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There are homes at the four corners of the seas: acculturation and adaptation of overseas Chinese

Abstract and Keywords

The number of overseas Chinese has now reached 35 million, making them the largest migrant group in the world. That makes the question “how Chinese acculturate and adapt to new environments?” increasingly important in the global arena. This article examines acculturation and adaptation in overseas Chinese. It focuses primarily on the experiences of Chinese sojourners and immigrants, but also makes some reference to those Chinese who are members of established ethnic communities in culturally diverse societies. It describes the dynamics of acculturation in Chinese families. In contrast to Chinese culture (which is collectivistic, family-oriented, and relational), most destination countries for Chinese immigrants embrace individualistic values where individual rights and needs take priority over the needs of the group and family. As a result, upon arriving in their new host countries, Chinese immigrants are faced with the complicated task of balancing loyalty to their family.

Keywords: overseas Chinese, migrant group, Chinese sojourner, ethnic community, culturally diverse society

The number of overseas Chinese has now reached 35 million, making them the largest migrant group in the world (Li, 2007). It is not surprising, then, that questions about how Chinese acculturate and adapt to new environments are becoming increasingly important in the global arena. The answers to these questions have implications not only for Chinese migrants and their families, but also for the members of most receiving societies, as they come to accommodate to the growing presence of Chinese in their midst. This chapter examines acculturation and adaptation in overseas Chinese. It focuses primarily on the experiences of Chinese sojourners and immigrants, but also makes some reference to those Chinese who are members of established ethnic communities in culturally diverse societies.

Acculturation refers to the changes arising from sustained first-hand intercultural contact (Berry, 1990; Redfield, Linton, & Herskovits, 1936). Although the number and types of acculturative changes that may be studied are virtually limitless, the factors that have received the most attention in psychological research relate to identity, intercultural relations, subjective well-being, and cultural competence. Identity and intercultural relations are examined in models of acculturation that assess short-and long-term cultural maintenance and participation in the wider society by migrants (Berry, 1997), while cultural competence and well-being form important components of research that examines the processes of psychological and socio-cultural adaptation in immigrants and sojourners (Ward, 1996).

Empirical evidence arising from both of these conceptual frameworks is reviewed in this chapter. However, it is also argued that the individualistic orientation of these approaches gives us only a partial picture of Chinese acculturation. To address this shortcoming, acculturation processes are also examined in the family context. The chapter then concludes with an overall evaluation of theory and research on Chinese acculturation and adaptation and recommendations for future work in the area.

(p. 658) Models of acculturation

Uni-dimensional models of acculturation

Cultural identity lies at the core of most models of acculturation, with heritage and host or ‘main-stream’ cultures being of fundamental concern. Early research relied upon relatively simplistic, unidimensional, and unidirectional models of identity and acculturation, portraying immigrants as relinquishing identification with their culture of origin and ‘progressing’ towards identification with their contact culture by adopting the attitudes, behaviors, and values of the host society (Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001). An example of this approach is provided by Gordon's (1971) model of assimilation, used to inform G. Wong and Cochrane's 1989 somewhat dated research on the cultural, structural, and identificational acculturation of Chinese in Great Britain.

The unidimensional conceptualization of acculturation has measurement implications, as illustrated by the Suinn-Lew Asian Self-Identity Acculturation Scale (S-LASAS; Suinn, Rickard-Figueroa, Lew, & Vigil, 1987). The scale, which taps attitudes and behaviors relating to language usage and proficiency, identity, friendship networks, and cultural practices, has been used extensively with Chinese immigrants in the United States. Each of the S-LASAS's 21 items is accompanied by a 5-point response scale that can be scored on a continuum from a high Asian/low Western to a low Asian/high Western orientation. Suinn and colleagues have suggested that the measure may also be used to classify respondents as Asian-identified, Western-identified, or bicultural, depending on their mean item scores. Those approximating 1 on the 5-point scale would be categorized as Asian-identified, those approximating 5 as Western-identified and those with a mean score near 3 as biculturals.

Their conceptualization of the bicultural category is particularly problematic, as it does not necssarily reflect a strong attachment to both cultures, merely an orientation that is neither strongly Asian nor Western. The limitations of the S-LASAS as a measure of acculturation were noted by Tata and Leong 1994 in their study of attitudes toward psychological help-seeking in Chinese Americans. This approach has also been criticized more generally by Ward 1999 in her multinational work on immigration and acculturation, including her research with ethnic Chinese immigrants in Singapore.

Bi-dimensional models of acculturation

Contemporary approaches are largely based on the assumption that identifications with heritage and host cultures are orthogonal or independent of one another, and that, in consequence, bi-dimensional models better capture the essence of the acculturation experience. Although discussion of this issue had been occurring in various forms for 30 years, due primarily to Berry's (1974, 1984) more complex model of acculturation and Ward's subsequent construction of the Acculturation Index (Ward & Kennedy, 1994; Ward & Rana-Deuba, 1999), the publication of Ryder, Alden, and Paulhus's (2000) research with first and second-generation Chinese in Canada seemed to mark a turning point in North American acculturation research. These authors concluded that although the unidimensional measure of acculturation could be linked to personality and adjustment in a coherent way, identifications with heritage and mainstream cultures are independent, just as the pattern of their relationships with external correlates.

Ryder et al. 2000 used the Suinn-Lew Asian Self-Identity Scale as a unidimensional measure of acculturation and two newly constructed scales to tap both heritage and ‘mainstream’ identification for the bi-dimensional measure. The researchers found that the unidimensional and bi-dimensional measures of acculturation demonstrated different patterns of relationships with the Big Five Personality Factors. More specifically, acculturation (i.e. low Asian/high Western orientation) predicted higher levels of Openness and Extraversion in Chinese Canadians, as did identification with mainstream culture. In contrast, identification with heritage culture predicted greater Conscientiousness and less Neuroticism. They also found a different pattern of relationships between the two measures and self-construals. Highly acculturated Chinese Canadians reported stronger independent self-construals; this was also true for those who identified strongly with the (p. 659) mainstream culture. However, identification with heritage culture predicted a stronger interdependent self-construal.

The independence of immigrants' heritage and contact cultural orientations is now widely acknowledged and has been replicated across a range of studies with Chinese, e.g. research with Chinese international students in the United States (Wang & Mallinckrodt, 2006) and Australia (Zheng, Sang, & Wang, 2004) and adolescent Chinese immigrants in New Zealand (Eyou, Adair & Dixon, 2000). It is also recognized, however, that the relationship between the two domains can be affected by contextual factors. For example, Ward 1999 reported a significant positive correlation between host and co-national identity (r =.32) among ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China who were resident in Singapore. As approximately 80 per cent of Singapore's population is also ethnic Chinese, and co-national and host national identification may be overlapping to some extent, this result is not surprising.

Costigan and Su 2004 demonstrated that the independence of heritage and contact cultural identities can also vary across family members in their Canadian study of first-generation Chinese parents and their children. Assessing cultural identities, orientations, and values, the researchers found clear support for the orthogonal model of acculturation in fathers and children, but modest negative correlations between Chinese and Canadian identities (-.36), orientations (-.29) and values (-.23) for mothers. Costigan and Su suggested that mothers may have greater concerns about the loss of Chinese cultural distinctiveness in their children's lives. They also noted that Chinese mothers may have less experience operating in the wider society and are consequently less likely to have developed strategies to separate their cultural orientations and thereby sustain bicultural identities.

