Individuality in China and the U.S.

By Jake D.

Compared to the West, Chinese culture places more value on unity and conformity. Chinese choose to reflect the views of their leaders and ancient traditions rather than their own personal views. Americans on the other hand seek independence, pursuing personal goals above the goals of society. As such, China can be described as a collectivist society, while the U.S. is more individualist.

Because of the differences in culture, Chinese and Americans treat social relationships differently. When interacting with others, Chinese prefer a more structured hierarchy. As dictated by ancient tradition, Chinese elders and males are given more respect within the family. I witnessed this for myself during my stay with a Chinese family. At meals, my host mother would serve the grandfather, her husband, and her son before sitting down to eat herself. In contrast, in the United States, Americans prefer a more informal structure. Men and women are regarded as equal and social rankings are minimized.

Friendships are also affected by the collectivist mindset of the Chinese. Chinese prefer to have a small number of lifelong friends who they can completely trust and depend on. Many of the activities in which the NSLI-Y group participated in throughout this program were precipitated by close friendships between Dr. Chen and the partnering organizations. Americans, on the other hand, prefer to have a large number of friends and acquaintances that only involve limited mutual obligations. The American independent mindset strays from relationships that require them to be reliant on another person. The Chinese feel obligated to help their close friends, as they are obligated to take care of their family and relatives.

To summarize, the Chinese collectivist mindset creates a society that is supportive and protective of its members while sacrificing personal independence. The American mindset and society focuses more on freedom of choice, but does not seek to provide the level of interdependent support that exists in Chinese society.

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