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date: 29 January 2020

Introduction Reaching this stage in studying the psychology of the Chinese people

Abstract and Keywords

This article brings out a study on Chinese psychology and its significance that makes it different from the other usual studies. The objective is to make an attempt to understand the culture and its impact of human socialization in Europe and, especially, America. It reveals that there are relatively few American-trained psychologists who practice cross-cultural psychology. It is the unique dissimilarities of China from the west that rooted the efforts of a study on Chinese psychology. There is a considerable demand for intellectual material on the psychology of the Chinese people. This curiosity was fueled by the fact that China is different from the west in all ways. This study aims to help with self-understanding, as individuals become more aware of their culture when they encounter another person of a different culture.

Keywords: behavioural scientists, cross-cultural psychology, Chinese psychology, American-trained psychologists, economic dynamism

  • All things bear the shade on their backs
  • and the sun in their arms;
  • By the blending of breath
  • from the sun and the shade
  • equilibrium comes to the world.
  • Tao te ching (The way of virtue), poem 42 by Lao Tzu, trans. 1955 by R. N. Blakney

As I begin this introduction to The Oxford handbook of Chinese psychology, it is 27 April 2008. The first drafts of this handbook's chapters are due at the end of this May, so now seems an apt time to express my hopes for this academic project. I will then assess their realization some ten or so months down the road, when I draft my conclusion and submit the final package for publication to Oxford University Press.

I have been associated with three Oxford publications on the psychology of the Chinese people. In 1986 I edited The psychology of the Chinese people. That collection went to twelve impressions, was in print for two decades and sold more than 10,000 copies. In 1991 I wrote a trade book as an introduction to Chinese psychology titled Beyond the Chinese face. That paperback has gone to fourteen impressions, and is still in print. In 1996 I edited The handbook of Chinese psychology, a collection of scholarly chapters integrating the research in thirty-two content areas of Chinese psychology. That hardcover resource for research was reprinted once, selling over 2,000 copies before it was taken out of print in 2006.

Clearly, there has been, and continues to be, a considerable demand for intellectual material on the psychology of the Chinese people. This curiosity is fueled by a host of factors: China's longevity as a coherent cultural tradition over 4,000 years old; China's size, geographically and demographically; the distinctiveness of Chinese language systems, both written and spoken; China's gradual emergence onto the world's political stage, heralded by the meeting of Richard Nixon with Mao Zedong in 1972; Chinese economic dynamism following the introduction of the socialist market reform policies instituted by Deng Xiaoping; and an emerging recognition of China's central role in the management of those crucial global interdependencies that will determine our planetary survival in the twenty-first century.

China is all these things, and more—it is different from the West in its cultural legacy, and, as Boulding 1970 reminds us, it is perceived by Westerners as different, very different. But how do (p. 2) these differences play themselves out in the psychology of its cultural legatees, the contemporary Chinese people found across the globe, particularly in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, where persons claiming a Chinese heritage constitute the numerical majority in those political entities? It is these persons who will be enacting the Chinese drama in their daily lives and who will, together, be ushering us further into the twenty-first century. Who are they?

Emerging answers to that question will help us grow in our understanding of who we all are. It is obvious that individuals become most aware of their culturedness when they encounter another person of a different culture. The manifest differentness of this other person, at first physiognomically, then behaviorally in terms of dress, deportment, language, nonverbal performance, and interpersonal style, commends itself to our attention by contradicting our routine expectations and thereby provoking our curiosity. As a concept, then later as a word, ‘culture’ was probably invented initially to capture that arresting apprehension of human differentness, and became a verbal léger de main for ‘explaining’ such observed differences.

Of course, such an explanation is empty until it is given some scientific substance. What exactly is culture, and how does it exercise its impact in molding the lives of those individuals born into that tradition and socialized by its institutions? It is our happy work as behavioral scientists to mine this rich seam of culture's impact. Corporately, we began this academic journey into culture through initial encounters with a people from a manifestly different culture. These early encounters and attempts at understanding were initiated by anthropologists at the turn of the twentieth century, most notably E. B. Taylor, and continue today in the many branches of the social sciences that have sprung up in the United States since the Second World War. Leading the Allies, the Americans won that war and emerged in 1945 with their social institutions mostly intact, so that academia and its personnel survived the damage of that collective savagery. Indeed, the GI Bill with its provision for subsequent higher education of serving military personnel fueled the development of higher education in the United States. Since then, the American intellectual heritage and the revolutionary Greco-Roman heritage upon which it is founded have shaped the discourse in the behavioral sciences.

