Different countries have different societal structures, business norms and ways of forming relationships. Analyzing cultural norms is not a means to determine a 'model' way of life, but it is a way of understanding how countries and individuals interact on a local, national and international scale. China and the United States are leading global super powers, and yet they have very different cultural practices.
China has a very formal and hierarchical social structure that extends to business, institutional and family life. For example, children are expected to respect their elders with the oldest family member commanding the greatest respect. In America, there is greater fluidity between groups with workers, managers, children and adults often making joint decisions and enjoying social occasions together.
Collectivism vs. Individualism
In China, people think about ideas in a collective sense, often considering how their actions will affect their friends, neighbors and colleagues before making a decision. Decisions are more commonly made for the greater good as opposed to personal gain. In America, prioritizing individual goals and motives over collective ones is considered the norm. This ethos is often actively encouraged to stimulate ambition and a drive to achieve business and personal success.
Business relations reflect the collective and individual nature of both societies. In China, the term 'guan xi' is commonly used, which refers to the importance of building social networks in order to conduct business. This is reflected in the importance of socializing with, and getting to know, counterparts before a deal is signed. Consequently, securing a business deal in China is often a lengthy process. Business in the US is a more cut throat process with emphasis being placed on speed and efficiency over building relationships.
Morals and Values
Humility and respect are very important in Chinese culture. Individuals are expected to treat each other well and to show modesty when discussing successes, or to not discuss them at all. In America, people are comfortable openly discussing, playing up and praising success with humility being seen by some as a weakness.
Additionally, in China, there is a strong sense of right and wrong. In America, there are more gray areas with questions of morality being a matter for discussion as opposed to being set in stone.
Freedom of Expression
The Chinese are strictly bound by protocol and so it is better to 'save face' by respecting and honoring the opinion of others, even if you believe what they are saying is incorrect, than to demand that others agree with your way of thinking. American culture is much more direct with people being encouraged to debate contentious issues even if it leads to confrontation.
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