Categorical models of acculturation

Conceptualization and measurement. Berry (1974, 1984) has argued that acculturating persons from non-dominant ethnocultural groups confront two important questions arising from intercultural contact: 1) is it important to maintain my original cultural heritage? and 2) is it important to engage in intercultural contact with other groups, including members of the dominant culture? If the answers to these questions are dichotomized as yes-no responses, four acculturation orientations (also called attitudes, strategies, expectations, preferences, and modes) can be identified. If both cultural maintenance and contact are rated as important, an integrated orientation results; if neither is important, marginalization occurs. Assimilation arises when only contact is valued while separation results when only cultural maintenance is of concern. It should also be mentioned that the first dimension of Berry's model, cultural maintenance, has remained stable across international research, meaning that it has been consistently operationalized in accordance with Berry's theorizing. The second dimension, however, ‘maintaining relations with other groups’ has sometimes been defined in terms of contact with or participation in the wider national culture (e.g. Berry, Kim, Power, Young, & Bujaki, 1989), but also been examined in terms of adopting or idenitifying with the national culture (e.g. Snauwaert, Soenens, Vanbeselaere, & Boen; 2003; Ward, 1999; Ward & Rana-Deuba, 1999).

There are various measurement approaches that have been used to quantify integration, assimilation, separation, and marginalization. Berry and colleagues generally prefer to assess attitudes and behaviors in each of these domains, with distinctions sometimes made between actual and desired options (e.g. Berry et al., 1989; Berry, Phinney, Sam, & Vedder, 2006). This approach results in continuous data reflecting responses to each of the four options. Although this technique has been subjected to criticism on psychometric grounds, including the ipsative nature of the measurement scales (Rudmin, 2003), it remains a popular assessment technique. Others have examined the two dimensions of acculturation, reflecting heritage and contact cultural orientations, and then used these in combination with a median split to classify immigrants as integrated, separated, assimilated, or marginalized. The Acculturation Index by Ward and colleagues exemplifies this approach (Ward & Kennedy, 1994; Ward & Rana-Deuba, 1999).

Acculturation preferences and practices. Research by Berry and colleagues has indicated that integration is strongly preferred by short- and long-term migrants, and this finding is generally replicated (p. 660) with Chinese samples independently of the assessment technique adopted. Ward's research based on agree-disagree responses to attitudinal statements found that 80 per cent of Chinese youth in New Zealand supported integration and less than 20 per cent agreed with the practices of assimilation, separation, or marginalization (Ward & Lin, 2005).

Preferences, however, may not always be reflected in practices. Using the two dimensions of Chinese and New Zealand (European) identities and a scalar mid-point split to categorize 427 first generation migrants, Eyou et al. 2000 classified 44 per cent of primary and secondary students as integrated, 36 per cent as separated, 6 per cent as assimilated, and 14 per cent as marginalized. Research has also shown that preferences and practices change over time. Ho 1995 reported that separation was preferred by Hong Kong Chinese adolescents upon entry to New Zealand, but that this preference decreased and endorsement of integration grew stronger over the first four years of residence. A shift from separation and marginalization to integration or assimilation was also suggested in Chia and Costigan's 2006 study of native and overseas-born Chinese university students in Canada. In all likelihood, the preference and capacity for integration are enhanced by greater familiarity with the host culture and the increased acquisition of culture-specific skills. This contention is supported by research in Singapore that showed resident Chinese from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China were more likely to integrate than their British or American peers (Ward, 1999).

A slightly different approach to acculturation was undertaken in the International Comparative Study of Ethnocultural Youth, which combined Berry's acculturation model with theory and research on ethnic identity and intergroup relations (Berry et al., 2006). The project, spanning 13 countries, more than 30 ethnocultural groups and over 5000 immigrant youth, used cluster analysis to examine a range of factors in the search for basic acculturation profiles. The results pointed to the emergence of four basic profiles: Integrated, National, Ethnic, and Diffuse, broadly paralleling Berry's notions of Integration, Assimilation, Separation, and Marginalization, respectively.

The Integrated profile was characterized by strong ethnic and national identities, endorsement of integration, high national and moderate ethnic language proficiency, and forming of both ethnic and national peer contacts. National youth were high in national identity, low in ethnic identity, and endorsed assimilation; they also had proficient and frequent use of the national language and extensive national peer contacts. In contrast, Ethnic youth were strong in ethnic identity, had proficiency in their ethnic language and used it frequently, endorsed separation, had a weak national identity, and few national peer contacts. Finally, the Diffuse group presented a complex picture, being high in the use and proficiency of their ethnic language, but low in their ethnic identity. They also reported low proficiency in the national language, somewhat low levels of national identity and national peer contacts, and endorsed separation, assimilation and marginalization.

The clusters varied across countries and groups, but the pattern for Chinese Australians indicated that 41 per cent fell in the Integrated cluster (range 11–69 per cent), 29 per cent National (2–87 per cent), 4 per cent Ethnic (0–62 per cent) and 25 per cent Diffuse (0–65 per cent). Chinese youth in Australia were slightly above the median percentage for Integration across all samples, well above the median percentage for the Diffuse categorization, in the top quartile for the National classification, and in the bottom quartile for the Ethnic assignment. The results are encouraging in that Integration was established as the modal response of Chinese youth; however, concerns arise over the considerable proportion of Diffuse youth who appear to operate without strong cultural attachments to either Chinese or Australian cultures. It will be important to explore their acculturation outcomes longitudinally and over longer periods of time in the host country.

Chia and Costigan 2006 also adopted cluster analysis in their research with Chinese Canadians, incorporating not only measures of Chinese and Canadian identities, values and behaviors, but also in-group ethnic evaluations, suggested to be particularly relevant to members of collectivist cultures. Their results overlapped with, but were not identical to, those derived from Berry's model. More specifically, five clusters were uncovered for Chinese Canadian students: Integrated (21 per cent), Separated (22 per cent), Assimilated (10 per cent), Integrated without Chinese Practices (15 per cent), (p. 661) and Marginalized with Chinese Practices (32 per cent). The Integrated without Chinese practices group saw themselves as strongly Canadian and moderately Chinese; they evaluated the Chinese in-group very positively, but they did not generally engage in Chinese practices. Although this group was split between native and overseas-born Chinese, the latter had a relatively long period of residence in Canada. This Integrated group contrasted markedly with the Marginalized who maintained Chinese practices, despite identifying strongly with neither Chinese nor Canadians and leaning towards a relatively negative evaluation of the Chinese in-group. The authors cautioned against the over-simplification of Chinese acculturation processes and the lumping of attitudes, values, identity and behaviors into one amorphous category for assessment purposes (see also Feldman, Mont-Reynaud, & Rosenthal, 1992). They also opposed the determination of acculturation status based on background factors, such as language proficiency or place of birth.

