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The Differences of Family Values in Chinese and American Cultures

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The Differences of Family Values in Chinese and American Cultures

ABSTRACT This paper aims to make a contrastive study on family values in Chinese and American cultures from the three parts: the attitude to the family members and their relationships, marriage and family education. As the pace of the global economy integration accelerates, cross-cultural communication between China and America is becoming more and more frequent and important,and the research can undoubtedly help Chinese people and American people to further understand with each other and their family values and to avoid the unnecessary conflict caused by the misunderstanding and mistakes in cross-cultural communication.

Key words: the differences of family values, filial piety, marriage, family education

Table of Contents
1 Introduction 1
2 Literature Review 2
3 The Definitions of Family, Values and Family Values 3 3.1 The Definition of Family 3 3.2 The Definition of Values 3 3.2.1 The Decisive Values in Chinese Culture: Collectivism 3 3.2.2 The Decisive Values in American Culture: Individualism 4 3.3 The Definition of Family Values 4 3.4 The Meaning of Family to Chinese and Americans 5
4 Differences Between Chinese and Americans Family Values 5 4.1 The Attitude to the Family Members and Their Relationships 6 4.1.1 The Attitude to the Family Members and Their Relationships in China 6 4.1.2 The Attitude to the Family Members and Their Relationships in America 7 4.2 The Concept of Marriage 7 4.2.1 Chinese Concept of Marriage 8 4.2.2 American Concept of Marriage 8 4.3 The Concept of Education 9 4.3.1 Chinese Concept of Education 10 4.3.2 American Concept of Education 11 4.4 The Influences to the Different Family Values in Chinese and American Cultures 12
5 The Conclusion 13
References 14
Acknowledgements 16

The Differences of Family Values in Chinese and American Cultures

1 Introduction

Family is the most fundamental unit of all human society. It reflects the ethical values of a society, its cultural characteristics and the unique features of a nation. People begin to learn anything about the world and their culture through the family they are brought up in. Families do not develop their rules, beliefs, and rituals in a vacuum. What you think, how you act, even your language, are all transmitted through the family from the wider cultural context. This context includes the culture in which you live, and those from which your ancestors have come, which is named family values in general. Family values are the core in the research of cultural values, and it has a huge influence on people’s thoughts and behaviors. So if we want to get a glimpse of the cultures of two different countries, it is necessary to know their different family values. In this paper we will analyze family values from different aspects, including the relationship between the parents and their children and the husband and the wife, the concept of the marriage and family education. By comparison, we come into the conclusion that due to the differences of geographical and historical background, religion and belief, different nations have their own family values, but the main reason differs the Chinese and American family values; i.e. individualism of Americans and collectivism of Chinese, and these two ideas influence a lot on the family values of the two countries. Individualism and collectivism are totally opposite. Individualism tells people the importance of self-effort and self-achievement, personal goal and personal right; and personal interest is higher than the interest of group; while collectivism puts forward that the interest of group is much more important than yours, and sometimes for the sake of the interest of the whole group one should obey the group without preconditions and complaint. This paper tries to make a contrastive study between family values in China and in American cultures from the three parts: the attitude to the family members and their relationships, marriage and family education. As the pace of the global economy integration accelerates, cross-cultural communication between China and America is becoming more and more frequent and important,and the research can undoubtedly help Chinese people and American people to further understand with each other and their family values and to avoid unnecessary conflicts caused by the misunderstanding and mistakes.

