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On Differences between Chinese and American Family Values in Cross-Cultural Communication

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On Differences between Chinese and American Family Values in Cross-Cultural Communication

By Supervisor:

Submitted to the School of Foreign Languages in Partial Fulfillment of Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts xxxxxxx University

Xxx, China May, 2010








Family is the basic miniature of the social economic activity, and it is the basic unit that constitutes the society. Family value is the core in the research of cultural values, and it has decisive influence on the behavior of the members in the family. The values of family members have direct effect on people’s behaviour and thingking. That is to say, the values of the society rely on people’s family values in a large degree. However, due to the difference of geographical and historical background, religion and belief, different nations have their own family values. A clear and direct contrast between Chinese and American family values can bridge over their communication gap. As a result, people start to acknowledge the existence of the two different family values, gradually get familiar with them, admit them and then finally melt. The paper analyzes family values from the following aspects including filial piety, marriage and family education. Chapter one is the introduction which studies the background of the research on family values including present studies at home and abroad, main contents and objectives of this paper. Chapter two manifests the definitions of family, values, and Chinese and American family values. The paper elaborates different attitudes towards filial piety, marriage and family education in Chapter three. Chapter four analyzes the reasons for the differences from three aspects including geography, history and belief. Then conclusion in Chapter four, which tells the contents briefly, puts forward how to erect correct concepts about family values. This article aims at showing some differences between Chinese and American family values, benefiting people’s understanding under the context of globalization , thus in case of mistakes in cross-cultural communication, it is of great significance.

Key words: family values; filial piety; marriage; family education; reason

摘要 家庭是社会经济活动的缩影,是社会组成的最基本的单位。家庭价值观是文化价值研究体系的核心,它对家庭成员的行为起着决定性的作用。家庭成员的价值观念直接影响着他们在社会中的言语和行为,也就是说整个社会的价值观很大程度上取决于家庭价值观,但是,由于地理、历史背景、宗教信仰的不同,不同的民族有不同的家庭价值观。本论文通过比较性探讨,在两种截然不同的家庭价值观之间架起了一座沟通的桥梁,使人们了解存在的两种不同的家庭价值观,逐渐熟悉、接受,最后慢慢交融贯通。 文章从家庭价值观所涉及的范畴,孝道、婚姻、家庭教育等方面作了如下分析,第一章是绪论,主要研究家庭价值观的背景,其中包括国内外的研究现状、本文主要内容及意义。第二章简述了家庭,价值观以及中美家庭价值观的定义。第三章介绍中美对孝道,婚姻,家庭教育的不同理解和观点。第四章从地理、历史、信仰三个角度分析造成中美家庭价值观差异的原因。最后一章结论,简述研究的内容,提出如何树立正确的家庭价值观。对中美家庭价值观的差异进行比较分析,目的是帮助人们在跨文化环境下对其进一步了解,避免在交际过程中产生失误,其意义深远重大。


Chapter 1 Introduction 1
Chapter 2 Definitions of Family, Values and Family Values 3 2.1 Definition of Family 3 2.2 Definition of Values 3 2.3 Definition of Family Values 3 2.3.1 The decisive family value of China: collectivism 4 2.3.2 The definitive family value of America: individualism 5
Chapter 3 Differences between Chinese and American Family Values 6 3.1 Concept of Filial Piety 6 3.1.1 Chinese concept of filial piety 6 3.1.2 American concept of filial piety 7 3.2 Concept of Marriage 8 3.2.1 Chinese concept of marriage 8 3.2.2 American concept of marriage 9 3.3 Concept of Family Education 11 3.3.1 Chinese concept of family education 11 3.3.2 American concept of family education 12
Chapter 4 Reasons for the Differences between Chinese and American Family Values 14 4.1 Geography 14 4.2 History 14 4.3 Belief 15
Chapter 5 Conclusion 17
Notes 19
Bibliography 20
Acknowledgements 21