Identity conflict and identity integration

Research has clearly shown that heritage and contact cultural identities are independent in Chinese migrants, but that contextual factors may contribute to the convergence or divergence of these identity domains. It follows, then, that cultural orientations may emerge as harmonious or in conflict during the acculturation process. Guided by Baumeister, Shapiro, and Tice's (1985) discussion of identity crises, Leong and Ward 2000 first investigated acculturation and identity conflict in a study of Chinese sojourners in Singapore. The research revealed that the strength of identity conflict was low to moderate (M = 3.10 on a 7-point scale) in international students from mainland China, with levels of that conflict predicted by a low tolerance of ambiguity, low attributional complexity, weak Chinese identity, greater perceived discrimination, and more frequent contact with Singaporeans. The last of these findings was surprising, and the authors speculated that more frequent interactions with Singaporeans may have lead to greater confusion and conflict in some Chinese sojourners, since they see Singaporeans both as Chinese and as different.

More recently, identity conflict in acculturating Chinese youth was explored by E.-Y. Lin 2008 who examined the underpinning influences of cultural and intergroup factors. Lin reported that a weaker sense of cultural continuity, perceptions of impermeable intergroup boundaries, less contact with host nationals, and greater perceived discrimination predicted increments in identity conflict for Taiwanese and mainland Chinese youth in New Zealand. The pattern was similar for Taiwanese and mainland Chinese students in Singapore, except that poor English language proficiency rather than infrequent host national contact predicted greater conflict. Lin's research also demonstrated the significance of cultural context in that Chinese youth in New Zealand experienced greater conflict than those in Singapore, suggesting the influence of cultural distance on acculturation outcomes.

Benet-Martínez and Haritatos 2005 have approached essentially the same issue from a different perspective in their work on Bicultural Identity Integration (BII) in first generation Chinese-Americans. BII incorporates two domains: Conflict (versus harmony) and Distance (versus blended-ness). The former is an emotion-based response, encompassing the feeling of being ‘torn’ between two cultural orientations; the latter refers to the perceptions of compartmentalized versus overlapping identities. Benet-Martínez and Haritatos have shown that these identity domains are differentially predicted by personality and acculturative stressors. Using path analysis they reported that Agreeableness (-) and Neuroticism were linked to cultural conflict, with the influence of the former mediated by problematic intercultural relations and the latter having both direct and indirect paths through intercultural relations and poor language skills. In contrast, Extraversion and Openness led to lower levels of cultural distance. The former was mediated by cultural isolation while the latter exerted direct and indirect influences via language skills, bicultural competence, and separatism. Conscientiousness was unrelated to cultural conflict and distance. Their results thus overlap to some extent with those of Ryder et al. 2000.

Both the work on bicultural identity integration and identity conflict offer fresh approaches to identity and acculturation in Chinese and should be pursued in future research.

(p. 662) Acculturation and adaptation

There is no doubt that intercultural contact induces change. However, the issue as to whether the changes in short- and long-term immigrants are positive or negative, adaptive or maladaptive is a major concern. Many frameworks exist for evaluating these changes, but the international acculturation literature has relied primarily on the distinction of psychological and socio-cultural adaptation (Berry & Sam, 1997; Ward, 2001; Ward et al., 2001). Psychological adaptation refers to psychological and emotional well-being. It reflects an emphasis on affective responses to cultural change and is tapped by both positive measures, such as life satisfaction, and negative indicators, such as psychological symptoms. Socio-cultural adaptation refers to the capacity to ‘fit in’ or effectively negotiate intercultural interactions. It reflects a behavioral perspective on cross-cultural adaptation and is often assessed in terms of cultural competencies or difficulties as well as domain-specific achievements, e.g. work performance for expatriates or academic performance for international or immigrant students. The distinction of psychological and socio-cultural adaptation was first posed by Searle and Ward 1990 in their New Zealand-based research with Chinese students from Malaysia and Singapore and will be adopted throughout this chapter.

Identity, acculturation, and adaptation

One body of research has specifically examined acculturation attitudes and strategies as predictors of adaptation. For the most part the research indicates that integration, whether tapped as a preference or an adopted strategy, is associated with the most positive outcomes, and marginalization the most negative consequences. Assimilation and separation occupy an intermediate position with respect to their association with adaptive outcomes.

Ying's (1995) research examined acculturation and adaptation with 143 ethnic Chinese (aged 19–85) in the San Francisco area, classifying them as bicultural (integrated), separated, assimilated, or marginalized based on their participation in cultural activities. Overall, a bicultural orientation was linked to lower depression, more positive and less negative affect, and greater life satisfaction. In all instances biculturals fared better than the separated. The separated group experienced lower life satisfaction than the assimilated, and the marginalized group reported lower life satisfaction than both the biculturals and the assimilated. Finally, Chinese Americans who were assimilated expressed less negative affect than those who were separated or marginalized.

Similar findings have been reported in studies in Australia and New Zealand, where research has demonstrated that integrated Chinese students exhibit higher levels of self-esteem and subjective well-being than those who are assimilated, separated, or marginalized (Eyou et al., 2000; Ho, 2004; Zheng et al., 2004). Chia and Costigan's 2006 study of Chinese-Canadian university students further suggested that marginalized individuals are at particular risk. More specifically, they exhibited lower self-esteem and more depressive symptoms than their integrated and assimilated peers. The authors were careful to point out, however, that the absolute level of adjustment was intermediate rather than low in the marginalized group, while the integrated and assimilated groups scored at the positive ends of these outcome scales.

Although international investigations of acculturation and adaptation with Chinese sojourners and immigrants largely converge, research findings are not uniform, particularly when qualitative assessment techniques are used. Yip and Cross 2004 adopted an innovative methodology in their diary study of acculturation and adaptation in Chinese Americans. Based on daily diary entries pertaining to ethnic salience over a two-week period, research participants were classified as Chinese-oriented (47.5 per cent), American-oriented (31.5 per cent), or biculturals (21 per cent). When acculturation categories were appraised in relation to psychological adjustment, however, there were no significant differences in depression, fatigue, anger, somatic symptoms, or anxiety across these groups.

Some researchers have suggested that the basic components of Berry's (1990) model, that is orientations toward heritage and contact cultures, rather than the four strategies per se, are better predictors (p. 663) of adaptive outcomes. Research with Chinese international students in the United States found an American orientation was associated with fewer socio-cultural adaptation problems and fewer psychological symptoms (Wang & Mallinckrodt, 2006). This result is consistent with those from studies of Chinese Canadians, which found that orientation to the wider Canadian culture was linked to fewer psychological symptoms and better social and academic adjustment, even after controlling for the influence of extraversion and neuroticism (Ryder et al., 2000). However, Ward's (1999) study of identity and adaptation of Chinese migrants in Singapore found that a stronger co-national identity was associated with fewer depressive symptoms, while a stronger host national identity was linked to better socio-cultural adaptation. These results suggest that the characteristics of the heritage and host cultures and the relationship between them are key factors that influence the process of Chinese acculturation and adaptation.

