Individuals in a collectivist culture tend to view themselves as members of groups (families, work units, tribes, nations), and usually considers the needs of the group to be more important than the needs of an individual.
Most Asian cultures, including China, tend to be collectivist.
Another example between individualism and collectivism is Piety (respect for elders). In the West, evidence suggests that the young are being spoiled to the point where many Western children are rude to elders expecting them to be invisible and silent, while in China that same behavior is often the reverse—at least it was before Western fast food and consumerism appeared in China.
In China, when there is a conflict of interest between individuals and the collective, individuals are expected to sacrifice their own benefits for the sake of the collective well-being.
The Research Digest Blog asks, “Are children from collectivist cultures more likely to say it’s okay to lie for the group?”
The theory says that yes, they might say it’s okay to lie for your team than children from individualistic cultures, such as the US, which places more value on self-interest.
The surprising finding was that children from China actually found lying to protect one’s team less acceptable than children in the US did.
“This is not to suggest that Chinese children were acting in an individualistic manner,” the researchers said, “but rather that they were acting based on what they believed to be a more salient moral aspect of the situation.” Source: Research Digest Blog
Collective cooperation may explain why China has a long history of innovation.
In addition, I read in the September/October 2012 issue of Foreign Policy Magazine that the Chinese are doing it again. for example: inventing a modular method to build energy-efficient skyscrapers —China plans to use this innovative method to built the world’s tallest building (220-stories) in ninety days compared to the current tallest building in Dubai that is 160 stories tall and took six years to build. Other innovations China is developing is the straddling bus in addition to safer, cleaner nuclear energy.
When I wrote why China is studying Singapore, my goal was to show Westerners why China couldn’t model itself after an individualistic culture such as the United States, because copying the United States wouldn’t fit China’s culture.
Individualism promotes individual goals and encourages each person to express him or herself freely. Each person is encouraged to be unique. Rules and laws attempt to ensure independence, choices, and freedom of speech. Relying or being dependent on others is often seen as shameful, and people are encouraged to do things on their own, to rely on themselves. Source: Psychology – Collectivist and Individualist Cultures
However, James Surowiecki says, “We once accused the Japanese of being copycats and now we turn on the Chinese. But the truth is that we have all become imitators. … In many situations, collective decisions are better than individual ones.” Source: Co-Society.com
Even in individualist countries, we find collectivism at work. In business, the collective society is often seen in corporate structure.
New Yorker business columnist James Surowiecki says, “Under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.”
An example used by Surowiecki shows that “the TV studio audience of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire guesses correctly 92 percent of the time, compared to ‘experts’ who guess only 65 percent correctly.” Source: Co-Society.com
What Surowiecki says explains why China’s top few-hundred officials use the “Red Machine”, an encrypted communication system, for making quick collective decisions.
In The Collective Will, I mentioned the author of a Wall Street Journal piece as an example of how most people in the West have trouble understanding what goes on in China.
Most Chinese understand their government’s actions and decisions even if a Westerner from an individualist culture doesn’t.
Some Chinese may not like it. Others may not agree with it.
However, Westerners are not always happy with their governments. Just look at Donald Trump in the United States to understand what this means.
A few years ago, I debated another author on this site, and he rejected the scientific fact that there are different types of cultures on this planet. He said, ignoring all the studies on this topic, that there was no such thing as a collective or individualistic culture.
In this 5-part series, we will explore the differences between what it means to grow up in a collective versus an individualistic culture.
Sidney Rittenberg says China is a ‘we’ society while the West is a ‘me’ society.
China and America are not the same. China has a collective culture. The United States has an individualist culture.
I’ve discovered that some people from individualistic cultures don’t understand what a collective culture is, and some hate what they don’t understand. Even the Western media often shows its ignorance by how it reports events in China and by judging what happens in China as if it were an individualist culture.
It might surprise many in the West that China is not the only country with a collectivist culture.
Along with China, one list I saw had Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, Egypt, Greece, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Scandinavia and Portugal on it.
For individualist cultures, there was Canada, Australia, England, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand and the United States.
In Chinese society, collectivism has a long tradition based on Confucianism, where being a community man or someone with a social personality is valued.
In a collective society such as China, each person is encouraged to conform to society, to do what is best for the group and to not openly express opinions or beliefs that go against it.
Group, family or rights for the common good are seen as more important than the rights of the individual. In a collective culture laws exist to promote stability, order, and obedience.
Working with others and cooperating is the norm. Being uncooperative is often seen as shameful. For instance, Psychology Today reports how to sell online to individualist vs collectivist cultures.
Nathalie Nahai, writing for Psychology Today, says, “A very individualist country (such as the USA) will tend to form loose-knit social groups, and value autonomy, freedom and personal time. They tend to proactively seek out challenge, and are often motivated by extrinsic factors such as material success.
“In comparison, countries that score highly in collectivism (such as China) tend to develop large cohesive social networks, valuing loyalty, good physical conditions and intrinsic rewards as motivating factors.”
Psychologists have found that intrinsic rewards, an outcome that gives an individual personal satisfaction such as that derived from a job well done can be more powerful motivators than an external reward system such as an employee bonus program.