The work cultures of China and the United States have been related to and influenced by their own cultural values. China has the greatest population and a long history of business. Although the lifestyle of Chinese people has changed rapidly in recent years, some inherited mainstream cultural values from ancient China have not been forgotten in today’s society at all. In fact, some of those traditional values root deeply in people’s minds and even retain the power to impact the work culture in China today. On the other hand, the American business history is relatively short, but the American business culture is indubitably one of the most powerful cultures in the world; furthermore, it has significantly inculcated and benefited many influential companies with worldwide reputations, such as Microsoft, Walmart, and P&G. American business culture has been best known for some of its characteristics: equality, efficiency and discipline. By comparing, some business goals and objectives are fundamentally different between China and the U.S. due to the innate influences of cultural values, and these primary differences can be categorized under three aspects: individual value, interpersonal relation, and the role of rules.
First, Chinese work culture highly values collective cooperation and individual moderation while Americans prioritize individualism, which accepts and encourages self-reliance and self-promotion, based on individual decisions. Chinese collectivism has made a huge impact on shaping the Chinese national character by forming one’s selfhood and making a person more easier to be ruled. In the ancient times of China, Confucianism conveyed a significant assertion respect to the social structure and relations. As Choi and Han (2009) write in “Psychology of Selfhood in China: Where is the Collective?” people have to be inculcated with Confucian proprieties at an exceptionally young age so that they can be taught to overcome “self-centeredness” and learn the “humane treatment toward others” (78). Thus, the main properties of collectivism can be reflected by the Confucianism characteristics, such as “the priority of collective interest over individual interest” and “in-group harmony seeking” (75). To a certain extent, Chinese employees are relatively easier to compromise to the group, and they are also more likely to adapt the highly centralized work environment where people need to obey the irrational rules and are depressed to express their own opinions. Conversely, American companies massively emphasize the priority of individual decisions because it is correlated with the American cultural value which Americans were inculcated with at a young age. According to the book American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, Stewart and Milton (1999) state that “Americans consider success to result from individual effort, competence, and originality” (122). To emphasize the importance of individual effort and competence, the roles of employees in U.S. companies are very individualized since individual achievement is very important as linked to company goals.
Secondly, the interpersonal relations in the business environment tend to be associated with formality and hierarchies in China while American companies advocate social equality and minimizing social ranks in a work environment. In the article “Chinese Relationalism: Theoretical Construction and Methodological Considerations,” Hwang (2000) states, to build social relationships in China, people often start with assessing the relationship between oneself and others in two social dimensions: “intimacy/distance and superiority/inferiority”; therefore, the process of seeking relationships is “to penetrate the relatively weak psychological boundary and transform the relationship into a mixed tie”(169). For instance, it’s very impolite and unwise to call older people directly by their first names in China.