In China there has been research under the name of “intercultural communication” for over 20 years, and especially in the last 10 years this research has become more prevalent.
Geert Hofstede is not as well known in China as his reputation is internationally. There are only a small number of Chinese scientists who deal with his theory. Chinese research in this area focuses mainly on explaining, understanding, and critical examination of his established cultural dimensions.
Hofstede juxtaposed individualism and collectivism is one cultural dimension, and the Chinese culture is categorized as collectivistic in his model. Chinese scientists tend to be highly critical of this perspective. In fact, Chinese culture tends to oscillate between individualism and collectivism. According to China’s social structure the family is the most basic unit of society. The concept and attitude of the family is the original motivation of individuality. Chinese individualism is formed by the lifestyle within the families. Chinese collectivism derived from agricultural society for thousands of years. Both tendencies have long existed in China alongside each other. According to Harry C. Triandis, individualism and collectivism are a synthesis in culture and they are not two-polarized dimensions. This view is more in line with the characteristics of the Chinese culture. In other words, whether a Chinese’s behavior tends to be individualistic or collectivist depends on a cost-benefit analysis by the actor. To maintain a purely individualistic or collectivistic preference does not exist among the Chinese. This conscious choice is based on the flexible mindset of many Chinese.
Apart from the research areas mentioned above, China’s current intercultural research is mostly limited to the field of foreign language teaching. There are several reasons for this: Intercultural communication is not an independent discipline in Chinese universities. It is often a subject or research direction which is subdivided mainly in foreign language studies, such as Applied Linguistics, English language and literature, etc. That is why most intercultural researchers have backgrounds as foreign language scientists. Second, the current research situation in China is directly related to the Chinese academic evaluation system. To make a career in science, Chinese scientists have to publish a certain number of articles. According to the provision, only the articles published in foreign-language core journals count to “academic publication”. This provision has set a high standard for Chinese scientists. Researchers who have a background in foreign languages have many advantages over those who do not have that background.
This condition impedes the development of intercultural research from a single discipline to an interdisciplinary research direction. An international feature of intercultural research is interdisciplinary research. Many Chinese intercultural communication studies are merely a comparative comparison of Chinese and foreign cultures or communicative behaviors. Strictly speaking, current intercultural communication research should refer to a multicultural environment: for example, the communication of multinational employees in an international group is the typical intercultural communication behavior. Empirical research in this area, especially qualitative research related to China context, is only a rarity.
Author: Wenting Sheng