2 Literature Review

Family derives from private ownership, and is inevitable production in the development of social productive forces (Xie Yongxin, 1995, p.70). Family values as the core in the research of cultural values has decisive influence on people’s behaviors. Study shows that because of the influence of cultural background, the relationships among members of the family and the family values in China and America are completely different. That is, Chinese people advocate collectivism while Americans value individualism (Quan Guoliang & Si Qin, 2010, pp.113-117). In the research of the American family values, Wang Cheng (2005, pp.7-8) summarizes independence, individual rights, freedom and equality. Nevertheless, some researchers deem that the main purpose of the American family is to bring happiness to each individual family member. Their traditional family values include love and respect for all the family members. Equality of love is the main family value in the modern American family (Tu Zibei, 2011, p.39). Guang Yuhong (2009, pp.89-90), a woman scholar in talking about family values, indicated that filial piety is the core value of the Chinese family values. Cheng Tongsheng (1999, pp.60-66) in his article pointed out that the traditional Chinese social structure was closely related with the concept of filial piety. Chinese feudal moral principle demanded the concept of filial piety should not only exist between the parents and children but also be enlarged to their relatives and other social members. In contrast, Americans sniff at the concept of filial piety and think it restrain their self-awareness and ego-development. Shang Yanhui (2010, p.123) has made a conclusion that in the view of the Chinese marriage should last in the life time, from the beginning to the ending. Divorce is a scandal to Chinese, while a divorce is common in America that it is no longer socially unacceptable, and their children are not embarrassed to say that their parents are divorced (Jiang Yufeng, 2009, pp.106-107). However, although most Americans hold a positive attitude towards the issue of divorce, some people began to worry about the high rate of divorce could do harm to their society. Different purposes of education turn out different content of education (Huang Xiaoyong & Huang Caifang, 2009, pp.101-104). In China, parents usually put great expectation on their children, especially those who are the only child in the family. Comparatively, children in American families bear less pressure from their families and get much more happiness during their chasing of goals and dreams (Min Zhengwei & Li Haofeng. 2008, pp.19-22). Many scholars in the research of family values mainly talk about the relationship between the family members, marriage, education and the influence factors to the family values. While we have found that a limited number of the studies on the changes of the family values in both Chinese and American family, the aim of my research is expected to do further research to this aspect.

3 The Definitions of Family, Values and Family Values

3.1 The Definition of Family

Traditionally, family has been defined as a group of people to live together by bonds of blood, marriage, adoption to form economic ties, to fertilize and to bring up children. According to this idea, families form the continuation through child-rearing. Also there is another explanation of family. It says in the word ‘Family’ each letter represents a single meaning, and that is the letter ‘F’ means father, the letter ‘A’ is and, the letter ‘M’ means mother, the letter ‘I’ means I, the letter ‘L’ is defined to be love, and the last letter ‘Y’ means you, so the whole meaning should be ‘Father and mother I love you’. Clearly family is made by three people, father, mother and their child in general.

3.2 The Definition of Values

Values are one person's overall merit and view to the meanings and importance of the objective things around him. Values are beliefs and attitudes about the way things should be. Values are considered subjective, varying across people and cultures and are in many ways aligned with belief and belief systems. Values tell people what is good, important, useful, beautiful, desirable and appropriate. Everyone has his own values which affects his behavior. Therefore in order to understand people and their culture, we must come to understand the values and beliefs that motivate their behaviors.

3.2.1 The Decisive Values in Chinese Culture: Collectivism

Collectivism is the dominant idea in China. In collectivistic societies members identify with the organization and act in unison to accomplish the organization’s goals. This sense of interdependence, loyalty, and joint obligation to the system would also foster a more co-operative and informal communication and co-ordination mechanism to operate in the system as the goals of the organization are being achieved (Fauziah Noordin, 2010, p.160). Chinese people have the thought of ‘I for everyone, and everyone for me’. In Chinese culture, an individual is seen as a part of a group, and should willingly give up his will and benefits to the overall interests of the group if necessary. Public interests are the interests of the individual; public values are the values of the individual; and public wills are the wills of the individual. People in the individualism society have no such kind of concept of inside people and outside people and usually treat everyone as equal, while collectivism society makes strict distinction between insider and outsider. They have complete different attitudes towards them, and to the insider, they are more close and kind; to the outsider, they often show their indifference to them. As for privacy, they also distinguish insider from outsider. They hold the opinion that one who is more intimate to you, and then the two of us should have less or no privacy with each other.

