Hofstede’s Cultural Framework as Applied to China

Hofstede’s Cultural Framework

The Hofstede’s framework is a measure for assessing the impact of cultural values on the workplace behavior and gauging how much the cultural mores and attitudes influence the people at their work. Dr. Geert Hofstede was a psychologist who developed his now famous framework while working at IBM and his research was based on a study of more than 100,000 individuals in 50 countries across the world.

Though initially, the framework did not receive the recognition that was due to it, in recent times, there has been a renewed emphasis on the framework by researchers who have found it a convenient tool to classify countries according to the dimensions that Hofstede proposed. This tool is quite handy to suggest strategies to deal with the workforce in a particular country for MNC’s (Multinational Companies) who wish to enter those countries.

  • Small vs. Large Power Distance: This dimension relates to the prevalence of hierarchy, existence of class divide and the notion of power equations determined by these parameters. Chinese culture is characterized by a paternalistic mindset as well as a gap between the lower and upper classes not only in terms of the class divide but culturally as well. The business environment in China is circumscribed with these divisions where it is common to be obsequious with those in positions of power. Hence China can be said to be a country with large power distance as compared to the West where there is a small power distance.

    The hierarchical nature of Chinese society means that these aspects pervade the business world as well and it is common for the employees at the lower levels to adopt hierarchical communication with their superiors. This means that the employees would communicate with their superiors in such a way that even if they do not agree with what their superiors are saying, they would go along with them because of the intrinsic nature of the Chinese which is to be subservient and respectful of authority. Hence the power relations in Chinese business and culture are characterized by large power distance.

  • Individualism vs. Collectivism: This dimension relates to the way in which individuals in a specific culture are encouraged to belong to a group as opposed to being individualistic in their thinking and actions. Business in China tends to favor the group above the individual and the group-think or the group behavior that Chinese are encouraged to adopt means that this dimension can be characterized as low individualism. This aspect is reinforced by the behavior of the Chinese who favor familial relationships over individual based friendships and the premium placed on loyalty to a group as opposed to an individualistic conception.

    This aspect pervades the Chinese business as well as most of the corporations in China tend to favor not changing suppliers and other vendors frequently and sticking with the established relationships as against trying out new combinations. This emphasis on loyalty and a network of ties that resembles collectivist tendencies means that there is a low score for the Individualism Dimension (IDV) in China.

  • Masculinity vs. Femininity: This dimension relates to the way in which society reinforces or does not reinforce the masculine model of work that which has been associated with traditionalism. This dimension is a bit tricky in the case of China as the society though paternalistic in nature does not really subscribe to the out and out traditional model of work and life. On the contrary, there are several women in business and commerce and this is one dimension that can be said to be closely aligned with the West where women are treated at par with men. It can be said that the emphasis of the balancing aspects of the Yin and Yang or the masculine and the feminine in Chinese culture has meant that many gender stereotypes and biases are absent in China. Hence, China scores favorably with the West in this dimension.

  • Weak vs. Strong uncertainty avoidance: As with the previous dimension, the ranking for this aspect of the framework for China is deceiving. Countries with low uncertainty avoidance tend to be those where people are relatively free and hence tolerate uncertainty and ambiguity at the workplace. Further, a low score indicates that people are not controlled to a large extent. However, this is not the case with China where (despite the economy opening up) where people are controlled to a large extent. This is because of the strong cultural acceptance of conformity and hence though one might not be thrown in jail for breaking a law, the cultural aspect of “losing face” means that people tend to obey the laws and rules. At the workplace, this manifests itself in terms of employees needing strong guidance rather than taking decisions on the spot.

  • Long vs. Short term Orientation: The Chinese typically have a longer term orientation which means that they would think over a longer term rather than a short term basis. Since the country aspires to be the next superpower, there is definitely a tendency to think big and think ahead. Further, the nature of doing business in China is such that things take a longer time to complete and hence Western businesses have to budget for this accordingly. Of course, this does not mean that the Chinese cannot accomplish things fast (as the case of hosting the Olympics shows). What this means is that for this dimension, the Chinese culture and business can be said to be influenced with a longer term perspective that allows surmounting obstacles and challenges over a period of time instead of being in a hurry to get things done.

    The Chinese culture is strongly infused with a historical sense of greatness and hence it is common for the Chinese to have a perspective of time that is greater than those in the West have. This accounts for the longer term perspective that the Chinese have.

  • Indulgence vs. Restraint or Aggressiveness: On this dimension, the Chinese can be said to be on the restraint or the less aggressive side as the culture does not encourage overt displays of aggression. Further, the Chinese do not exhibit the typical gender gap or the difference in men and women to the extent which other countries in the Asian region tend to display. However, the Chinese society is not as open as the countries in the West and hence, on this dimension, the Chinese tend to score the middle of the road measure.

    The point here is that the Chinese tend to encourage aggression to the extent that it does not impinge on the group behavior and group-think that they value. So, it is somewhat of a balancing act for the Chinese as far as this dimension is concerned.

Conclusion: This article has considered an additional dimension which is to do with Masculinity and Femininity in addition to the ones proposed in the framework. It was felt there was a need for a cultural perspective in this article and hence, this aspect (that has been recognized by many researchers) has been added.

The conclusion for this article is that China exhibits mixed scores on most of the dimensions as the country is modernizing itself and trying to balance this aspect with a deeply historical society. This means that the inherent conflict and tension between tradition and modernity is manifested in the scores for the dimensions of the framework.


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