Mainstream America vs. Collectivist Chinese Culture: A Comparison of Family Values, Health Care, and Space & Privacy
When John Smith, a Chinese American, married Fang Smith, a mainland Chinese woman, he didn’t anticipate the cultural differences that would crop up between them and their families. While both of them had been raised in the United States, their respective cultures still exerted a strong influence on their values and beliefs. These differences sometimes caused misunderstandings and even conflict within the family.
1. Mainstream America vs. Collectivist Chinese culture
The mainstream American culture is largely individualistic while Chinese culture is collectivist. In an individualistic culture, the individual is more important than the group; in a collectivist culture, the group is more important than the individual.
Americans tend to value independence and self-reliance, while Chinese people value interdependence and cooperation. Americans are more likely to pursue immediate gratification, while Chinese people are more likely to plan for the long term. Americans tend to be competitive, while Chinese people tend to be cooperative. Americans tend to be extroverted, while Chinese people tend to be introverted.
2. The Family
2.1. Traditional Chinese family values
Traditional Chinese family values include filial piety (respect for one’s elders), patriarchy (male dominance), and the extended family (multiple generations living under one roof).
In China, filial piety is deeply rooted in Confucianism, which emphasizes respect for elders and ancestors. Elderly members of the family are generally revered and given preferential treatment. In contrast, American families typically give greater importance to the nuclear family (parents and children only) and view each generation as equal.
Patriarchy is another traditional Chinese family value that gives males dominance over females. In most traditional Chinese families, males are considered the head of the household and have authority over females. Females are expected to obey their husbands and parents-in-law, and they often have little choice in marriage or career decisions. In contrast, American families are more egalitarian, with both spouses having equal rights and responsibilities within the household.
The extended family is another common feature of traditional Chinese families. Multiple generations often live together under one roof, and grandparents usually play an active role in raising their grandchildren. In contrast, most American families consist of only the nuclear family (parents and children), with grandparents living separately from their grandchildren.
2.2 The nuclear family in the US While the traditional Chinese family values of filial piety, patriarchy, and the extended family are still evident in many contemporary Chinese families, John Smith’s wife Fang Smith was raised in a nuclear family in the United States where these values were not emphasized. As a result, there were some clashes between her cultural values and those of her husband’s when they got married and started a family of their own.
For example, John Smith’s parents expected their daughter-in-law to show them the same respect and obedience that a traditional Chinese daughter-in-law would show. They were also used to having a lot of family members living under one roof and were often surprised by how independent and self-sufficient their American granddaughter was.
3. Space and Privacy
3.1. The individualized American home
The individualized American home is typically characterized by private bedrooms, personal bathrooms, and “me” time. Americans value personal space and privacy, and they generally prefer to live in single-family homes rather than apartments or other types of communal housing.
In contrast, the Chinese home is more group-oriented. Multiple generations often live together under one roof, and privacy is not as highly valued. Bedrooms are often shared, and personal bathrooms are typically communal. There is little “me” time, as family members are expected to spend most of their free time together.
3. 2 The group-oriented Chinese home
As mentioned above, the Chinese home is generally more group-oriented than the American home. This can be seen in the way that space is used, with bedrooms often being shared and personal bathrooms being communal. There is also less of a focus on personal space and privacy, as family members are expected to spend most of their free time together.
One result of this difference is that Chinese people tend to be closer to their extended families than Americans are. Another result is that Chinese people are generally more comfortable with close physical proximity (e.g., standing close to someone when talking) than Americans are.
4. Health Care
4.1 The Western approach to health care
The Western approach to health care emphasizes prevention, early detection, and a team of specialists. Western doctors generally believe that it is better to prevent illness before it occurs, rather than wait until someone is already sick to treat them. They also believe that early detection of illness can lead to better outcomes. Finally, they typically work as part of a team of specialists (e.g., surgeons, nurses, etc.) rather than alone.
In contrast, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) focuses on treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms of illness. TCM practitioners believe that illness is caused by imbalances in the body’s energy (qi), and they use a variety of modalities (e.g., acupuncture, herbs, diet, massage) to restore balance. TCM practitioners also typically work alone rather than as part of a team.
4. 2 Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)
As mentioned above, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) focuses on treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms of illness. TCM practitioners believe that illness is caused by imbalances in the body’s energy (qi), and they use a variety of modalities (e.g., acupuncture, herbs, diet, massage) to restore balance. TCM practitioners also typically work alone rather than as part of a team.
One advantage of TCM is that it can be used to treat a wide range of conditions. For example, acupuncture has been shown to be effective for pain relief, and herbs can be used to treat a variety of illnesses. TCM is also generally less expensive than Western medicine.
However, there are some disadvantages to TCM. For example, it can be difficult to find a qualified practitioner, and the treatments can take a long time to work. In addition, TCM is not always effective, and it can have side effects.
In conclusion, there are both similarities and differences between the Chinese and American cultures. While both cultures value family, traditional Chinese culture places more emphasis on filial piety, patriarchy, and the extended family than mainstream American culture does. In addition, the Chinese home is typically more group-oriented than the American home, with less focus on personal space and privacy. Finally, while both Western medicine and traditional Chinese medicine have their advantages and disadvantages, traditional Chinese medicine is generally less expensive than Western medicine.