3.2.2 The Decisive Values in American Culture: Individualism

Americans are more individualism-oriented. Individualists put emphasis on personality and lay stress on that everyone as individual should have his own natural right, equality and freedom. They insist that the interest of an individual is higher than the interest of a group. But it must be pointed out that individualism is not equivalent to selfishness. In the culture of individualism, society is a social collectivity constituted by individual. So they pay more attention to personality, independence, competition, individual expression, self-reliance and self-achievement, and they generally evaluate a person through his personal achievement as an important measurement. They particularly attach importance to their privacy as well as others’ privacy, even to the closest person, they also need their private space and do not welcome others’ invasion without permission. Hofstede (1980) describes members in individualistic societies as self-centered, competitive rather than co-operative, having low loyalty for the organizations they work for, pursuing their own goals, having a low need for dependency upon others, and being calculative (Fauziah Noordin, 2010, p.160).

3.3 The Definition of Family Values

Family values are political and social beliefs that hold the nuclear family to be the essential ethical and moral unit of a society, and they are considered as an important part of a country’s traditional cultural values. Family values, as the core of the value system, not only refer to the family members’ norm of behaviors but also are a standard of measuring the norm of conducts.

3.4 The Meaning of Family to Chinese and Americans

Perhaps, there is no other nation in the world loving their families more than Chinese. Since China is a country whose agriculture has dominated the economy for thousands of years. Families generally maintain self-supporting family farms or businesses for more than one generation. In the past, the Chinese used to and were willing to stay together with the family. Settling down a place, and then they live there, bear there, eventually die there; it appeared to be an endless circle of the Chinese life. They knew well their place they called home. A home for a Chinese, not merely is a house built with cement and wood, but also a world belonging to them only. A traditional Chinese family generally consists of at least two generations of people. However, along with social progress and epochal change, small size, simple structure and diversified patterns of families have become the main features of modern Chinese families. Nevertheless, the viewpoint of Americans on family is quite opposite. The American families are extremely mobile. They move from time to time for their respective reasons. For a long time, family in the United States has been defined as one in which a husband and a wife and their minor children live together. The father is a full-time worker who earns enough money to allow the mother to be a full-time housewife. This family lives in a single-family home, the parents are not divorced, and the children are natural or adopted. When their children are at the age of 18 or get married, they usually move out and find a new house to live. And when the parents get old, they prefer to stay in geracomium than live with their children. Although this family pattern is still very much cherished by many Americans, alternative family forms have become more common. These include homosexual relationships, single-parent households, and adopting individuals. The nuclear family is also choosing to have fewer children than in the past.

4 Differences Between Chinese and Americans Family Values

For Chinese and Americans family plays a significant role to them. In a family, the main issues people often talk about are the relationship of the family members, marriage and family education. Chinese families focus more on authority, harmony of family, filial piety, and their obligations to the family. American family members pay great attention to the concepts of individual equality, independence, individual right and family happiness, among which the most prominent concepts are independence and equality. There is a great difference between Chinese family and American family. In order to reach mutual understandings between the two counties, it is of great significance to analyze different family values in Chinese and American cultures.

4.1 The Attitude to the Family Members and Their Relationships

In the Chinese family, authority is highly praised; while in the American family, equality is the most important thing to them. And Chinese people and American people have different opinions on the concept of filial piety.

4.1.1 The Attitude to the Family Members and Their Relationships in China

Chinese people have a big family with variety of relatives, which may be easy to cause competition and suspicion. So in order to maintain order and family harmony, they particularly advocate showing respect to their seniority in the light of the theory of law and discipline rite of Confucius. And 'Act you role well' is the key to a harmonious family relationship. All the family members should be ranked strictly and according to their position in the family hierarchy they would be treated separately and be required to do what they should do. So in traditional Chinese family, the elder is highly respected. As filial piety is the primary thought in the Confucianism, which is the ethical morals that regulate the family parent-child relationship. So that’s why Chinese hold in esteem the feedback circulation pattern: parent bring up their children, then after parents are getting old, it is their children’s responsibility and duty to care for them and give them both material and spiritual support. In the traditional Chinese family, father was always the centre. And now father is still the owner of the family. It is not because the feudal concept that man is superior to woman, but also for what man has earned is the main source of family’s incoming and usually man earns more money than woman. And woman is responsible for the family house working. Though most household affairs are solved and decided by mother, the most important thing related to the whole family are determined by father. And maybe at present, woman’s role is raising, and they are more independent than before. The status of father in the Chinese family still can not be moved. Between parents and children, parents are given more privilege and right to control their children. To most Chinese parents, a good child means to be obedient and docile. It is normal for parents to arrange everything for their children, such as which school to attend, which job to choose and even to interfere in children’s marriage.