Chapter 1 Introduction

There is a consensus that family, the basic unit of a society, reflects the civilization and prosperity of a nation. From the macro angle, individual values stem from the society, while from micro angle, they originate more from the family. Family values are the core of cultural values, as well as the deepest level of concepts in cultural value system. Therefore, an interpretation of family values is of great significance in cross-cultural environment. It can help people from different countries with different cultures to understand each other’s culture; therefore, to facilitate their communication. In recent years, many researchers devote themselves to the research of cross-cultural communication. It is hot because there are indeed invisible barriers between Chinese and American cultures which obstruct smooth communication. Various theories and practices concerning family values appear in China, such as family education in China and America, comparative study between Chinese and American marital status, but only a few are to conduct a comprehensive comparison of family values, and an analysis of the reasons for the differences. In American values-- a Chinese Scholar’s Study, written by Zhu Yong Tao, through the contrast between Chinese and American family values, the differences between their behaviors and thoughts are analyzed comprehensively. Lawrence Stone, Anglo-American historian, has done a comprehensive analysis and study of family values from a historical point of view. Sociological research scholar Wei Zhang Ling’s Comparison of Family Values in China and in America focuses on the similarities and differences of Chinese and American family values as well as their social and cultural roots. With the development of the society, the process of information revolution and the trend of global economic integration, the world’s largest economic entity--America and the world’s largest developing country--China have been gong on close cross-cultural communication. China is a typical representative of Oriental culture, while America is a fusion of Western culture, so the two different cultural entities are sure to embody two different cultural values. Chinese consider collectivism as the core; and they believe individual interest should be subordinated to collective interests. However, Americans emphasize individualism, stressing that personal interest is above everything else. Chinese and American families are in different cultural environments; therefore, they are subject to different cultural values, and as a result there are different family values. A comparative study of cross-cultural values of different regions will undoubtedly speed up the economic and cultural process. This paper tries to make a contrastive study between family values in China and in America, including filial piety, marriage, and family education, as well as an analysis of the reasons for the differences. It is beneficial to improve capabilities in cross-cultural communication. With the current development of economic and cultural globalization, the research can undoubtedly help people’s further understanding of other country’s family values; therefore, avoid communication errors generated in the process. All in all, the study has profound significance in cross-cultural communication.

Chapter 2 Definitions of Family, Values and Family Values

2.1 Definition of Family Traditionally speaking, family should be defined as a group of people related by blood, marriage or adoption, living together, to form economic ties, to fertilize and to bring up children. According to this idea, families form the continuation through child-rearing. “Family is the basic unit of a society; it is very much like a mirror, reflecting the society’s cultural characteristics, moral beliefs, economic and political relations and other social problems.” [1]

Different cultures create different families, which at the same time cause different concepts of families. Consequently, the different concepts of family between China and America are ascribed to different cultural contexts in the two countries. Cultural traditions and family values vary from country to country; therefore, to understand the historical development of Chinese and American families, the basic model, and the relationship among the family members will, undoubtedly, help those who are involved in cross-cultural communication.

2.2 Definition of Values

Values, unlike morals which are individual from person to person, are the beliefs of a group of people shared as a whole. They are an integral part of every culture which shares a common core set of values. They create expectations and predictability without which a culture would disintegrate and their members would lose their personal identity and sense of worth. Values tell people what is good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable and appropriate. They answer the questions of what people do and why they do so; they help people solve common human problems for survival. Gradually, they become the roots of traditions and groups of people find importance in their daily lives. On one hand, values can be positive or negative; on the other hand, they can be destructive. Therefore in order to understand people and their culture, we must come to understand the values and beliefs that motivate their behaviors.

2.3 Definition of Family Values

Generally speaking, family values, as the core of the value system, not only refer to the family members’ norm of behaviors but also a standard of measuring the norm of conducts. As family values penetrate every family’s daily life, they refer to values that both parents and children in a family should comply with. “We know that the most basic relationship in a family is marital relationship, kinship, affinity, and it also includes the affectional and economic relationship generated from those basic relationships, so education, religion, faith and family financial burden-sharing are all included in the family values.” [2]In addition, family values are political and social beliefs that hold the Nuclear family to be the essential ethical and moral unit of a society, and they are considered as an important part of a country’s traditional cultural values “Every human group needs not only to adjust to the natural world but also decide and order relationships among members of the group,” [3] (Davis, 2001:187). Because of the influence of cultural context, the relationships among members of the group and the family values in China and America are completely different. That is, Chinese people advocate collectivism while Americans propagate individualism.