Cheung-Blunden and Juang 2008 adopted a novel approach to Chinese acculturation by extending Berry's model to the colonial context in their study of Hong Kong students and their parents and examined orientations (values and behaviors) to both Chinese and Western cultures. Their results indicated that: 1) Chinese and Western orientations were independent, and both were moderately strong; 2) both orientations predicted socio-cultural adaptation - the Chinese orientation was associated with a higher grade point average, while the Western orientation was related to more misconduct; 3) neither orientation predicted psychological adaptation (i.e. depressive symptoms); and 4) in no instance did the interaction term (Chinese x Western), representing the four acculturation categories, predict adaptation outcomes.

There have also been studies that have examined identity conflict and identity integration in conjunction with adaptive outcomes. E.-Y. Lin 2006 reported that identity conflict was related to poorer psychological and socio-cultural adaptation in her research with Chinese migrant youth in New Zealand and Singapore. S. X. Chen, Benet-Martínez, and Bond 2008 investigated the impact of bicultural identity integration on psychological adjustment in mainland Chinese immigrants to Hong Kong. They found that bicultural identity accounted for additional variance in well-being above and beyond the influence of self-efficacy and neuroticism, suggesting that previous outcome studies exploring identity orientations were not just measuring maladaptive personality dispositions.

Acculturative stress, coping and adaptation

The dynamic process of stress and coping as proposed by Lazarus and Folkman 1984 underpins the major conceptual framework used in the study of acculturation and adaptation. In accordance with this perspective, both cross-cultural transition and intercultural contact are viewed as life events precipitating stress and requiring readjustment. The core process involves the life events associated with intercultural contact, the appraisal of change, stress and coping responses, and adaptive and maladaptive outcomes (Berry, 1997, 2006; Ward, 2001, 2004). The core process may be mediated or moderated by personal and situational variables with generic factors that affect stress and coping (e.g. personality, social support) as well as culture-specific issues (e.g. acculturation strategies, cultural distance) both contributing to the outcomes (Ward et al., 2001). This section summarizes stress and coping research, broadly defined, with Chinese sojourners and immigrants and focuses on two key questions: 1) which factors predict adaptation, and 2) how does adaptation vary over time?

Stress and coping. Acculturative stress refers to the stress reactions arising from life events rooted in the experiences of acculturation (Berry, 2005). Fundamentally, these life events may be viewed in two ways. First, for migrants who have made recent cross-cultural transitions, life changes may be examined with the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which is based on a range of normative and non-normative life events and is accompanied by indices of life change units (LCUs) that quantify the amount of readjustment each requires (Holmes & Rahe, 1967). Furnham and Bochner 1986 noted that the life change units routinely associated with migration, such as changes in living conditions, residence, and social activities, exceed 300 LCUs, a level concomitant with an 80 per cent risk factor of major illness. Accordingly, it is not surprising that research with (predominantly Chinese) (p. 664) Malaysian and Singaporean students in New Zealand and with Malaysian students in Singapore reported a significant link between the magnitude of recent life changes as assessed by the SRRS and depression (Searle & Ward, 1990; Ward & Kennedy, 1993).

A second approach is to examine the more long-term stressors rooted in the experience of acculturation (Berry, 2005). Ying and Han 2006 have provided a useful framework for analysis of acculturative stressors in their longitudinal study of Taiwanese students in the United States, elaborating social stressors such as homesickness and isolation, cultural stressors such as cultural distance (particularly, differences in values), and functional stressors such as academic and environmental challenges. These stressors, assessed two months after arrival in the United States, predicted increased depression and lower functional adjustment up to one year later. Cross-sectional research by Wei et al. 2007 and S. X. Chen et al. 2008 converges with these findings. Acculturative stressors, including culture shock, perceived discrimination, communication difficulties, and homesickness, were associated with higher levels of depression in Chinese international students in the United States and poorer psychological adjustment of mainland Chinese immigrants in Hong Kong.

Berry and colleagues have argued that it is not the life changes per se but their appraisal that exerts a major influence on adaptive outcomes. Zheng and Berry (1991) explored stress appraisal in Chinese sojourners in Canada and in Chinese and non-Chinese Canadians. Their results revealed that Chinese sojourners perceived language and communication, discrimination, loneliness, and homesickness as more problematic than either Chinese or non-Chinese Canadians. A similar pattern was observed in research by Chataway and Berry 1989 where students from Hong Kong appraised communication difficulties and discrimination as more problematic than did either French- or Anglo-Canadians.

Chataway and Berry 1989 also examined the coping strategies preferred and used by Hong Kong Chinese students. Employing a modified version of the Ways of Coping questionnaire by Folkman and Lazarus 1985, they found that students who engaged in positive thinking were more satisfied, and those who employed withdrawal and wishful thinking were less satisfied with their ability to cope. However, there were only weak links between adopted coping styles and psychological distress. More specifically, detachment as a coping style was related to increased psychological and psychosomatic symptoms. While Zheng and Berry (1991) found that wishful thinking was among the most frequently used coping strategies of overseas Chinese students and Chinese Canadians, they failed to establish that coping strategies were significant predictors of physical and mental health.

Other studies have demonstrated links between ‘higher-order’ coping styles and adaptation in Asian (predominantly Chinese) samples of international students. Cross 1995 extracted items from the active coping and planning subscales of Carver, Scheier, and Weintraub's (1989) COPE to tap direct coping strategies in a sample of East-Asian (70 per cent Chinese) students in the United States. These strategies exerted a direct influence on decrements in perceived stress. Likewise, Kennedy 1999 found that direct coping enhanced the psychological adaptation of Singaporean students abroad, but that an avoidant coping style, e.g. disengagement and denial, was detrimental to their psychological well-being.

Kuo 2002 has argued that traditional stress and coping research, including studies of acculturation and adaptation, has not adequately captured the range of strategies employed across diverse cultural groups and contexts. He specifically suggested that Asians use collectivist coping styles that reflect group-referenced strategies, interpersonal interactions, and values-based responses, including conformity, interdependence, humility, social harmony, and respect for hierarchy. To test his ideas, Kuo constructed and validated the Cross-cultural Coping Scale with Individual-Oriented (problem focused and avoidance factors) and Collective-Oriented (group-referenced and values-based factors) components based on his work with over 500 Chinese Canadians.

His research demonstrated that Acculturative Stress led to the use of individualist coping but that acculturation status predicted the use of collectivist coping styles. More specifically, those who were less assimilated were more likely to employ group-referenced and values-based collectivist coping. Lau 2007, who took a somewhat different approach to collective coping, found that ‘passive collective coping,’ a combination of forbearance and fatalism, partially mediated the relationship between (p. 665) acculturative stressors, such as perceived discrimination, depression, and anxiety in Chinese international students.

Social support. While the importance of the interdependent self, interconnectedness, and group-embeddedness in Chinese culture is widely acknowledged (Markus & Kitayama, 1991), Taylor et al. 2004 have produced convincing evidence that East Asians and Asian Americans, including Chinese, are less likely to seek social support than are European Americans. They attributed these differences to the Asians' stronger beliefs that support-seeking disrupts group harmony, makes one's problems worse, and leads to loss of face. In short, Asians are concerned about the possible relational disruptions arising from support-seeking. Despite these concerns, there is strong evidence that social support exerts a direct and positive influence on the psychological adaptation of Chinese sojourners and immigrants.