4.1.2 The Attitude to the Family Members and Their Relationships in America

To Americans, it is normal that parents and children are separate; reunion is abnormal. Parents bring up children and the children continue to raise the offspring, so the aged is expelled to the society. For the attitude to bring up the children, American parents consider that they have the legal liability, but in a sense, the children should take responsibility for their behaviors. Americans sniff at the concept of filial piety and think it restrains their self-awareness and ego-development. Parents and their children don't need dependency relationship. In contrast, they should establish a kind of allowance system so as to instill the basic concept of self-dignity and self-love into their children. As a result, although children would be grateful for their parents' favors, they do not think they have the obligation to pay back. In America, if the parents still live together with their adult children, they should pay board wages and accommodation fee to children. And the same to their adult children who still live with their parents. The primary purpose of an American family is to advance the happiness, the equality and the freedom of every family member. Americans praise self-centered and deal with the family members and family affairs rationally. For the sake of themselves, they deem that family should make sacrifice. Family’s honor and unity are less important than that in Chinese society. Since equality of opportunity regardless of birth is considered as a basic American value, and also, the American desire for freedom from outside control clearly extends to the families, they don’t like to have controls placed on them by other family members. What would be best for the family is not considered to be as important as what would be best for the individual. In an American family, the democratic idea of equality is prevalent. Father and mother have equal right to make decision on family affairs and their children are given right to vote. Nevertheless, their equality as friends also destroys much of the parents’ status as ruler of the family. Some Americans begin to worry that there is too much democracy in the family. Some parents seem to have little or no control over the behavior of their teenage children.

4.2 The Concept of Marriage

A man and woman are said to be married when they enter into a socially sanctioned relationship that is assumed by them and by their community to be relatively permanent. Married people are obligated to each other sexually and usually also form interdependent economic and domestic units.

4.2.1 Chinese Concept of Marriage

At old times, as a rule, a traditional Chinese marriage was determined by parents and matchmaker. They pay more attention to the factor that the families of the bride and bridegroom are of equal position in the economic situation and social scale. Love is not essential for traditional Chinese marriage, and even is unnecessary part of a marriage. So love-absence marriage became most striking tragedy of Chinese women at old times. Although nowadays this kind of ridiculous marriage does not exist any longer and most young people pursuit to marry someone they truly love and claim freedom of love. Still parents play a crucial role in marriage that till young couple have the permission of their parents, they get married. In the past or at present, there is always a condition before Chinese people to get married which the man should have the ability to support the whole family and the woman who is going to be his wife. It is not just because he loved this woman. Therefore, in China there goes the popular saying that ‘Get married and start one’s career.’ And Chinese men basically would not like to marry a woman who is more capable than him, because they insist that happy marriage or perfect match should be a man with higher social status and earned more money and a woman who is both inferior in social status and finance. If not, the man would have a sense of failure and loss. Most Chinese women still work after marriage, for it is impossible that their husbands can support the family alone. Once one of them loses his or her job or has no job at all, the family would be just like a boat in the ocean. So wives have to share weal and woe with their husbands.

