific, it is the young that have the most positive or favorable view of the other country. This feeling is reflected in the number of Chinese students attending U.S. colleges and universities during the 2016 / 2017 school year which is estimated to surpass 350,000.

Above graph shows that a large percentage of those 18 to 29 years of age hold a more positive view of the opposite country. This is an encouraging trend for the future of Chinese-American relationships, since it is the younger generation that will be moving into decision making positions in years to come.

Just think of the Chinese population in the United States which is approximately 3.8 million strong, including 2.2 million that were born in China. This number surpasses all other Asian groups which include Filipino (3.41 million), Indian (3.18 million), Vietnamese (1.73 million), Korean (1.7 million), and Japanese (1.3 million). (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA).Sep 17, 2013)

Conversely, the American expat population in China is at a historic high of 110,000 or roughly .0004% of the U.S. population. In reality, not far from the Chinese community in the USA which represents .0029% of those living in China. Both these figures represent less than 1% of both Chinese living in the USA and Americans living in China.

The important fact to note is that while immigrants from China have been coming to the US for the past two hundred years, it is recently that a great deal of Americans have identified China as a country where opportunities abound to such a degree as to entice them to migrate there. However, in spite of all the figures shown above, there is one irrefutable fact; Chinese and American cultures are extraordinarily different.

When Westerners and Chinese people interact, they notice different behavior on both sides. These are basically folkways, mores and taboos possessed by each culture that are expressed in the form of social conduct.

Unfortunately, knowing and recognizing these different habits or social norms only give us a superficial and somewhat inconsequential understanding of each culture. In order to dig deeper and have a more complete perspective of both cultures we need some sort of yard stick that can deliver a quantifiable and qualifiable set of measurements that can point to where each culture stands when viewed against the other.

The yard stick that can deliver these results, is an analysis using what in anthropology is called the cultural dimensions theory, especially as identified by four world renowned anthropologists and social scientists that have emerged in the last few decades. They are Geert Hofstede, Edward Twitchell Hall, Jr., Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner.

These anthropologists advanced a total of seventeen theories. While some of these theories overlap, the majority do provide an interesting method through which we can understand how we compare to other cultures.

The following is a brief explanation of each of the cultural theories put forward by the anthropologists mentioned above, along with corresponding charts placing both China and the USA along a horizontal scale that will give us a good idea of the cultural distance between the two countries.

Geert Hofstede

Individualism vs. Collectivism

Individualism is a preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of only themselves and their immediate families. These societies are known for equal sharing of information, accessibility of superiors and managers, informal communication, difficulty especially among men to develop deep friendships contrasted by an ease of interacting and talking to complete strangers.

Also, within the work place hiring, promotion and decisions are based on merit or evidence of what one has done or can do. These societies typically have democratic forms of government in which the individual is protected and equal rights are guaranteed.

On the other hand collectivism, is a preference for a tightly-knit framework in society in which individuals can expect their relatives or members of a particular in-group to look after them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty. These cultures are extremely group oriented in which decisions are based on what is best for the collective.

People’s identity is based on structured social system that normally allow for less social mobility. Political power and rights are typically more geared toward interest groups. Among these cultures belonging is emphasized to such a degree that invasion of people’s private lives by institutions and organizations to which they belong is accepted and even expected.

Plainly put, members of an individualistic culture have a self-image that is defined as “I”, whereby those in a collectivistic culture think of themselves as “we”. Individualistic cultures tend to be diverse and members tend to be self-reliant. Traits of a collectivistic culture tend to be more geared toward dependability, generosity and are usually more ethnically monolithic.

Power Distance

This cultural dimension has to do with whether power in a society is distributed equally or unequally. High power distance cultures typically have paternalistic and autocratic political and governmental structures, rigid family structures, and strong top-down management processes.

These societies have a wide gap between the powerful and the rest of the population. Powerful members of government or industry are often seen to be acting with impunity while the rest of society is perceived to be more dependent and outranked by those in control. Bosses hold a great deal of power over their subordinates and are able to promote them or demote them impulsively or even whimsically.

In societies with a low power distance index, members of society tend to try to distribute power equally, possessing more democratic institutions. In these cultures both managers and subordinates are typically less concerned with status, and the distribution of decision-making responsibility is extensive and shared to a greater degree.

The rich and powerful are often prosecuted for crimes, and are compelled to answer directly to the rest of society for any legal or moral transgressions. Government as well as industry oftentimes have processes put in place that insure more equitable distribution of individual rights. In the work place it is more acceptable for subordinates to show disagreement with their managers.

Masculinity vs. Femininity

Societies that lean toward masculinity prefer achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success. These cultures are more competitive. Societies that lean toward femininity for the most part prefer cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak, quality of life and are more consensus-oriented. In other words, this cultural dimension measures “tough vs. tender.

Uncertainty Avoidance

To what degree do members of a society feel uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity? How does society deal with the fact that the future can never be known? Should people try to control the future or just let it happen?

