Differences in Managerial Values in China

Chinese managerial values have been the object of numerous studies and attempts to identify and explain differences among Chinese managers have focused on the location and level of industrialization of their businesses, the level of education of the managers and the age of the managers (i.e., “generational” differences).  In “Culture and Management in China”, which appeared in M. Warner (Ed), Culture and Management in Asia (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003), Child and Warner summarized some of the most interesting and important findings as follows:

  • Individualistic attitudes were found to be more prevalent among “cosmopolitan” Chinese (i.e., managers living and working in regions exposed to higher levels of foreign influence, typically coastal area) than “local” Chinese; however, both cosmopolitan and local Chinese managers maintained a strong commitment to traditional Confucian values such as societal harmony, personal and interpersonal harmony and virtuous behavior.
  • A comparison of Chinese managers in Guangzhou, a “cosmopolitan” city that has experienced substantial contact with foreign investors and influences, and the more traditional city of Chengdu indicated that individualism, openness to change and self-enhancement were seen as much more important by Guangzhou managers and that those managers attached less importance to collectivism than their counterparts in Chengdu, although they were not willing to abandon Confucian values such as collectivism in their entirety. 
  • A study of Chinese managers and professionals working in SOEs concluded that “New Generation” managers—aged 40 or younger—scored higher on individualism and lower on collectivism and Confucianism than their counterparts in two older generational categories (i.e., the “Current Generation” (aged 41 to 51) and the “Older Generation” (aged 52 and older)).  Based on these results, which were achieved after controlling for other demographic factors (e.g., religion, gender and position with the firm), the researchers concluded that the new generation of Chinese managers are “more similar to Western managers than are the previous generation, especially in respect to individualistic behavior”. 

Child and Warner noted that the results of the research appear to indicate that younger managers and workers in the coastal regions of China, particularly in urban areas, have had substantial exposure to new and powerful economic and social forces such as consumerism and the Internet and have also had heavy interaction with foreign investors, and this has led them to question, and deviate from, traditional Chinese cultural values and embrace elements of Western-style culture such as individualism.  Child and Warner also caution, however, that it remains an “open question” as to just how much traditional Confucian values are being diluted or forsaken.  For example, they referred to e another study of Confucian values among a group of Chinese managers also found that while some elements of Confucianism are weakening among those in the younger generation certain fundamental values appear to remain in tack for the time being including benevolence; temperance, including harmony; and persistence, including perseverance, patience and adaptation.  Child and Warner concluded that perhaps younger managers are seeking to separate the values that they adhere to in the workplace from those that they continue to follow in their private and community lives.  In any case, there is clearly a struggle going on in China between the demands of pursuing success in the new world economy and the need and desire to maintain the social traditions and cultural values that have played a fundamental role in preserving the unity in the country for thousands of years.

 

5 thoughts on “Differences in Managerial Values in China

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