Individualism With Chinese Characteristics? Discerning Cultural Shifts in China Using 50 Years of Printed Texts

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)888-903
Journal / PublicationAmerican Psychologist
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2021


This project examined cultural changes in terms of individualism-collectivism in China between 1950 and 1999 focusing on cultural associations that are discernible through analysis of language use. Drawing on algorithms in natural language processing (NLP) that numerically represent word meanings in a high-dimensional space, we examined patterns of word similarity for words indicating individualism and collectivism in Chinese. This methodology enables researchers of cultural change to investigate questions that were difficult to examine before. We examined four such questions pertaining to individualism-collectivism cultural change in China. The data spanning five decades found no evidence of Chinese culture becoming more positively disposed to individualism over time. Another finding suggested a continuing cultural association between collectivism and some life domains, work in particular. These findings suggest that rising individualism is not a universal consequence of societal modernization and that collectivism in China may be self-sustaining. The data also indicate that the Chinese language might have become more differentiated and complex in its discourse on individualism and collectivism.

Research Area(s)

  • cultural change, China, individualism, collectivism, language, PSYCHOLOGY, EVOLUTION