Effects of Chinese Collectivism and American Individualism

A young Chinese girl who is currently studying at a Minnesota university this fall wrote the following essay. She has many talents and she was especially good at doing origami (Japanese paper folding).  I was amazed at the giftings of many of my former Chinese students from this past summer.  This particular student wrote this insightful piece about what she had already observed about collectivism and individualism after just several weeks of living in the U.S.

“We all know that there are many countries in the world. China is a country of large population. And it also has a long history. But the history of Chinese individualism is not very long. Ordinary, most Chinese are tend toward collectivism. To some extent, this is decided by the traditional culture of China.

As a Chinese, when I was born, I started to live in a collective life. This is very common in China. If someone goes to China, he or she will see that there are many boarding schools in China. And parents seem to be willing to send their children to boarding schools. They think that boarding schools will help their children to learn to look after themselves well. Also, Chinese parents like to send their children to top schools although there are many students in schools. “I will send my son to the foreign language high school,” a father may boast to his friends and family. To some extent, this action is a kind of collectivism.

In Chinese schools, the questions that students do for the homework always have standard answers. Open-ended questions seldom appear on the homework. Even when students have different answers to the open-ended questions, the teacher will tell these students to write in the standard way instead of his or her own answers. We (students) cannot say that what teachers do for us is wrong, because this educational system in China has been lasting for a long time. If we write our own answers to the questions, maybe the reviewers will think we have not achieved or reached to the requirements. So teachers often hope students have the same thought, or the answers to the questions. I know it is hard to express the thing like this, but it is happening in Chinese schools actually.

I know that in America, teachers are glad if students have different thoughts. “They are trained from very early in their lives to consider themselves as separate individuals who are responsible for their own situations in life and their own destinies”(American Ways p5). So this may be the difference between Chinese culture and American culture.

Furthermore, in China, people like to eat together by getting food in one plate by chopsticks and eating it. “In a Chinese meal, most dishes are shared in the center of the table.……If there is a large group a rotating glass disk (or a Lazy Susan) is placed in the center of the table. It is turned constantly so that all the dishes are easily accessible to people sitting around the table.” (CultureShock! China P131) But in America, people prefer to eat in one’s own plates, even while eating with family members. I do not know how Americans think of this. But in China, people believe that eating together is a good way to promote harmonious feelings. So sometimes people may take food by chopsticks for each other.

Every culture has its own effects to people. So I think the effect of traditional Chinese culture is collectivism. It can be also said that collectivism has a great influence on the Chinese for many years. Otherwise, Americans maybe pay more attention to individualism. Every coin has two sides, so I cannot say which culture is better than the other.

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