Cultures high on the uncertainly avoidance scale maintain rigid codes of belief and behavior. They are more intolerant of unorthodox ideas. Lower uncertainty avoidance cultures maintain more relaxed attitudes and are more tolerant of unorthodox behavior and thinking.

Long Term Orientation

To what extend does a society maintain its links with its own past while dealing with the present and future? Long term oriented cultures prefer to maintain time-honored traditions and norms while viewing changes in society suspiciously.

These cultures emphasize persistence, personal adaptability, thriftiness, good or evil depends on circumstances, and place a high value on personal relationships. Short term oriented societies emphasize quick results, view the bottom line as important, spend more, believe in absolutes regarding good and evil, qualities of steadfastness and stability are important.

Indulgence vs. restraint

Societies that allow relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun are said to be indulgent. Restraint on the other hand refers to a society that suppresses gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.

Edward Twitchell Hall, Jr.

High Context vs. Low Context

The High Context / Low Context cultural dimension is a broad and far reaching theory which touches on many aspects of cultural communication including verbal and non-verbal messaging, internal and external locus of control, inward and outward reaction, cohesion of groups, people’s bonds and commitments, as well as flexibility of time.

Characteristics of High-Context cultures are: Inner locus of control and personal acceptance for
failure. Much nonverbal communication. Reserved, inward reactions. (High cognitive dissonance) Strong distinction between in-group and out-group. Strong sense of family. Strong people bonds. Strong affiliation to family and community. High commitment to long-term relationships. Relationship more important than task. Time is open and flexible. Process is more important than product.

Characteristics of Low-Context cultures are: Many overt and explicit messages that are simple and clear. Outer locus of control and blame of others for failure. More focus on verbal communication than body language. Visible, external, outward reaction. (Low cognitive dissonance). Flexible and open grouping patterns, changing as needed. Fragile bonds between people with little sense of loyalty. Low commitment to relationship. Task more important than relationships. Time is highly organized. Product is more important than process.

Monochronic vs. Polychronic

People from monochronic cultures usually do one thing at a time and plan their schedules carefully. Orderliness is highly valued, having a sense that there is a time and place for every occurrence. In polychromic cultures being punctual is not that important. People from these cultures do not mind doing several things at the same time. Members of these cultures possess a willingness to change plans often and easily. They are more relationship oriented and with a tendency to build lifetime connections and associations.

High Territoriality vs. Low Territoriality

In low territorial cultures people have less ownership of space and boundaries are less important to them. They share space more readily. Members of these cultures, lend and borrow objects more readily and typically have little respect for private property.

High territorial cultures are more concerned with ownership. They have the tendency to mark up the territory in their possession. People also require more personal space and do not respond well to personal closeness.

Information Slow Flow vs. Fast Flow

Cultures with slow flow of information plan information carefully and structure it. They would tend to ration information, and do not give more than absolutely necessary. Fast flow of information culture think that the more and faster information is disseminated, the better it is for all.

Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner

Universalism versus particularism

Universalism is a rule-based approach to government, business and law. These cultures focus more on rules than relationships. Universalist cultures are known for strict adherence to contracts and the rule of law. The opposite is true of particularist cultures. In particularist cultures obligations and relationships are more important than rules and laws.

Individualism versus communitarianism

Basically the same as Hofestede’s individualism vs. collectivism.

Specific vs. Diffuse

This dimension measures whether people keep their work and personal lives separate. In specific cultures, people don’t believe that relationships have much impact on work objectives and tend to keep personal lives and work separate. They see getting along well with co-workers as a necessity but not necessarily sharing their personal lives with them.

In diffused cultures, people see an overlap between their work and personal life. They see personal relationships outside of work to be necessary in meeting business objectives. In these cultures people spend a great deal of time with outside of work with colleagues and clients.

Neutral vs. Affective (Emotional)

In neutral cultures people make a great effort to control their emotions. Reason influences their actions far more than their feelings. People don’t reveal what they’re thinking or how they’re feeling. People in neutral cultures attempt to use little body language.

In emotional cultures people look for ways to express their emotions spontaneously or otherwise. They do this at work or in their private lives. They use body language, are usually adept at conflict management, and are open at looking for trust and rapport with others.

Achievement vs. Ascription

In achievement cultures people are judged on what they have accomplished and on their record. Ascription means that status is attributed to you by things like birth, kinship, gender, age, interpersonal connections, or educational record.

Sequential vs. Synchronous

For those to whom time represents a series of passing events, in a linear, orderly and programed fashion, are described as Sequential. Those cultures where past, present and future are interconnected, where time is much more elastic, even cyclical, are considered Synchronous.

People from sequential cultures place great importance on being on time and maintaining a rigid schedule. Those from synchronic cultures keep more flexible schedules and appointments.

Internal Direction vs. Outer Direction

Internal direction or internal locus of control implies that people from these cultures feel they can control the environment in order to achieve goals. Inner direction or internal locus of control believe that nature, or their environment, controls them. In essence, they must work with their environment in order to achieve their goals.


I write about culture, international trade, and history. Taught international business at two universities in Beijing, China. https://hubpages.com/@jcscull