2.3.1 The decisive family value of China: collectivism

Collectivism is the foundation of the existence of individuals. That means public interests are the interests of the individual; public values are the values of the individual; and public wills are the wills of the individual. Chinese people tend to be more aware of the connections they have as members of their social groups, that is, they put a great emphasis on collectivism and are likely to pay much attention to the consequences of their actions on other members of their groups and even the whole group. They think if they do something wrong, it is probable for them to have a harmful influence on other members and the whole group, while if they win an honor, they will possibly attribute it to other members and the whole group as well. In other words, it can be clearly summarized that collectivism has some main characteristics as follows. Firstly, people put an emphasis on the views, needs, and goals of the whole group rather than themselves. Secondly, people stress that every individual is emotionally dependent on organizations and institutions. What’s more, the authority of the leader is likely to be more central in decision-making. Lastly, individuals attach importance to the group’s decisions and try their best to obey them. In most Chinese organizations and institutions and families, this phenomenon is very common. All members in the group share property, food and other material possession take on the responsibility to work hard for the success and prosperity of the whole group, deal with all troubles and difficulties shoulder to shoulder, and even live under the same roof. In addition, once one member has achieved success, he or she will express that the achievement has been got mainly because of his or her group rather than himself or herself.

2.3.2 The definitive family value of America: individualism

“Broadly speaking, individualism refers to the doctrine, spelled out in detail by the seventeenth century English philosopher John Locke, and each individual is unique, special, completely different from all other individuals, and it is the basic unit of nature.” [4] (Samovar, 2000: 62). American people tend to lay stress on their independence and individualism, and it is now the cornerstone of American values and permeates every aspect of their society. Americans believe that they have control over their destiny; and they are more likely to concern about their own freedom of activism than their relationships with other members of the group. As for American people, individualism displays itself in the following aspects, namely, individual initiative, independence, individual expression and privacy. In detail, Americans’ value of individualism has the following distinguished features in detail. To begin with, people’s personal aims take priority over their loyalty to groups. In the second place, people believe that they belong to many different groups, not just one group. Their consciousness of loyalty to a given group is very weak. Furthermore, each person has the right to his or her private property, thoughts and opinions, and every individual has his own separate identity, which they think should get recognized and reinforced. Hence, they lay stress on their own achievement, go in for self-actualization, and attach importance to independence and self-development. In a word, American culture fosters people’s value of individualism effectively, encourages people to pursue achievement by themselves, and helps people understand that they must be what they are.
Chapter 3 Differences between Chinese and American Family Values

In a family, the basic relationship is filial piety, marriage and family education. Any kind of life philosophy, if not pay attention to this fundamental relationship, can not be considered as an appropriate philosophy. American family members pay great attention to the concepts of individual equality, independence, individual right and family relationship, among which the most prominent concepts are independence and equality. Chinese families focus more on seniority relation, family interdependence, filial piety, and the family happiness of having many children and grandchildren. Cultural differences between China and America lead to their differences in family values, as well as other family-related problems. As a result, it is of great significance to analyze different family values in China and America.

3.1 Concept of Filial Piety

Originally “the filial piety” is a kind of objective individual or family behavior, having nothing with the culture, but once this behavior integrates into a national idea system, including the idea, the criterion, and the connotation of filial piety. It turns into a specific culture. Traditionally, the filial piety culture refers to the affection of children to their parents, and the younger generation to the elder. As to how to follow the norms of filial piety, there are some ethical principles.” [5]

3.1.1 Chinese concept of filial piety

“Xiao”, the Chinese word for filial piety, is the most prominent characteristic of traditional Chinese culture. It has been extolled as the highest virtue in China for centuries and must be shown towards both the living and the dead. The term “filial” denotes the respect and obedience that a child should show to his parents, especially to his father. In Chinese history, “filial piety” is the earliest ethical moral that influences our family concepts. It is the theme of Chinese culture and affects all aspects of Chinese people’s lives and Chinese society is built upon the doctrine of it. Firstly, “filial piety” is the ethical morals that regulate the family parent-child relationship. It mainly refers to moral obligation of children to their parents. In traditional Chinese culture, “filial piety” requires people not only to do something for their parents but also do everything with affection; that is to say, parents have the safeguard on material, and at the same time, enjoy mental happiness. It is one of the “right relationships” for which Confucius advocates. The definition includes the responsibility of each person to be good to one’s parents; to take care of one’s parents; to engage in good conduct not just towards parents but also outside the home so as to bring a good name to one’s parents and ancestors; to perform the duties of one’s job well so as to obtain the material means to support parents as well as carry out sacrifices to the ancestors; not to be rebellious; to show love, respect and support; to display courtesy; to ensure male heirs, uphold fraternity among brothers; to display sorrow for their sickness and death; and to carry out sacrifices after their death. Secondly, according to the five relationships, the Five Bonds are: Ruler to Ruled, Father to Son, Husband to Wife, Elder Brother to Younger Brother and Friend to Friend. Specific duties are prescribed to each of the participants in these sets of relationships. Such duties are also extended to the dead and this leads to the veneration of ancestors. Ancestral veneration(敬祖) in Chinese culture as well as ancestor worship (拜祖) seeks to honor the deeds and memories of the deceased. This is an extension of filial piety for the ancestors, and it is the ultimate homage to the deceased as if they were alive. Among the five relationships, respect for elders isn’t stressed is the Friend to Friend relationship. In all other relationships, high reverence is held for elders. The idea of filial piety also influences the Chinese legal system: a criminal would be punished more harshly if the culprit had committed the crime against a parent, while fathers often exercise enormous power over their children. At the time it leans overly to the parent side. Now filial piety is also built into law. People have responsibility to provide for their elder parents according to law; that is to say, filial piety has continued to play a central role to the present day. As to the viewpoint of filial duty, we should take the reality into consideration, discard the dross and select the essence so as to further elaborate the moral education function of the traditional culture of filial piety.