Australian studies have shown that social support contributes directly to decrements in hopelessness, anxiety and trauma in Chinese primary and secondary students (Sondregger, Barrett, & Creed, 2004) and is associated with their better general health and academic achievement (Leung, 2001a). It has also been linked to better general adjustment in overseas Chinese students in Singapore (Tsang, 2001). In a large epidemiological study, Shen and Takeuchi 2001 found that social support exerted a direct influence on decreasing stress, which in turn, led to lower levels of depression in Chinese Americans. Conversely, Abbott et al. 2003 reported that low levels of emotional support predicted greater depression in elderly Chinese migrants in New Zealand.

Research has also shown that social support can arise from a variety of sources. Ye's (2006) study of traditional and online support networks revealed that, although newly arrived Chinese international students received greater support from online ethnic social groups, the use of both online and traditional sources of support were related to adaptation. More specifically, online and interpersonal networks in the host country were linked to fewer socio-cultural adaptation problems, and interpersonal and long distance networks from the home country were associated with less mood disturbance.

Although Chinese immigrants are more likely to rely on co-ethnic networks, social support from members of the host culture can also be effective in dealing with social and psychological stressors and contributing to adaptive outcomes. A. S. Mak and Nesdale 2001 reported that Anglo friendships exerted a positive influence on the psychological adaptation of first-generation Chinese migrants in Australia, while Ying and Han 2006 found that affiliation with Americans two months after arrival led to better functional adjustment in Taiwanese students one year later. Associations with locals additionally contributed to better interaction adjustment and work performance of Chinese academics in Singapore (Tsang, 2001).

The reliance on support networks can change over time as evidenced by D. F. K. Wong and Song's 2006 study of the settlement stages of mainland Chinese immigrant women in Hong Kong. Their longitudinal qualitative study with 15 immigrants indicated that in the earliest stages women mobilized instrumental and informational support from extended family members, particularly around practical issues such as finance, housing and childcare. The need for emotional support became more salient during the second stage of settlement, with other immigrant women primarily lending support. The research also indicated that the women were unlikely to seek assistance from formal networks and only rarely relied upon support from neighbors or co-workers. The preference for using interpersonal friendship networks for support and the reluctance to rely upon formal services have been widely observed in Chinese immigrants and international students from Asia, including those from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan (e.g. Yeh & Inose, 2002; Zhang & Dixon, 2003; see also Chan, Ng, & Hui, this volume).

There are homes at the four corners of the seas: acculturation and adaptation of overseas Chinese
There are homes at the four corners of the seas: acculturation and adaptation of overseas Chinese

The meaning and use of social support by Chinese immigrants in Japan was explored in a qualitative study by Matsudaira 2003. The study suggested that the meaning of social support is intimately tied to face issues associated wth lian (the recognition of character and integrity which is preserved by adherence to social norms) and mianzi (reputation gained through success and ostentation), and reflects culture-specific impression management strategies (see also Hwang & Han, this volume). Ambivalence towards support-seeking arises from beliefs and expectations about independence, face (p. 666) loss, and social debt. In the first instance, Matsudaira argues that Chinese immigrants have a strong belief that they should attain goals and solve problems without assistance. The achievement of these goals is seen to reflect the actor's lian.

If support is received, however, distinctions are made between in-group and out-group sources and their differing implications for the preservation of face. The family is seen as the primary in-group for rendering support to Chinese immigrants; interdependence motivates family members to be supportive and immigrants to express appreciation by attributing their successes to family assistance. Matsudaira argues that these dynamics provide an opportunity for immigrants to earn lian and share it with familial support-providers.

Finally, when immigrants' social support is received from an out-group member, in this instance a Japanese host, a social debt with the expectation of reciprocity is incurred. Matsudaira 2003 maintains that unanticipated support from out-group members, particularly in educational and business settings, may contribute to a loss of mianzi for Chinese immigrants, but with reciprocation of favors received, lian can be restored. She also notes, however, that Japanese and Chinese perspectives on giving and receiving social support are likely to differ as the concept of lian is lacking amongst the Japanese. Consequently, Chinese interpretations of, and the dynamics surrounding, benevolence, social debt, and reciprocity may not be shared by their Japanese hosts.

Personal and situational factors. Personal and situational factors affect both the process and outcomes of coping with acculturative stress. Among the former, the role of personality has received particular attention in studies involving Chinese sojourners, immigrants and members of established ethnic communities. Research has revealed that agreeableness, conscientiousness, hardiness, self-efficacy, and an internal locus of control are broadly linked to psychological well-being (Mak, Chen, Wong, & Zane, 2005; Tsang, 2001; Ward & Kennedy, 1993; Ward, Leong, & Low, 2004). In contrast, neuroticism, personal negativity (lack of control, pessimism and low tolerance of ambiguity), and maladaptive perfectionism are associated with negative psychological outcomes (Shen & Takeuchi, 2001; Wei et al., 2007).

In addition to these factors, research has revealed a strong link between extraversion and positive outcomes for ethnic Chinese sojourners in both longitudinal and cross-sectional studies (Searle & Ward, 1990; Ward et al., 2004; Ying & Han, 2006). These results, however, should be interpreted in relation to the characteristics of the receiving societies (United States, New Zealand, Australia), where extraversion scores on the NEO-PI-R and the EPQ tend to be higher than in Chinese societies (McCrae, 2002; Ward & Chang, 1997; Ward et al., 2004). The question remains as to whether extraversion per se is intrinsically conducive to better mental health in Chinese immigrants and sojourners or whether it influences adaptive and maladaptive outcomes by virtue of its match or mismatch with culture-specific norms. The examination of personality and adaptation of Chinese sojourners and immigrants in Asian contexts would be a step towards elucidating this process. Indeed, research with Chinese students and academics in Singapore found that extraversion did predict better intercultural interactions, but was unrelated to general adjustment (Tsang, 2001).

The influence of real and perceived cultural distance on the adjustment process of Chinese sojourners and immigrants has been repeatedly confirmed in international studies. Greater perceived cultural and value differences were found to lead to more adjustment problems in Taiwanese students in the United States (Ying & Liese, 1994). In comparative studies, mainland Chinese students in New Zealand were found to experience lower life satisfaction than students from North America, South America and Europe (Ward & Masgoret, 2004); Chinese exchange students in Russia perceived greater cultural distance and experienced poorer adjustment than did students from sub-Saharan Africa and the former Soviet Union (Galchenko & van de Vijver, 2007); and Chinese overseas and immigrant students in Australia reported greater loneliness, lower academic satisfaction and lower social self-efficacy than did second-generation immigrants from Southern Europe (Leung, 2001b). Conversely, Hong Kong and mainland Chinese residents in Singapore reported better socio-cultural adaptation, that is significantly fewer social difficulties, than did their British, American and New Zealand counterparts (Ward & Kennedy, 1999).