In psychology, the recentering of the discipline from Europe to America throughout the twentieth century has meant that most attempts to understand culture and its impact on human socialization have originated from America, by Americans, and mostly for Americans attempting to address the American social mandate to incorporate ethnic diversity in politically correct ways. Supporting this dynamic have been a relative few, mostly American-trained, psychologists who practice cross-cultural psychology. Many have taken their acquired skills abroad, often back to their country of origin, researching psychological processes in the nooks and crannies of their particular specialties.

They become cross-cultural psychologists by necessity: if they do their research only with locals in their culture of practice, they will inevitably be challenged by reviewers when they attempt to publish their work: ‘How generalizable are your findings?’ ‘Do the results you present for scientific consideration need to be put into cultural context before they can be incorporated into our growing understanding of the processes you study?’ These questions are rarely asked of American or other Western social scientists doing their research within their own country and culture, but they are routinely asked of researchers working in non-Western cultural traditions. And today, more than ever before, academics everywhere must ‘publish or perish’. To publish and flourish, they must be able to answer such reviewer challenges about possible ‘culture-of-origin effects’, as psychologists in marketing refer to the phenomenon.

It is a salutary challenge: if culture matters psychologically, then behavioral scientists must be pushed out of their intellectual comfort zone to show how, when, and why it matters. This is not an easy process, and has gone through a number of stages bringing us to our present level of understanding about culture and its influence on psychological constructs and dynamics (Bond, 2009). It began, however, in the research encounter with difference, simple differences at first, but differences demanding an explanation by social scientists.

With the wisdom of hindsight, these initial explanations now appear simplistic. But their very inadequacy provoked a continued assault of applied intelligence to the job of ‘unpackaging culture’ (p. 3) to reveal its modes of psychological operation (Bond & van de Vijver, in press). This process required the discovery of differences to stimulate the demand for better explanations of culture's impact. Publication of evidence for those initial differences in psychological constructs and process began with psychologists working in Africa during the 1960s, but slowly shifted to the Far East, especially to Japan and Taiwan in the 1970s. Cross-cultural work then surged, especially with the arrival of Hong Kong as an exporter of comparative psychological data in the 1980s. Singapore and recently China have joined the colloquy, so we in Chinese psychology find ourselves now positioned at the spearhead of the psychological discourse on how culture shapes human behavior.

It thus appears to me that the future of culture in psychology, and our halting attempts to understand our shared humanity by encompassing cultural factors, will emerge out of the renaissance in Chinese psychology and its integration into our disciplinary discourse. Chinese culture provides the necessary degree of presumed difference to the Western, particularly American, cultural tradition; psychologists have researched and will research its legacy as socialized into the lives of Chinese persons more than they have done or will do for members of any other distinctive cultural tradition; with Stanford's president, John Hennessy, averring that five of China's universities are about to join the world's top twenty-five academic institutions, we may assume with some confidence that the resources and personnel are in place to make Chinese culture the beachhead for future developments in cross-cultural psychology.

With some of these thoughts in mind, in 2007 I approached the world's best scholars in their sub-disciplines to draft an integrative chapter for a handbook of Chinese psychology. I compiled the resulting list of about thirty-five chapter titles and prospective authors, approaching Oxford University Press to assess its interest in continuing its identification with such ‘things Chinese’. The commissioning editor accepted with alacrity. Subsequently, I added a few more authors and their topic areas, inviting all senior authors to bring in other competent co-authors as each saw fit. This Oxford handbook of Chinese psychology, with its forty content chapters, is the result. I hope that it makes an important addition to the intellectual resources of our twenty-first century.

  • The myriad creatures carry on their backs the yin
  • and hold in their arms the yang,
  • taking the ch'i in between as harmony.
  • Tao te ching, poem 42, trans. 1989 by D. C. Lau


Bond, M. H. (2009). Circumnavigating the psychological globe: From yin and yang to starry, starry night … In A. Aksu-Koc & S. Beckman (eds), Perspectives on human development, family and culture. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

Bond, M. H. & van de Vijver, F. (in press). Making scientific sense of cultural differences in psychological outcomes: Unpackaging the magnum mysterium. In D. Matsumoto; F. van de Vijver (eds), Cross-cultural research methods. New York: Oxford University Press.Find this resource:

Boulding, K. E. (1970). A primer on social dynamics: History as dialectics and development. New York: Free Press. (p. 4) Find this resource: