16 Mar 2020


Blurred Boundaries: Cross Culture & Covid19

Yesterday I started the day with the most positive video regarding COVID-19 ever since the outbreak that of nurses removing their masks after the last of the temporary  quarantine facility in China shut down.

As we move into Stage 2 of the #coronavirus pandemic in India, China is gracefully and gratefully reporting as few as 13 new cases each day. The curve has flattened.

BEIJING (AFP): From being ostracised by the international community as the centre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, China is seeking to reframe itself as a global expert that can help hard-hit regions battle the disease. See this video to know more.

The Hofstede Dimensions of Culture and China

China has triumphed over what can only be called a global crisis. And kudos to the discipline of both the suffering populace as well as the caregivers – medical staff and the families who looked after the ailing.
So how did China do it? Was it discipline? A fiercely maintained lock-down? self-quarantine and social distancing? Or all of the above?

The Hofstede Dimensions of Culture and China

What if we apply a cultural lens to this?

Just taking one viewpoint, that of Hofstede’s dimensions, shows how the cultural DNA of a country can help combat a crisis. So what is it that made China overcome what could possibly be termed as an apocalypse?

The Hofstede’s framework is a measure for assessing the impact of cultural values on the workplace behavior and gauging how much the cultural mores and attitudes influence the people at their work. Dr. Geert Hofstede was a psychologist who developed his now famous framework while working at IBM and his research was based on a study of more than 100,000 individuals in 50 countries across the world.

China’s score on three cultural factors stand out in hindsight. This could also be learning for the other countries, on how to flatten the curve. Let’s take 3 out of the 6 dimensions propagated by Hofstede.
One: Individualism – 20
Two: Uncertainty Avoidance – 30
Three: Indulgence vs Restraint – 24

The Hofstede Dimensions of Culture and China : Individualism

China has a low Individualism vs Collectivism (IND) score. As low as 20. This means that emphasis is laid on the family and society over the individual. The way the citizens have come together to fight the virus outbreak is exemplary. Silent streets, ghost towns and exhausted medical personnel as well as caregivers in families show the dedication of self to the society. A clear cultural DNA that has stood China in great stead at a trying time.

The Hofstede Dimensions of Culture and China : Uncertainty Avoidance

The dimension Uncertainty Avoidance has to do with the way that a society deals with the fact that the future can never be known: should we try to control the future or just let it happen? This ambiguity brings with it anxiety and different cultures have learnt to deal with this anxiety in different ways. The extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations and have created beliefs and institutions that try to avoid these is reflected in the score on Uncertainty Avoidance. China’s reasonably low score on Uncertainty Avoidance – 30 – is probably what got them to react swiftly to some unprecedented circumstances and work on quick contingency plans instead of ‘falling apart’ unable to react. This was ambiguity at its highest and China has come through what can be surely called a VUCA situation.

The Hofstede Dimensions of Culture and China : Indulgence

Finally there’s the dimension (Hofstede added it in 2010) Indulgence vs Restraint. Once again, a significantly low score on Indulgence, 24, China has been very stringent in enforcing the necessary discipline. Restrained societies do not put much emphasis on leisure time and control the gratification of their desires. People with this orientation have the perception that their actions are Restrained by social norms and feel that indulging themselves is somewhat wrong or can be sufficiently postponed.

This does not take away from the hard work that every Chinese has put in to combat COVID-19. It just showcases how the cultural DNA of a country can make it stronger in times of a dire emergency. And insights such as these can only help (even in a small way) as the pandemic strikes country after country.

This series (starting yesterday) is an endeavour to look at countries through the culture lens. We will look at impacted countries as we go along.  But here’s one final look at China’s triumph.

This is part of a series on cross culture that started yesterday called: Blurred Boundaries. Link here.

How China beat COVID 19

4 thoughts on “DIMENSIONS OF CULTURE & China”

    1. Hi Regina,
      Thanks for your comment. The culture lens opens up yet another world for us! And it’s always a good idea to see ourselves through that lens. Leads to far greater understanding of why we do what we do.

  1. I believe China’s ability to taken action, everyone’s commitment to work hard and follow what what necessary to bring the curve down is an example to be followed. I am not sure I see that here in the U.S. nor the majority of Americans desiring to follow what is needed to bring our curve down in regard to the virus.
    It’s helpful to learn more about what China has done and is doing to try to educate other countries and peoples. I hope even though we all live a different DNA in our cultures we may heed for our well being.

    1. Hi Cindy , at this point we all have to just do what needs to be done for the greater good and to battle a common enemy. And China is indeed a great example. It is now supporting teams the world over to battle this. As you’ve said, I hope we heed our well being over and above everything else.

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