3.1.2 American concept of filial piety

In America, filial piety is reflected more in the religious culture than in the behaviors of children to their parents. There is little social significance in American “filial piety culture”, while its family significance is only manifested in respecting to the parents, but the respect doesn’t mean obedience to their parents. That’s because what American people emphasize are independence and equality among family members. Influenced by Christianity, children’s family concepts are relatively weak. After growing up, American children will leave their parents to establish their own career. Unlike Chinese who are stable, they prefer to change their houses when it is necessary, and they advocate a life of freedom. In American, “Bible” has been considered as a source of literary and artistic creation as well as morals and ethics. According to “the Bible”, the Christians believed that the Lord God has enacted 10 commandments that human beings must follow strictly, among which Article V requires people to honor and respect their parents. In the comparative study of Chinese and American cultures, except for “the Bible”, there is almost no literature which describes filial piety systematically, while the situation in China is quite opposite. What American philosophers focus on is not the family pension, but the social pension, because supporting the parents is not the obligation of the children. This has led to the fast development of old-age pension but not the filial piety. It is quite different from China whose pension system is not perfect and rural city citizens have no choice but to depend on their children to support.

3.2 Concept of Marriage

Marriage is the union of the two sexes, not just the union of two persons. It is the union of two families, and the foundation for establishing kinship patterns and family names, passing on property and providing the optimal environment for raising children.

3.2.1 Chinese concept of marriage

Chinese concepts of marriage in modern times turn to be more “Western”, but the traditional views on chastity still have great influence on men’s attitudes, which consequently affect women, so there are still some traditional concepts of marriage in people minds. Certainly, many negative aspects of the traditional family structure, such as too much hierarchical authority and discrimination against women, have been reduced through political, social and economic developments. Traditionally, status of wives and husbands are not completely equal in ancient China. Chinese women are regarded as the attachments to their husband in the feudal age, and they have no social status. A woman is “faithful to her husband to the end” and lives by “the three obedience and four virtues” (the former being obedient to her father before marriage, her husband after marriage, and her son upon her husband’s death; and the latter comprising virtue, appropriate speech, a modest manner, and diligence). Chinese people treat marriage as a major event in their lives. They discretely treat and earnestly choose their mates. Once they have made up their minds, it will not easily be changed. They treat marriage as a serious moral question. Fickleness in affection or the third party participation is considered as extremely immoral. Chinese partners pursue harmony, the warmth of true love, and family happiness, which do not stress family members’ personal benefit, but require the family members to contain and endure each other. As a result, Chinese marriage is relatively stable. Chinese women wish to live with their husband in their lifetime once they get married. For them, marriage is very important and once a Chinese woman commits to her partner she does so for life. They are incredibly loyal, especially if that loyalty is reciprocated. As a result, Chinese divorce rate by far is much lower than that of the USA. Chinese people pay great attention to a collective benefited family, and in their views, marriage is not a personal problem, but it contains many factors like morals, responsibility, sense of honor and other factors. That is quite different from American concepts of marriage. Now for Chinese people, the reasons for getting married have changed from establishing an “economic community” and “reproductive cooperative” to seeking emotional satisfaction. Conjugal harmony has become a more important reason for marrying. More stress is laid on the harmonious establishment of a marriage, or the art of communication between husband and wife, and other skills that keep a marriage alive. In addition, people won’t marry just because of their parents’ order now. It is acknowledged that love between two persons does not happen automatically or as a result of their being “bound” together. They demand a marriage of equality, and emotional compatibility with her spouse, as well as sexual rights and enjoyment, and the freedom to act independently. Most people in China are object to the materialistic attitudes towards choosing marriage partners, but there are indeed some very “practical” people who regard the acquisition of wealth as the most important prerequisite for matrimony. All in all, Chinese people’s requirements for marriage are higher with the development of the society. As a result, the marriage rate in China has continued to decline: from 8.918 million couples in 1998, to 8.888 million in 1999, to 8.48 million in 2000.

3.2.2 American concept of marriage

While more and more Chinese people turn to live a “modern” life, American concepts of marriage have also changed. By contrast, they tend to be more “traditional”. Now the great majorities of American regard marriage as a life-span goal, and want it to last a lifetime. They endorse a marriage which puts children first and is based on a full sense of mutuality and equal regard between husband and wife. In the past, American multiple culture and social environment cause many people to accept such life creed, “everybody is for oneself, God is for everybody; each person is his or her own destiny architect.” [6] Affected by individualism, Americans regard marriage as a purely personal matter, having nothing to do with social stability, so they put individual happiness to the top priority. People don’t feel obliged to establish or stay in a loveless marriage, and they think it is brutal to force two persons who don’t love each other any more to live together. They desire to get love, and are brave to accept love without hesitation. In addition, most young people in America are in favor of cohabiting, seeing it as less confining. There are late marriages, divorces, and “DINK” (double income, no kid) households, as well as other “modern” life styles called in China as unmarried cohabiting, homosexuality, celibacy, trial marriages and single-parent families. Not so long ago, American marriage rate was relatively high. In 1990, 95 percent of women and 94 percent of men aged 45 to 54 either were or had been married. But in the following years, marriage was an institution in decay. Despite the fact that in those years the number of marriages had been at record highs because large population was at the most marriageable ages, the marriage rate had been steadily declining. In addition, the percent of non-marital births stood at a fairly insignificant 5.3 percent in 1960; in 1995 the number was over 30 percent. Nearly one third of all American children were born to unmarried parents in 1995. Most of those children would live through their childhoods in single parent, mother-headed households. Moreover, apart from the trends of divorce and non-marriage, a growing body of evidence suggested that the quality of married life in America had also taken a turn for the worse. For in a society where divorce has become a common and even normative experience, they become less willing to invest themselves fully—their time, resources, dreams, and ultimate commitments—in the institution of marriage. One result is a measurable rise in marital unhappiness. Having realized these, nowadays the great majority of American says that they believe in marriage as a life-span goal; and they want their own marriage to last a lifetime. According to current marriage investigates, Americans range marriage first choice, which followed by friends, work and money. So that, they make three broad goals to make sure they have a happy marriage. The first one is to accomplish the ideal of marital permanence. The second one is to provide children a healthy environment so that children would grow up with their two married parents, and have more time to play with their parents who used to work too hard to have time stay with the children. The third one is to decrease rate of divorce.

3.3 Concept of Family Education

Family education, school education and social education are the three indispensable parts of people’s education. From ancient times to modern times, family education has been playing an important role in national education cause. A great man Deng Xiaoping said, “The basis of a country’s modernization lies in talents, the basis of talents lies in education, and the basis of education lies in families.” As a result, increasing attention has been paid to family education by modern society, and it has become a hot spot of the society. In view of the differences of family values, Chinese and American parents have great differences in their family education.

3.3.1 Chinese concept of family education

We all know there are old Chinese sayings “万般皆下品,唯有读书高” , “学而优则仕”; therefore, mastering an amount of knowledge and skill has always been the primary purpose of family education in China. Redding (1993) defines Chinese family education as “family-based”, and what parents instill to their children is how to study industriously to bring honor to the family. In China, young men are pushed to study hard to win fame for the family, and their parents would willingly work overtime for their children without complain. They would like to satisfy their children in any aspects. Chinese family education is characterized by an over-emphasis on children’s study and inequality between parents and children when making decisions. With the development of the society, China gradually steps into an era of economic society, and an increasing number of parents pay more attention to their children 's family education. According to a research of Chinese Youth Research Center -“Chinese personality development condition investigation of urban children”, about 52.5% of the parents will arrange after-school learning contents for children; 37.1% of them often accompany their children to do their homework. There is no doubt that education and hard-working are highly valued by Chinese parents; children under such influence are motivated to achieve success. As a result, Chinese children’s academic achievement is outstanding and they win rewards in an international knowledge Competition repeatedly. However, we should realize that Chinese family education has a strong purpose of utilitarianism. “Expecting too high of their children” has became the prominent problems of Chinese family education. In recent years, children’s skill development has become an important component of Chinese family education. Except for basic knowledge that children have to learn at school, parents arrange a variety of skill training for their children, for example, piano, dance, calligraphy, and so on. Although most of the parents especially young ones choose training classes for their children on the basis of their interests, there are still some hierarchical parents who go against their children’ wishes. It may be useful for children’s full development in a sense, but the key point is whether these skills are chosen on the basis of the children’s interests or not. Chinese family values focus on collectivism and overall interests of the family. Because of the influence of Confucianism and “三纲五常”, there has always been an inequality between the status of the parents and children. Therefore, when making some family decisions, children are forced to follow their parents’ authority, and Chinese parents are more likely to arrange everything for them instead of advising them. All in all, it is the parents who have the control over everything including which profession to choose, work issues and even marital problems. The old sayings of “子不教,父之过” and “望子成龙” have manifested that parents treat children’s education as their obligation, and this perspective fully embodies our “parent-based” feature. Therefore, Chinese children’s sense of rights is very weak, while the sense of obedience is greater. On one hand, such an ideology has a positive side, because it teaches children to attach importance to the glory and prosperity of one’s family and conducts individuals to value the collective welfare of the family more than individual welfare. However, on the other hand, children tend to exert relatively little importance to self-dependence, and they tend to depend on their parents even when they are old enough to deal with things on their own.

3.3.2 American concept of family education

Americans take individualism as the core of cultural values, take the individual commercial activity as the foundation of economic, and take “profit” as a healthy pursuit; therefore, it encourages people to pursue personal interests with great energy, to compete equally and to strive for the largest individual happiness. The following two parts, that is, the ability of competition and equality between parents and children are highly stressed. In America, the sense of competition pervades the whole community, and has become a very important aspect of American family values. It is well known that without competition we can’t progress, without competition we can’t express our abilities fully. Competition is ruthless, and only those who continuously improve the abilities can meet serious challenges. Therefore, Americans attach great importance to various kinds of social adaptability, including self-reliance, self-selection and self-expression, which are extremely indispensable in the fierce competition. The relationship between parents and children is equal. That is, there is not hierarchical relationship between them. Most parents do not plan everything for their children. They just encourage their children to form distinctive individuality and cultivate the ability of independence. Likewise, they treat their children as adults. As for children, most of them tend to be independent. They consider their parents as peers or friends, not authorities at all. Therefore, when they have a communication with their parents, they are not only brave to express their true thoughts and feelings but also willing to consult with parents regarding their study, work and marriage and so on. In their eyes, their parents’ meanings are just suggestions but not decisions. They have the right to decide nearly everything for themselves. So in an American family, nearly everything is based on the premise, that is, equality. Americans prefer an individual-based family educational purpose. American parents respect their children and advocate the idea of “self-selection, self-responsibility”. Parents respect the children’s wishes in setting the goals of family education. There is a story in “Family Education in America” which can make a very good explanation of individual-based family educational purpose. “On January 14, 2000, birthday of Dr. Alaixiou Seck’s eldest son, we would invite a few good friends to a pleasure ground near the city of West treasury. We planed to pick up Seck to our home just one day in advance, because it would be more convenient on the birthday. Surprisingly, Dr. Elaixiou phoned to tell us that he would be very “busy” to attend two basketball games on the 13th, at 10 a.m. and at 2 p.m. respectively. Dr. Elaixiou funnily stated that it was himself who wanted to attend two basketball Teams. Actually Seck is short and obviously there is no prospective for him to play basketball, but their parents still support him just for his interest,” [6] Apart from choosing one’s hobbies, children will be respected on other family education, such as their choice of occupation and friends. Of course, parents will give their advice and suggestions, but the decisive right is in the hands of their children.

Chapter 4 Reasons for the Differences between Chinese and American Family Values

4.1 Geography

China is the land locked country, and Chinese culture is one kind of interior culture. China always suffered aggression from other races since the ancient times, therefore the Great Wall was constructed unceasingly; on one hand, it closed the borders; on the other hand, it made the authority practiced isolationism. Influenced by this, the Chinese culture evolves to be the conservative land culture, which has the very strong exclusiveness to the external culture. It has rooted in almost every Chinese mind, which is hardly to be removed. American mainstream culture sourced from Europe, which is one kind of open-type sea culture. And American democracy and the legal regime have protected American cultural to develop freely, without political attack and control. In addition, every year America recruits massive oversea students and scholars, who simultaneously bring massive different cultures and collisions. The United States is compatible for external cultures, and can absorb outstanding ones to make her culture more colorful. So when the American realize there are some things needed to be improved in their palace of modern civilization, and find the shining points of other country, they won’t hesitate to absorb.

4.2 History

Chinese culture has a long history of more than 5,000 years. Thousands of years of feudal ideology has a great effect on the formation of Chinese family values. The patriarchal influence plays an important role in China especially in ancient China; therefore the priority in China is the family blood relationship and the family kinship. As a result Chinese have the traditions of “三纲五常”, according to which the family members are not completely equal especially between husbands and wives, parents and children. But the United States is a nation of immigrants and only has a history of 200 years, so it is a palace of modern civilization. Among the early immigrants in the United States, over half have to bid farewell to their parents, therefore missing their loved has become their greatest pain. Their hope is that families can get together; however, the chances are slim. In order to make a living, new immigrants who come to North America have to concern more about their future development. With time going on, they gradually get used to it, and traditional family affection has been neglected, while new concepts of family values have taken shape. Another factor is American political ideology. In American history, “Independent Declaration” conveys the aspirations of Americans. “All men are created equal and independent; no one may infringe other people’ life, health, freedom and property rights.”[7]In the guidance of “Declaration of Independence” the Americans get rid of British colonial rule, create their own American Culture and establish the American image. They advocate the value of individualism, believing that individual power is unlimited; therefore, they form American individual values. Americans form a self-centered value in the family characterized by equality, freedom, independence and a strong sense of power. They respect family members’ personal values, try their best to realize their full potential, and have responsibility for their own behaviors.

4.3 Belief

Chinese people believe in Confucianism, because Confucius is the great philosopher in Asian civilization. His human relationships still reign supreme for most Chinese and they are indeed widely regarded as the heart and soul of Chinese culture. In a word Confucianism is always an essential criterion for defining the community. More specifically, Confucius defined the five basic human relationships in the classic book Rites and the descending orders are ruler-minister, father-son, elder brother-younger brother, husband-wife, and friend-friend. The first three of them are the basement of family structure. Confucius repeatedly addressed the importance of family in order to maintain the social order (Chen, 1973). In addition, in Chinese, the word “nation” consists of two main pictographs, which are “国” and “家”. They mean country and family respectively. After reading Confucius, the argument could be made that society, at least one that is stable and productive, is built upon familial relationships; thus, family is the core of Chinese society (Chen, 1973). Anything capable of “destroying” the harmony and stability of family structure was to be avoided at all costs. The United States is the country which regards Christianity as the mainstream culture, and the majority of Americans believe God. The Bible is not only the accumulation of ancient Hebrew culture, but also one of western Christianity’s main classics, which is inextricable for American family values. “Everybody is equal before God.” This is one of the most important sentences in the Bible. Thus, everybody struggles to have the equal position in every field in the society, including the position in filial piety, marriage, and family education. Christianity advocates the universal love, which also has been manifested in the relationship among people.

Chapter 5 Conclusion

This paper tries to make a contrastive study of Chinese and American family values including filial piety, marriage, family education and an analysis of the reasons for their differences from three aspects comprising geography, history and belief. Chinese carry out the overall orientation that God and human unite. “I for everybody and everybody for me” is the Chinese life creed. While the American have a slogan of “everybody for oneself, God for everybody”. Owing to the differences of cultural values, there are remarkable differences between Chinese and American family values. In China, families always have several generations at the same house. Indeed, thousands of years of Confucian culture results in family members’ affection to their family. For example parents endeavor to fulfill their responsibility; children try to be filial to their parents; and family members attach to mutual support and interdependence. While in America, young people are bound to leave their parents and establish their own homes, so their filial piety is relatively weak. American parents respect children’s wishes, and children learn to strive for their own rights even when they are young. All in all, there are differences in family values, which manifest the differences of national characteristics. Interpersonal relationships vary from culture to culture, while family relationship is regarded as the most basic interpersonal relationship. Generally speaking, in a individual-based culture, independence is emphasized highly among the family members, so the family relationship is relatively loose; on the contrary, in a collective-based culture, family members’ independence is relatively weak, while relationship among family members appears somewhat intimate. In the cross-culture communication, if you understand these cultural differences, regardless of the cultural context, you will not be puzzled and will be adaptable when facing all kinds of questions. In the increasingly intensified globalization, the Chinese and American traditional family values have been under huge impact, and accordingly, confronted with huge changes. But along with the development of the international communication and the cultural fusion, Chinese independent consciousness is strengthening, while American will advocate cooperation and intimacy among family members. It is impossible to demand a perfect unity between China and America, but what we expect is to reduce the fusion cost to the most, and to build a communication bridge between the two kinds of entirely different family values. We hope people from different countries will appreciate each other’s family values from strangeness to sensation, from sensation to cognition, so as to melt slowly. In conclusion, there is practical significance to strengthen the study of family values under different cultural context, so as to engage in the cross-cultural exchange, and construct a harmonious society. For the limitation of professional knowledge, there are still some other aspects about cross-cultural communication remained to be studied. As more scholars join the study of cross-cultural communication, the study of it will undoubtedly have an encouraging prospect.


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Breault, K. D. and A. J. Kposowa. “Explaining divorce in the United States: A study of 3,111 counties.” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1987.
Chen, X. and M. Silverstein, “Intergenerational social support and the psychological well-being of older parents in China.” Research on Aging, 2000.
Chow, N. “Diminishing filial piety and the changing role and status of the elders in Hong Kong.” International Journal of Aging, 1999.
Chui, F. “Married women’s attitudes toward marriage and spouse selection.” Population and Economy, 1994.
Ding, S. “Trends in current Shanghai families.” Social Sciences, 1992.
Du, J. M. New perspectives on Chinese culture. [M] Beijing: Shang Ling Publishing, 1992.
Falbo, T. “The one-child family in the United States.” Studies in Family Planning, 1982
Scollon, R.and S. W. Scollon, Intercultural Communication: A Discourse Approach [M]. Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 2000.
胡文仲.《超越文化的屏障》[M]. 北京:外语教学与研究出版社, 2002.
问文培.《全球化语境下的中西文化及语言对比》[M]. 北京:科学出版社, 2007.
朱永涛.《美国价值观−一个学者的探讨》[M]. 北京:外语教学与研究出版社, 2002.
李丽媛.“中美家庭价值颜跨文化比较研究.”[J]. 辽宁师范大学外国语学院学报, 2004.
罗艳丽.“喜福会的跨文化交际学解读:中美不同的家庭价值观.”[J]. 哈尔滨学院学报, 2007.


I avail myself of this opportunity to express my heartfelt appreciation to all those who have helped me a lot in my study and in the preparation of the paper. First of all, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to my supervisor Lan Xiaoxiao, for her insightful advice and suggestions as well as her constant guidance in going over the initial drafts and the final version. But for her extraordinary inspirations and valuable comments, the completion of this thesis would have been impossible. It is indeed a great fortune for me to get her guidance and instructions in my life. I also own sincere thanks to Professor Wu Qingyu, Professor Chen Naiqiu, Professor Zhu Yuanzhong, Professor Zhang yong and other teachers of the School of Foreign Languages who have offered all kinds of assistance in the past years and have shown me into the fascinating world of English linguists and western culture. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the authors whose works I have cited or quoted, and to the scholars upon whose ideas I have freely drawn. I have benefit a lot from their previous study on this subject. Next, my thanks go to my friends and classmates who have encouraged and supported me in writing the paper. Last but not least, I am obliged to my parents for their everlasting love and support in my life and study. With the pleasure brought by them, I enjoy every day and everything more than others.

Bibliography: Breault, K. D. and A. J. Kposowa. “Explaining divorce in the United States: A study of 3,111 counties.” Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1987. Chen, X. and M. Silverstein, “Intergenerational social support and the psychological well-being of older parents in China.” Research on Aging, 2000. Chow, N. “Diminishing filial piety and the changing role and status of the elders in Hong Kong.” International Journal of Aging, 1999. Chui, F. “Married women’s attitudes toward marriage and spouse selection.” Population and Economy, 1994. Ding, S. “Trends in current Shanghai families.” Social Sciences, 1992. Du, J. M. New perspectives on Chinese culture. [M] Beijing: Shang Ling Publishing, 1992. Falbo, T. “The one-child family in the United States.” Studies in Family Planning, 1982 Scollon, R.and S 胡文仲.《超越文化的屏障》[M]. 北京:外语教学与研究出版社, 2002. 问文培.《全球化语境下的中西文化及语言对比》[M]. 北京:科学出版社, 2007. 朱永涛.《美国价值观−一个学者的探讨》[M]. 北京:外语教学与研究出版社, 2002. 李丽媛.“中美家庭价值颜跨文化比较研究.”[J]. 辽宁师范大学外国语学院学报, 2004. 罗艳丽.“喜福会的跨文化交际学解读:中美不同的家庭价值观.”[J]. 哈尔滨学院学报, 2007.

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