Parochialism, My Journey of Learning about it, and its Implication for Me

With the publication of my paper Parochialism and its Implications for Chinese Companies’ Globalization at Management and Organization Review, I could now share and reflect on my journey for my research on parochialism.  

Back to six years ago, during the research of my dissertation, my interviewees often discussed a common phenomenon among their Chinese business partners, so called “quality fade”: the Chinese firms often bid a low price in order to get orders. At the beginning, they can fulfill the order to meet quality requirement. However, very soon and on purposely, they start to lower quality standard or substitute interior materials in order to lower their costs. When the business owners were asked why they should think it is ok to change the material without informing their overseas business partner. The responses were often like this: What a big deal is it as long as the products are working? They did not consider following quality standard a big issue. My interviewees asked me: How can Chinese firms think it is ok to lower the quality standard to hurt the business relationship when Chinese culture supposes to value relationship and face? Why are Chinese firms are so short-term oriented when Chinese culture supposes to value long-term relationship? What part of Chinese cultures allows Chinese firms to make such business conduct and think it’s ethical and normal?  Do you think Chinese quality will go through the same quality improvement cycle like Japanese did in 50s?

That is how my research on parochialism started: The phenomenon of either “quality fade” or “poorly-made-in-China” (Midler, 2009) is just the surface of the iceberg which underlining a business culture, or organizational or  managerial practices in China. In a larger scale, some characteristics of Chinese business cultures can become barriers for Chinese companies to become a global player, which are demonstrated prominently through the following business conducts I observed during my dissertation research:

  1. Short-term focus without a strategic global vision
  2. Heavily reliance on government relationship
  3. Pursuit of short-cut solutions for quick return, such as reverse-engineer, bandage repair or lower quality standard for costs savings.
  4. Preference of real-estate property investment, instead of investment on R&D, human capital, or branding.
  5. Emphasis of superficial tasks to maintain “face” without real improvements, such as “Mianzi Project”

Researchers have been strived to use established cultural dimensions to explain the Chinese business cultures, particularly Hofstede and GLOBE dimensions (Philipsen & Littrell, 2011), and China most prominent cultural characteristics of Guanxi (personal connections) and mianzi (face) (Buckley, Clegg, & Tan, 2006; Chen, Chen, & Xin, 2004; Lockett, 1988; Wah, 2001).  However, many Chinese managerial behaviors are not fully explained by the cultural dimensions and even contradictory to the traditional views of Chinese culture, such as long-term orientation and collectivism. A missing link between emic cultural dimensions and etic Chinese traditional culture puzzles researchers and practitioners trying to apprehend cultural sources of Chinese business behaviors.

Through reviewing literature, surprisingly, parochialism (xiao nong yi shi 小农意识), a type of mind-set rooted deeply in the society of China for centuries (Yuan, 2000), has rarely studied in the West. Within China society, parochialism is well known as a mindset developed from the large population of peasants throughout Chinese history, however it exists among every level of society despite of the level of education and wealth. It has been unconsciously and profoundly shaped Chinese cultures, morals and social norms. Chinese social science researchers also recognize it as a psychological barrier for Chinese to achieve modernized society and advanced civilization (Liu, 2008; Yuan, 2000). Yet, parochialism, a unique mode of thinking among Chinese and the product of Chinese history and institution, has not been acknowledged and studied too much outside China. The closest construct established through scientific approach is the Defensiveness (A-Q mentality) scale in Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory (CPAI) (Cheung et al., 1996; Cheung et al., 2001), while only demonstrates one dimension of parochialism.

The journey of interviewing, drafting, and revision for publication took six year. Although the publication focuses on the impact in China’s globalization, the concept of parochialism is not a China only phenomenon. During these years, we have experienced the world challenges of de-globalization and national protectionism. Social and political psychologists have shown that people around the world can become closed-minded when they face threats from outsiders. China may have a very unique institution and social environment, but parochialism exists in other countries and makes us focus on short-term gains and protect self and in-group interests.  The review of literature also frightens me that the human mindset has not changed too much over time. Parochialism is almost a human-nature for decision making to allow history always repeating itself.

I consider the publication as the first major milestone for my research. Yes, it took six years, but it helped me to use perseverance and open-mindedness as an antidote for my own parochialism.   

Reference

Buckley, P. J., Clegg, J., & Tan, H. (2006). Cultural Awareness in Knowledge Transfer to China—The role of Guanxi and Mianzi. JOurnal of World Business, 41, 275-288.

Chen, C. C., Chen, Y.-R., & Xin, K. (2004). Guanxi Practices and Trust in Management: A Procedural Justice Perspective. Organization Science, 15(2), 200-209.

Cheung, F. M., Leung, K., Fan, R., Song, W.-Z., Zhang, J.-X., & Zhang, J. P. (1996). Development of the Chinese Personality Assessment Inventory (CPAI). Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 27, 181-199.

Cheung, F. M., Leung, K., Zhang, J.-X., Sun, H.-f., Gan, Y.-Q., Song, W.-Z., & Xie, D. (2001). Indigeous Chinese Personality Constructs, Is the Five-Factor Model Complete? Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 32, 407-433.

Liu, Y. (2008). 小农意识-农民个体而非阶级的意识.

Lockett, M. (1988). Culture and the Problems of Chinese Management. Organization Studies, 9(4), 475-496.

Midler, P. (2009). Poorly Made in China: An Insider’s Account of the China Production Game John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.

Philipsen, S., & Littrell, R. F. (2011). Manufacturing Quality and Cultural Values in China. Asia Pacific Journal of Business and Management, 2(2), 26-44.

Roberts, D. (2012). China’s Export Machine Goes High-End. Bloomberg Businessweek, April 05, 2012.

Schuman, M. (2011). Can China compete with American manufacturing? Time, March 10, 2011.

Yuan, Y. (2000). 小农意识与中国现代化. 武汉出版社.

Wah, S. S. (2001). Chinese Cultural Values and their Implication to Chinese Management. Singapore Management Review, 23(2), 75-83.