4.2.2 American Concept of Marriage

As for marriage, the Americans think highly of love as its basis. Without love, marriage is impossible. As an American proverb describing relationship of love and marriage goes: ‘Love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage’. If the couple do not love each other anymore, it is normal for them to be apart and to find their happiness again. From their perspective, marriage is loyalty, a serious contract. And it must be fair to both men and women. If you decide that you will spend the rest of your life with someone, you should not have an affair with someone else, otherwise it is unfair. It is the most unacceptable and unforgivable thing for them in the marriage. To Americans, marriage is a serious issue, they have to swear before God to have and to hold from the day they get married forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do them part. Once an expert pointed out that many marriages are destroyed by details, and many families are broken because of lack of respect to each other in the daily life. Detail may accomplish a wonderful family, but it can also fall apart a happy family. So Americans deem respect as a recipe to manage a successful family. Most American marriages, particularly first marriages involving young couples, are the result of mutual attraction and affection rather than practical consideration. Young people are expected to find a husband or a wife on their own effort. The Americans believe that young people should fall in love and then decide to marry someone they can live happily with. Their parents do not usually help them or interfere in them. In fact, most cases are after the couple’s having decided to marry, parents are told of marriage plans. This means that parents have little or no control of their children’s marriage, and only to wish the new couple would have a happy family. Once American women have children, most of them would like to quit their jobs and become housewives. After their children start to go to school, some of them would go back to work. But it doesn’t matter whether American women have jobs or not. Their husbands will make sure that they have the ability to support the whole family before they decide to have a baby. American women think they are independent whether they have jobs or not. Because they consider cleaning the house and taking care of the children as the part of the job. Once they know their husband betrayed them, it is going to be a disaster for men. More women than men ask for divorces in America, which is completely opposite to that in China more men want to divorce with their wives. After divorce, most of them would choose to raise their children alone.

4.3 The Concept of Education

No matter which country you come from, what nationality you belong to all think the family is a person's first school, and the parents are the first teacher. Either in China or in America, either at ancient times or at modern times, family education is always in the most fundamental position.

4.3.1 Chinese Concept of Education

The contemporary Chinese education is still influenced by the traditional family values. Because of the impact of Confucianism, there has always been an inequality between the status of the parents and children. Parents as the authority are the dominators of the family. Therefore, when making some family decisions, children are forced to follow their parents’ authority, and Chinese parents are more likely to arrange everything for them instead of advising them. Now with the improvement of the living standard and the implement of family planning, many families go to another extreme. Because of only having one child, parents as well as grandparents cherish their kids too much and some are overprotecting their little kids that they meet everything their little king and princess want, give the best things they think to their children, and even take the place of their children to do all the things that ought to be done by their children themselves. This is not good for the children at all, which makes the child self-centered, dependent and willful, and causes another inequality of interpersonal relation of the family as well. Chinese family education usually pays emphasis on whether their children have a brilliant future, whether their children can find a good job, and whether their children could have a smooth life. And most parents think it is their responsibility to give their children a better life, and for their children, they are willing to sacrifice themselves no matter how painful and tired they are. Therefore, except for meticulously caring for their daily lives, parents also pay particular attention to their children’s intelligence quotient. To them, the priority of children is to study hard and enter an excellent college. Parents pin too much their hope on their children, expecting their children to do the things they failed to do or finish when they were young. “Expecting too high of their children” has became the prominent problem of Chinese family education. Almost every child goes to a cram school in China. And in recent years, children’s skill development has become an important component of Chinese family education. Many parents are not just satisfied with their children’s learning basic knowledge at school, and they arrange a variety of skill training for their children, for example, piano, dance, calligraphy, and so on, fearing that their children would be less competitive than other children in applying for a job in the future. Although most of the parents especially young ones choose training classes for their children on the basis of their interests, there are still some hierarchical parents who go against their children’ wishes. It may be useful for children’s full development in a sense, but the key point is whether these skills are chosen on the basis of the children’s interests or not. In Chinese culture, if a child is good at learning and always gets good marks at school or wins awards in the competition, it is a great honor of the whole family and it is the best reward for the parents. And as competition is fiercer ever than before, so many young parents also do not want their children fall behind at the starting line. They force their children to compete with others almost in every aspect, healthier food, more expensive clothes, of course, better marks and more certificate of merit.