(p. 667) These findings suggest that Chinese migration to other Chinese societies may be relatively trouble-free by virtue of a common, shared cultural heritage. However, research with expatriate managers from Hong Kong assigned to work in China revealed that this is not always the case. Selmer 2002 compared the perceptions of cultural novelty, general, work and interaction adjustment, and subjective well-being of Western and Chinese expatriate managers. The comparisons indicated that Hong Kong Chinese managers experienced less cultural novelty, but reported poorer adjustment, particularly in the work domain, than did their Western peers. There were no significant differences in subjective well-being between the two groups. On the basis of their earlier qualitative, interview-based research, Selmer and Shui 1999 proposed that the common Chinese cultural heritage aggra-vated the adjustment of Hong Kong managers posted to Shanghai and Beijing. More specifically, they found that perceived similarity camouflaged the need for cultural sensitivity and change, leading to greater frustration, resentment and withdrawal by Hong Kong Chinese when difficulties arose. The researchers also noted that perceptions of cultural closeness affected the responses of PRC Chinese employees who were more likely to judge their Hong Kong than Western managers harshly when cultural transgressions occurred.

The special case of cultural competence. Although psychological adjustment has received the bulk of attention in studies of Chinese acculturation and adaptation, the development of cultural competencies, often discussed under the rubric of socio-cultural adaptation, is also important. Cultural learning theory, which views the acquisition of culture-specific skills as the key indicator of adaptation, provides the overall theoretical framework for understanding and explaining acculturative processes in this domain (Ward, 2004; Ward et al., 2001). Communication competence lies at the core of the process, facilitating interactions with host nationals who function as cultural informants about the wider socio-cultural environment. More frequent, satisfying, and effective interactions with host nationals lead to the development of greater cultural competencies and better socio-cultural adaptation. As adaptation arises from learning, it improves over time and is facilitated by cultural similarity rather than cultural distance (Masgoret & Ward, 2006).

In line with Masgoret and Ward's (2006) model of socio-cultural adaptation, research has corroborated the link between English-language proficiency and friendship with American peers in ethnic Chinese immigrant youth and international students (Tsai, 2006; Ying, 2002). Similar results emerged from Kuo and Roysircar's 2004 study of ethnic Chinese adolescents in Canada. Their findings showed that both length of residence in Canada and English reading ability predicted a stronger affiliation with the dominant white society. Furthermore, this affiliation was strongest in the early immigrant group. The authors concluded that language proficiency assists with the acquisition of cultural knowledge, facilitates cross-cultural interactions, and decreases the likelihood of intercultural conflicts and misunderstandings.

While host nationals provide valuable informational support and assistance with culture learning, forming intercultural friendships has been identified as a difficult task, not only for Chinese international students (Spencer-Oatey & Xiong, 2006; Ward & Masgoret, 2004), but also Chinese immigrant youth (Tsai, 2006). Despite the challenges they present, friendships and more frequent interactions with host national peers have been shown to lead to fewer psychological and socio-cultural adaptation problems (Searle & Ward, 1990; Ward & Kennedy, 1993; Ying & Liese, 1994). In contrast, there is evidence that more frequent interactions with Chinese co-nationals is associated with greater socio-cultural adaptation problems and lowered life satisfaction in Chinese international students (Ward & Kennedy, 1993; Ward & Masgoret, 2004).

While the acquisition of socio-cultural competencies is viewed as an adaptive outcome of acculturation from a culture learning perspective, it may also been seen as a resource that facilitates psychological well-being in sojourners and immigrants. Indeed, the model of psychological and socio-cultural adaptation that emerged from the International Comparative Study of Ethnocultural Youth suggested that socio-cultural adaptation, defined in terms of school adjustment and behavioral problems, led directly to psychological adaptation, including life satisfaction and a low level of psychological symptoms (Sam, Vedder, Ward, & Horenczyk, 2006; Vedder, van de Vijver, & Liebkind, 2006).

(p. 668) Certainly, there is strong evidence to corroborate the link between socio-cultural and psychological adaptation in Chinese sojourners and immigrants. Wang and Mallinckrodt 2006 reported a moderate correlation between socio-cultural adaptation problems and psychological symptoms in their sample of Chinese international students in the United States, and Spencer-Oatey and Xiong 2006 noted a strong correlation between social difficulties and depression in Chinese students enrolled in a British university. Ward and Kennedy 1999 reported a low but significant correlation between socio-cultural adaptation problems and depression (.20) in Hong Kong and mainland Chinese residents of Singapore, and somewhat stronger relationships for their predominantly Chinese samples of Malaysian students in Singapore (.54), Singaporeans in the United States (.53), Singaporean and Malaysian students in New Zealand (.41), and Singaporean students in multinational destinations (.31). The authors suggested that the relationship between socio-cultural and psychological adaptation can be interpreted as an index of sojourners' and migrants' integration and participation in the wider society.

Adaptation over time. There have been relatively few longitudinal studies that have examined adaptation over time in Chinese immigrants and sojourners. Nevertheless, limited research has revealed differences in pre-departure and post-arrival adaptation, as well as predictable fluctuations over the first year of residence. Ying and Liese's 1991 investigation indicated that more than half of their sample of Taiwanese students experienced a drop in emotional well-being after their arrival in the United States. Zheng and Berry's (1991) research with Chinese scholars to Canada likewise revealed a three to four month post-arrival drop in psychological well-being. Ward and Kennedy (1996) examined both psychological and socio-cultural adaptation in a small sample of (predominantly Chinese) Singaporean and Malaysian students in New Zealand and found that the level of depression was significantly greater at one month and one year of residence compared to the intermediate six-month time point. With respect to socio-cultural adaptation, problems were greatest on entry, decreased sharply in the first six months and continued on a downward trend over the first year. When interviewed one month after arrival and asked to comment retrospectively on their entry, 68 per cent of the students described their experiences in exclusively negative terms compared to 5 per cent who used exclusively positive descriptors.

Overall, these findings are in accordance with both stress and coping and culture learning theories. The life changes encountered in the earliest stage of cross-cultural transition are likely to impact negatively on psychological well-being. Furthermore, the changes apparent during this period occur at a time when local social support networks are likely to be largely lacking. Consequently, stress and coping theories would predict that psychological adaptation declines between pre-departure and early post-arrival stages and that it improves over the first six months, as the sojourner or immigrant adjusts to change and establishes social support networks. With respect to socio-cultural adaptation, culture learning theory would predict that adaptation problems follow an inverted learning curve over time. More specifically, that there would be a sharp decrement in social difficulties over the first few post-arrival months, followed by a slower rate of decline and an eventual levelling off (Ward, Okura, Kennedy, & Kojima, 1998).

Individuals and families. The previous sections have introduced the main conceptual frameworks for the study of acculturation and adaptation as found in the international literature. They have also drawn on a large body of empirical research to elucidate the Chinese experience. As with most areas of psychological theory and research, however, the guiding paradigms and conceptual frameworks may be applicable to Chinese without capturing some of the essential issues that are most relevant to them (see Hong, Yang, & Chiu, this volume; Yang, this volume). Acculturation research, like many other topics of psychological inquiry, has been undertaken primarily from an individualistic scientific perspective. We are well informed about how Chinese individuals cross cultures, experience acculturation, and adapt to new and relatively unfamiliar environments. But, Chinese societies are built upon collectivist values and beliefs, so that the acculturation of Chinese immigrants should be examined in the family context. As such, the next section considers the dynamics of acculturation in Chinese families.

(p. 669) Chinese families and acculturation

Family harmony and filial piety

A fundamental Chinese value is the importance of the family unit (Phillips & Pearson, 1996). In contrast to the logic prevailing in most Western societies, Chinese regard the family instead of the individual as the basic social unit. Every Chinese, from an early age, learns to think of family first and strive to maintain close, harmonious and cohesive family relations (Hwang, 1999; Li, 1998; Mak & Chan, 1995). Individuals' identities are defined in terms of their roles and interpersonal relationships within the family rather than by their own sense of who they are as separate individuals (Hsu, 1971; Hwang, 1999). Since family life is the pivot of Chinese culture, Chinese families are structured in such a way that conformity, dependence, and obedience to parental figures are crucial (Mak & Chan, 1995), and adolescents who show loyalty to the family by maintaining good relationships with family members and fulfilling family responsibilities are perceived by the majority of Chinese parents as ideal children (Shek & Chan, 1999).

This commitment and loyalty to the family remain salient even among Chinese families in non-Chinese societies and maintain the distinction between Chinese and Western preferences (Feldman et al., 1992; Feldman & Rosenthal, 1991; Hwang, 1999; Stewart et al., 1999). The emotional attachment to the family and the sense of responsibility and obligation towards them may not be easily swayed by more independent cultural norms. For example, Feldman and colleagues 1992 found that even second-generation Chinese youth who displayed obvious signs of acculturation still valued the family significantly more than did their Western peers. Furthermore, these second-generation youth did not differ in their devotion to the family from the first-generation youth who otherwise maintained considerably more traditional values. In addition, Fuligni and colleagues found that Chinese American adolescents believed in the importance of supporting and assisting the family more than did their peers from European backgrounds, and these differences were consistent across the youth's generation, gender, family composition, and socioeconomic background (Fuligni, Tseng, & Lam, 1999). Thus, it is apparent that such faithfulness to the family is viewed as a duty, not a choice, and is engrained in the core of Chinese identity.

The significance of family is also evidenced by Chinese parents considering filial piety, respect, and obedience to be amongst the most important Confucian principles. Interviews of 420 Hong Kong Chinese parents about their perceptions of attributes of the ideal child revealed that over 60 per cent of the parents regarded family-related attributes, such as good parent-child relations and fulfilment of family responsibilities, as characteristics of the ideal child (Shek & Chan, 1999). This finding is consistent with the observation that filial piety, family solidarity, and mutual dependence are strongly emphasized in Chinese culture (Yang, 1981).

There are homes at the four corners of the seas: acculturation and adaptation of overseas Chinese

The few studies that have examined filial piety (xiao) in overseas Chinese also found a strong acceptance of filial obligations, even in societies upon which individualistic Western values have exercised pervasive influence (Lin, 2006; Liu, Ng, Weatherall, & Loong, 2000). It seems that, although Chinese people have adjusted their life styles and value systems in order to adapt to the changing societies, certain aspects of filial piety still persist and continue to play an important role in people's lives (Hwang, 1999; Lin, 2000, 2004, 2006; Yeh, 1997, 2003; Yeh & Bedford, 2003).

As Chinese culture is firmly based around the family as the foundation of one's life and identity, it follows that autonomy will occur at a much later age for Chinese adolescents with the family remaining an important influence for a longer period. Indeed, many studies with Chinese immigrants have found that Chinese youth had later autonomy expectations compared to their Western peers (Deeds, Stewart, Bond, & Westrick, 1998; Feldman & Rosenthal, 1990, 1991; Fuligni, 1998; Greenberger & Chen, 1996), and that Chinese parents placed greater emphasis on parental control and were more protective of children than were Euro-American parents (Chiu, Feldman, & Rosenthal, 1992; Kelly & Tseng, 1992; Lee & Zhan, 1998; Lin & Fu, 1990).

(p. 670) Importance of family relations during cross-cultural transition

Studies have shown that these differences between Chinese and Western families may increase the Chinese adolescent immigrant's chances of successful adjustment to their host societies. For example, the cultural emphasis on family interdependence and maintaining a tight family structure may help Chinese immigrant families remain intact, providing a more stable and secure environment for their children. A study conducted by Florsheim 1997 on 113 Chinese youth in the United States suggested that Chinese adolescents who perceived their families as organized, cooperative, and less argumentative reported fewer psychological adjustment problems and lower emotional and acculturative distress. Also, E.- Y. Lin 2006 found that Chinese young adults who perceived greater emotional bonding between family members experienced significantly less identity conflict during cross-cultural transitions.

Recently, studies on ‘parachute kids’ and ‘astronaut families’ have further emphasized the importance of family and parental presence during cross-cultural transitions (Alaggia, Chau, & Tsang, 2001; Aye & Guerin, 2001; Chiang-Hom, 2004; Irving, Benjamin, & Tsang, 1999; Pe-Pua, Mitchell, Iredale, & Castles, 1996; Waters, 2003; Zhou, 1998).1 Hom 2002 found that Chinese immigrant youth who lived in the United States without their parents, i.e. parachute kids, were more behaviorally maladjusted in terms of substance use, earlier and more frequent sexual activity, and group/ gang fighting than were Chinese immigrant adolescents who lived with their parents.

A recent study by E.-Y. Lin 2006 also lends strong support to the importance of parental presence during cross-cultural transitions. Her study found that Chinese young adults who lived abroad with-out their parents experienced significantly greater identity conflict compared to those who lived with their parents. In other words, as a result of migrating solo and the absence of on-site parental guidance, international students and parachute adolescents were more likely to experience feelings of being ‘torn apart,’ cultural confusion, and maladaptation. In addition, Lin 2006 found that when parents were present, adolescents were less likely to experience identity conflict regardless of their satisfaction with the relationship with their parents. However, when parents were overseas, i.e. when the protective shield of parental presence was absent, the parent-child relationship exerted influence on the individual's level of identity conflict.

Intergenerational conflicts and acculturation differences

Past research has also documented intergenerational conflicts that are specific to immigrant families. Baptiste 1993 identified five intergenerational issues confronted by immigrant families. These are: (1) loosening of familial boundaries and generational hierarchies; (2) lessening of parental authority over children; (3) fear of losing the children to the host culture; (4) unpreparedness for change and conflict as part of the immigration experience; and (5) extended family enmeshment-disengagement problems. Baptiste attributed these intergenerational conflicts to the differential rates of parent - child adaptation/acculturation to the host culture, which result in increasing polarization of the family.

Indeed, there is substantial research showing that immigrant adolescents adopt new attitudes and values more rapidly than do their parents (Berry at al., 2006; Kwak, 2003; Phinney, Ong, & Madden, 2000; Portes & Rumbaut, 2001). This discrepancy in acculturation rates may increase the likelihood of parent-child conflicts as Chinese adolescents begin to resent and rebel against the high parental control, expectations, and restrictions that are absent in the lives of their Western peers. In turn, this escalating family conflict increases the likelihood of depression, problem behavior, such as antisocial behavior, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, school misconduct, and lower life satisfaction and poorer academic performance among Chinese adolescents and young adults (Chen, Greenberger, Lester, Dong, & Guo, 1998; Costigan & Dokis, 2006; Crane, Ngai, Larson, & Hafen, 2005; Greenberger, Chen, Tally, & Dong, 2000; Juang, Syed, & Takagi, 2007; Lee & Zhan, 1998; Rumbaut, 1997; Weaver & Kim, 2008).

