Gerard Hendrik Hofstede (born October 2, 1928 in Haarlem) is a Dutch expert in cultural studies [GHW]. Hofstede (1980) surveyed 88,000 IBM employees working in 66 countries and then ranked the countries on different cultural dimensions. His research resulted in four dimensions (power distance; individualism versus collectivism; uncertainty avoidance; and masculinity and femininity). In the beginning, China was not included in this study but later Bond and Hofstede looked at Chinese values. From this research they included a fifth cultural value dimension called: long-term versus short-term orientation [SKR].
Power Distance Index (PDI)
The Power Distance index shows how less powerful individuals accept and expect an unequal distribution of power. High power distance means that power is unevenly distributed; low power distance means that power is more evenly distributed [TIP]. According to Geert Hofstede’s 5 dimensions China is located in the higher ranking at 80. That means that this society “believes that inequalities amongst people are acceptable” [GER]. The Power is centralised and the management is autocratic. The subordinate-superior relationship tends to be cleaved and “there is no defence against power abuse by superiors” [GER]. This means that “people are less willing to challenge authority which is likely due to old communism beliefs which still have a strong influence on people’s behaviour” [SKR].
Managers expect subordinates to obey them. Subordinates automatically show respect and know that they have to earn their respect. They also expect to be told what to do. Therefore social interactions are formal. In general we can say that the Chinese are “optimistic about people’s capacity for leadership and initiative” [GER]. The general attitude of the Chinese is that you should not fulfil any duties beyond your rank [GER]. In class I have noticed that the status of the teacher has to be respected and privileges are expected. To listen to a different example: In China it is very common that the workers should come 15 minutes earlier to a meeting and the manager with the most power is always five to fifteen minutes later. That shows that the managers enjoy more privileges. I was able to observe that the compliance of the hierarchy is maintained very strictly.
Individualism versus Collectivism(IDV)
This index shows the extent to which individuals are integrated into groups or not [TIP]. In societies with a high IDV index particularly individual rights are protected: self-determination, I experience and personal responsibility are important. In a collectivist culture with a low IDV-index contrast, the integration dominates in any kind of networks. The team spirit is much more characteristic of such a culture [GHW]. According to Geert Hofstede China is located in the lower ranking at 20. “In collectivist cultures such as China, people work together in groups and often put the needs of that group ahead of their own personal wants” [SKR]. They share responsibility. The Chinese who are doing business tend to stay with the same partners and suppliers to keep loyalty and not worsen relationships [SKR].
In China the community had always the priority. Tian xia wei gong said the ancients – under the sky everything serves the community. In the Confucian influenced social system everyone expects from the individual subordination, self-control and willingness to make sacrifices in order that the family and state can benefit from it. Individualism is a term which has always had a negative connotation in China, because people associated it with egoism. The Chinese prefer a holistic thinking. An example, if a Chinese writes his address down he will start with the country, then the city and the street and at the end his own name. The traditional Chinese medicine is a prime example for holistic thinking.
Each disease is always seen in the context of the whole body. Collectivism promotes harmony. In China people focus on harmony and shun the direct confrontation. Harmony is achieved by giving “face” to others and avoiding losing your own “face”. When I talked to my Chinese friend “David Zhang” and asked him about his study he will begin in Germany, he told me that this was a family decision. Of course, it was his wish but without the consent of the family he could never study abroad. Even if he had the money for it he would not do so, because his family is much more important to him.
Masculinity / Femininity(MAS)
This MAS index shows the expression of the dominant values that are established in both sexes. Hofstede ranks to the female values of care, cooperation and modesty. As masculine values Hofstede defines competitive readiness and self-confidence. A high MAS index shows a dominance of “typically male” values, a low MAS index shows a dominance of “typically female” values [GHW]. According to Geert Hofstede China is located in the higher ranking at 66. It is more a masculine society – a society which is success oriented. You can see it on the fact that many of the Chinese sacrifice their leisure time to work [SKR]. I have noticed that shops are open until very late at night. Officially, nowadays women enjoy the same rights as men in the workplace. The Communist Party in China has made efforts to put both genders on almost the same level.
Anyway traditional Confucian thinking does not fit easily with this term of gender equality. It seems to be a bit ironic that the liberalisation policies of the last decade might have turned around many of the advances made by women under the prevalent conditions of the hard-line regimes. Through the traditional values it is the boys who have strong preferences. The men own most of the power and responsibility although there is a high level of acceptance between genders in China [SKR]. Unfortunately, women in executive positions enjoy a low appreciation. There are successful women in all fields, they are among the winners of the economic reforms, but also among the losers. If the economic situation in the factories is poor and staff is reduced, they are the first to be fired. If high school fees are too high, it is usually the daughter, who leave school and has to go to work [BUC].
The UAI index shows a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. Cultures with a high UAI, want to avoid the uncertainty and are characterized by many uncommitted laws, policies and security measures. Members are emotional and nervous. Cultures which are tolerant to accept uncertainty have a few rules that are changeable and thus tend to relativism. The members are phlegmatic and expect from their environment not to show feelings [GHW]. According to Geert Hofstede China has a low score of 30 on uncertainty avoidance. China has a high degree of acceptance of uncertainty. This society does not try to take control of the future, and therefore China’s society is not afraid of unforeseen situations [SKR]. The Chinese consider written and oral arrangements sceptical.