4.3.2 American Concept of Education

Americans take individual as a focus paying great attention to individual freedom and right. And in education, American parents pay great attention to raising children's independent consciousness since childhood. They think of the child as an equal member in the family, respect the child's personality and dignity, and let the child think independently and choose freely. Children are encouraged to work out all kinds of problems they come across on their own and make decision in the condition of the permission of the society. They respect the child's right, and do not do the compulsory education. Parents' responsibility only lies in discovering and guiding the child's interests and potential ties, creating the advantageous environment for the child, paying attention to the communication with the child, and the educational reciprocity. The concept of American family education stresses on cultivating children’s ability of adapting varieties of environments and ability of independence of living. They attach importance to children’s self-training and believe that children should depend on their strength and effort to grow up. Hence, they pay much attention to foster children’s consciousness of independence and train their ability of living. The common method they usually use is to let children go. As long as children are kept safe, parents try their best to give their children chances to do whatever they can and want. For example, if the children want some money or buy something, the parents will not give them directly; they must earn it by doing housework or other things, such as cleaning the garden, washing the dishes and so on. Though it is very easy, the children know how difficult to make money. And the most important thing is it can develop a strong sense of independence. If you do nothing, no one can help you. To let children go does not mean American parents do not care about their children or allow their children do anything they would like to. They do not indulge their children. First, they cultivate children’s hardship spirit rather than let them spoiled. Second, they have strict rule to the pin money. The basic principle is to give pin money according to children’s age and family incoming at regular intervals. Third, American parents would not let alone their children’s fault and mistakes or cover for their children instead they would make efforts to teach their children to correct their mistakes or to fix up their faults. Furthermore, American parents do not put too much pressure on the study of their children. In their opinion, children would learn the knowledge which they are interested in without others’ compulsion. It is no need to impose on children to learn or to do the things they dislike which would only hurt children and restrict their personality. One’s interest, hobby and ability is born to be different and children should do what they are suitable of and have right to choose which path they want to go through.

4.4 The Influences to the Different Family Values in Chinese and American Cultures

There are three main factors that form the different family values in Chinese and American cultures, geography, history and belief. From the past to the present, China is always a big country with rich natural resources, which makes the Chinese culture evolve to be conservative and cohesive. But the United States as a new found land turned to a promised land for those who wished to seek a new life free of restrictions. To survive for a brand-new life and to try to keep on living in this strange land made the people there independence and self-reliance. China is a country with a long history of 5000 years, while the United States is a nation of immigrants and only has a history of 200 years. The feudal system has controlled China for a long time, and the feudal thoughts still affect the Chinese people nowadays. However, America is a new country born in the modern age. After ‘Independence Declaration’, Americans have been guided by it which conveys the aspirations of Americans and helps them to create their own American culture and establish the American image. They advocate the value of individualism which has also influenced and been reflected in their family values characterized by equality, freedom and independence. The Confucianism is a major part of shaping the Chinese traditional thought. And the concept of filial piety is one of the most famous thought in it. On the contrary, the Christianity is the mainstream in American’s minds. It advocates the right and freedom of individuality. ‘Everyone is equal before God’ is one of the most popular sentence in the Bible. Americans believe in it firmly and are encouraged and inspired by this word, struggling for their equality in every field in society, including in their work, family, marriage and education.

5 The Conclusion

This paper makes a contrastive study of Chinese and American family values, including the attitude to the family members and their relationships, marriage, family education and makes an analysis of the reasons for their differences from three aspects comprising geography, history and belief. The characteristic of Chinese values are collectivism; while American values are the symbol of individualism. To Chinese people, there is always a concept of “we”, and they consider that “I for everybody and everybody for me” is their life creed; compared with Chinese, the Americans have a total opposite opinion, believing in “everybody for oneself, God for everybody”. Owing to the differences of cultural values, there are remarkable differences between Chinese and American family values. Chinese people used to live in a big family with several generations, although the number of big families is decreasing rapidly at present, the relationship of the family member still remains. Chinese people have stiff hierarchy in which they know their position and the rules for behavior in the situation. Especially they show their high respect on the seniority and attach importance on filial piety. On the contrary, Americans value independence, equality and personal right a lot. In American families, parents and children can be good friends, and they respect with each other. In short, there are plenty of differences between Chinese and American families. Now along with the development of the modern civilization and globalization, the communication between Chinese and American is more frequent than before. Their cultures as well as family values collide with and learn from each other. Chinese people now are aware of the importance of independent consciousness and American people are paying more attention to the intimacy among family members. Gradually their family values may change because of the globalization in the future. All in all, it is meaningful to study the different family values in Chinese and American cultures for the benefit of the improvement of the relationship of the two countries.


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