Sung 1985 identified a number of cultural conflicts confronting Chinese adolescents in a Western society. These include: aggressiveness vs. non-violence; physical vs. mental development and achievement; social conformity vs. ethical values; demonstration of affection; sexuality; social acceptance vs. academic success; materialism vs. thrift; independence vs. dependence; respect for authority; (p. 671) standards for role models; and collectivism vs. individualism. These cultural conflicts are only a few of the obstacles children of Chinese immigrants must negotiate with their parents as part of their ethnic identity development and acculturation process. Having conflicts with parents on a variety of acculturation issues, such as the issues listed above, level of family obligations, and friendship choices, may be normative for all adolescents, not just those from Chinese immigrant families. However, because Chinese culture emphasizes family harmony and respect for parents more strongly than many other cultures (Chinese Culture Connection, 1987), these conflicts are less acceptable and more disturbing to Chinese adolescents and parents. In addition, language barriers associated with acculturation differences, i.e. less proficiency in English on the part of parents and less proficiency in Chinese on the part of children, may make it more difficult for parents and children to communicate about subtle or difficult emotional issues; thus, they may come to feel more emotionally distant from each other (Tseng & Fuligni, 2000).

The differential rates in English acquisition may also lead to role reversals between parents and children. As children learn and adopt the English language at a faster rate than their parents, parents become dependent upon their children to talk for them in situations requiring English fluency and for many of their interactions with the host society. This dependency sharply contrasts with the usual pattern of relationships between Chinese parents and children and may lead to the feelings of helplessness, resentment, confusion, and depression among parents. On the other hand, by becoming the family's interpreter and spokesperson, children are inevitably exposed to information and situations that would normally be kept from them, placing an additional burden and stress on them (Baptiste, 1993).

Adaptation of elderly Chinese immigrants

Regarding the adaptation and family life of elderly Chinese in the host society, studies have indicated that depression, social isolation, and family conflict are major problems (Abbott et al., 2003; Mak & Chan, 1995; Mui, 1996; Wong, Yoo, & Stewart, 2006). The majority of elderly Chinese immigrate later in life to be reunited with their adult children who have already been in the host country for a substantial period of time. This group of elderly Chinese often arrives to take up domestic roles, such as caring for their grandchildren and assisting their adult children with housekeeping tasks. Although they may be highly respected in their countries of origin, elderly Chinese become highly dependent on their children (and grandchildren) to provide transportation, interpretation, and assistance even with simple tasks, such as shopping and visiting doctors. Furthermore, elderly Chinese frequently sacrifice personal benefits for the betterment of the family, although studies have shown that they often feel a lack of appreciation and respect from children and grandchildren for these sacrifices.

Research by S. T. Wong and colleagues 2006 found that many elderly Chinese felt that their place in the family had shifted from a central to a peripheral position. Furthermore, with the strong emphasis placed on nuclear families in the Western societies, they were no longer seen as authority figures in an intergenerational family. As a result, in an attempt to maintain harmony within the family, some elderly Chinese reported they were inclined to keep their feelings and thoughts to themselves, to develop a more tolerant and flexible attitude, to learn to be more self-reliant, and to expand their social network beyond their family members (Wong et al., 2006).

In summary, this section has described the dynamics of acculturation in Chinese families. In contrast to Chinese culture (which is collectivistic, family-oriented, and relational), most destination countries for Chinese immigrants embrace individualistic values where individual rights and needs take priority over the needs of the group and family. As a result, upon arriving in their new host countries, Chinese immigrants are faced with the complicated task of balancing loyalty to their family and Chinese culture with the need to create an individual identity and gain approval from the host society. Thus, it is not surprising that their cross-cultural transitions are associated with stress and conflict, especially when differential rates of acculturation exist within the family. However, it is also important to note that although acculturation differences certainly present challenges for immigrant families, studies have shown that most Chinese families deal with these challenges effectively and that (p. 672) Chinese immigrants continue to be considered as the ‘model minority’ in many host societies (Costigan & Dokis, 2006; Ma, 2002).


As overseas Chinese form the largest migrant group on a worldwide basis, it is not surprising that there is a considerable body of empirical evidence on Chinese acculturation and adaptation. Indeed, the Chinese are amongst the most frequently researched acculturating groups. Nevertheless, an overview of this research reveals some noticeable shortcomings.

First, the context of acculturation research has been limited. To date, studies (at least those published in English and Chinese) have been primarily undertaken in Western countries, particularly in settler societies such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. For both theory development and practical application, the research context should be extended to cover a wider range of receiving societies. This includes Asian countries, where migrants may have very different expectations about acculturation experiences and where hosts may maintain perceptions of the ‘ideal migrant’ that diverge markedly from those held in North America and Australasia. Research in Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan has only begun to address issues relating into Chinese acculturation processes in Asian societies (e.g. Chen et al., 2008; Matsudiara, 2003; Ward & Kennedy, 1999), and more work needs to be done to examine the impact of variations in the enculturating context.

Second, the perspectives on Chinese acculturation and adaptation have been somewhat constrained. For the most part, acculturation has been studied as if it were a universal process, with little consideration of any culture-specific dynamics in the process. Is there anything distinctively Chinese about Chinese acculturation? Investigations such as those on Chinese coping styles during acculturation are a step in the right direction (Kuo, 2002; Lau, 2007). Similarly, new work that suggests there may be important differences in the long-term acculturation strategies of large ethnic groups such as Chinese compared to smaller groups may provide additional insight (Gezentsvey, 2008). The culture-specific dynamics of Chinese acculturation should be further explored in future research.

Third, the targets of Chinese acculturation research have been somewhat restricted. To date we know a lot about the acculturation experiences of Chinese adolescents and adults. We know considerably less about the elderly and almost nothing about children. In addition, in many cases the broader question remains as to whether the Chinese are best studied as acculturating individuals or as acculturating families who experience intercultural contact and change. From this perspective, intergenerational issues during acculturation may be of particular concern.

Finally, there have been relatively few studies of Chinese acculturation over time. This refers both to longitudinal studies of Chinese immigrants, such as the work undertaken by Ying and colleagues (Ying & Han, 2006; Ying & Liese, 1991), as well as studies of acculturative changes across generations (e.g. Feldman et al., 1992). Both of these approaches should be extended. In the end, when the context, perspectives, targets and approaches are broadened in future research, we will achieve a more comprehensive understanding of how Chinese acculturate and adapt.


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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (1.) Parachute kids are youth who arrive in a new country to attend schools by themselves, while their parents remain in their country of origin. Astronaut families are those who immigrate to a new country while one or both parents return(s) to live in the country of origin (usually for economic reasons), leaving ‘satellite’ adolescent children to pursue an education in the new country.