Contracts should be structured so that there is still the possibility to change the contract afterwards. The Chinese are very flexible. In case of conflict, a mentor is used, which takes care of the problems of both families instead of going to court. Uncertainty avoidance means for the Chinese first: What does my boss want? If he agrees with my ideas, then I can put it on. But I do not certainly know if he will like my ideas, I rather not ask him indeed I better wait for instructions. In this case, I can do no wrong, because the manager is responsible for all decisions, therefore the uncertainty is resolved. I could observe that the Chinese remain calm when unforeseen situations occur. They do not get upset about the situation. They can quickly accept the situation and adapt their surroundings.
Long-term or short-term orientation(LTO)
This LTO index “deals with the issue of virtue. Long-term cultures value thrift and perseverance; short-term cultures value tradition, the fulfilment of social obligations and protecting one’s ‘face’ or honour. A long-term orientation is associated with East Asian countries” [TIP]. According to Geert Hofstede China has a high score of 118. Hofstede analysed that China has the highest ranking of all countries in long-term orientation. It is 30% higher than the Asian average score. China is a country with a strong long-term orientation. It can be seen from the fact that China preferred a long-term development and indirect enforcement strategies [SKR].
According to the Chinese way of thinking it is not the shortest route that leads to the destination but the more difficult path. Therefore the Chinese can handle complex situations without a lot of stress neither they let push themselves through time. The key for the Chinese is to build up strong, reliable, lasting relationships. Before any decision is met there must be gained a certain amount of trust. Obviously this takes longer to finish a business deal. They do not like to rush into things [SKR]. Once you build up the trust and a strong relationship you can rely on it. This culture is marked by loyalty and respect. If you are willing to maintain this relationship you can trust your entire life on Guanxi.
Comparison between China and Germany
As you can see there are a few differences between Germany and China. In contrast to China the power is decentralised. The German culture is marked by a low power distance and the subordinates expect to be consulted as well as they expect to offer their ideas to the managers. Flashing back to my work experience I can say that I often had to take initiative. Often people are confronted with the adage: “think by yourself”. The other difference is that the management and subordinates respect each other and treat one another as equals. Usually it is as described, but there are of course exceptions. In most cases, however, I have had the experience that I had a good relationship to my boss. Compared to China, Germany has a highly individualistic society. Personal responsibility, independence, self-determination and I-experience are highly valued in Germany. A prolonged stay abroad is much respected. It shows that you can independently fulfil tasks.
Companies wish to have workers with international experience due to growing globalization. That individualism counts, can also be seen in the fact that you put your name first when writing an address. This is totally different to China where you put the country at first as I have already mentioned. According to Hofstede Germany and China have the same MAS index. Mostly it is the men who hold the most of the power. I have noticed women get more and more acceptance in the man dominated business world. For example we now have a woman (Angelika Merkel) as chancellor and not a man. I can see more and more woman taking part in higher positions. Therefore I would rate Germany at 55 because there is no doubt about the increasing acceptance of women. Another example shows that a women’s quota should be introduced in Germany, which includes that at least 10% of women should sit in the top management.
Furthermore Germany is a country full of bureaucracy. We have laws for almost everything, insurance companies are supposed to protect us and the institutions should regulate everything imaginable. We want to have everything controlled in order to control the future. Therefore we make contracts and then we act accordingly. This is totally different to the Chinese Culture where people like to keep the possibility to change things afterwards. The highest difference between China and Germany is the LTO index. Unlike China, Germany is more short-term oriented. Managers in Germany try to make high profits in no time. We put truth and directness before diplomacy. Furthermore I have noticed that German employers are impatient because they want to get fast results.
Unfortunately, I could not check if I would spread as much points as Hofstede because there was too less time to make an intensive investigation. However, I found out through discussions and research that Hofstede was pretty accurate with his assumptions. Furthermore, I want to mention a couple of criticisms of his study. The main point is listed by critics that the drawn samples were not representative. So in the original study(1967-1972 ) information were used from a global survey made by IBM.
Thus, it is uncertain whether the system actually worked out measures of national cultures or rather differences in corporate culture between the countries. Furthermore, Hofstede’s approach ignores differences within a nation. The model treats a nation as a homogeneous state of individuals who all share the same value system. This is in most cases incorrect. In addition, criticism of the validity of the items was practiced . Hofstede cites no theoretical justification for the selection of items. House and other people criticizes in particular the failure to distinguish between values and behavior. This is problematic because negative values and behavior are linked.
Geert Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviours, Institutions and Organisations across Nations (Place: Corwin Press, 2001). http://www.tiplady.org.uk/pdfs/LEA502-5-culturalissues.pdf
The Hofstede Centre:
Hofstede comparison of Germany and China:
Der China Knigge ; Yu-Chien Kuan, Petra Häring-Kuan ; September 2006 ISBN: 978-3-596-16684-8
Persons I have talked to:
David King (Banker / Chinese)
David Zhang (Student / Chinese)
Primel (Chinese Girl who studies German)
Kim Lao (Chinese Business Man / employed by an American company) Lio (Student / Chinese)