Tag Archives: China

This One World might have One Dream one day – but not today.

Last week, United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo attended a press conference of the second round of China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogues in Beijing, China. At the conference, China and the United States agreed to enhance mutual trust through more intensive dialogue for a stable and mature relationship. According to a press release issued by the Chinese, “The relationship of China and the United States, respectively as the world’s largest developing and developed countries, is immensely important to the world, and the key to sound relations is strengthening mutual trust.”

The relationship between the United States and China is inarguably one of the most – if not the most – important bilateral relationship of the 21st century. The two countries are often considered to be neither allies nor enemies, and the relationship is considered by analysts of Sino-American relations to be both complex and multi-faceted.

Cross-cultural psychologists have grown famous for uncovering East-West differences in just about every domain of social psychology, but there are fewer studies that take real-life political events happening at that moment and attempt to build theories of Sino-American relations around those events. Recently, social psychologists from both the United States and Asia came together in a special section of the Asian Journal of Social Psychology to discuss the psychosocial ramifications of one such major political event – the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In one paper within this section, researchers discuss the irony that although the Beijing Olympic Games were intended to elicit feelings of international unity (hence the slogan “One World, One Dream”), once participants were reminded of the Beijing Games via subtle and indirect exposure to the Beijing Olympic icon, both Chinese and Americans high in nationalism and patriotism perceived greater differences between Chinese and American cultures, compared to those low in nationalism and patriotism. On a more explicit level, however, the two groups seemed to differ: whereas Chinese associated the Games with the “One World, One Dream” slogan, Americans associated the Games with a burgeoning Chinese competitiveness. Authors explain the findings as a cognitive contrast effect such that as long as the Olympic Games symbolize a co-presence of the U.S. and China simultaneously – whether the intergroup relationship is perceived to be friendly or competitive – the Games will lead to a psychological contrast between the ingroup and the outgroup and, in so doing, heightened perceived cultural differences. The authors further emphasize that although Chinese participants might be acutely aware of the differences between the U.S. and China, they do not necessarily associate these differences with hostility, but instead understand them as an opportunity to learn from the U.S. in order to eventually realize the “One World, One Dream” ideal. Americans, however, apparently associate the Games with competition between China and themselves and this same awareness of how they are different from China might only serve to intensify any adversarial feelings.

Like the conclusions drawn from the recent dialogue between the U.S. and China, psychologists stress that it is increasingly vital for research to inform strategies that might, at the very least, help make both countries cognizant of how they are perceived by each other. They claim that awareness of our differences, understanding how those differences come about and what they mean to the outgroup, and being ready to reconcile discrepant motivations are essential to preemptively assuage any potential discord caused by different expectations and different hopes for the future world order.

China, U.S. committed to more stable relationship

One World, Just a Dream? Effects of the Beijing Olympic icon on perceived differences between Eastern and Western culture

Meals or luxury? The intricate choice of Chinese consumers

The rate at which China’s luxury market has grown is tremendous, and China is now home to both the world’s second-largest diamond market and the number-one automobile market. However, it is important to note that not all luxury consumers in China actually have the salary to support such purchases. China’s online message boards are filled with accounts of young Chinese white-collar workers who skip meals and only eat instant noodles in the evening in order to save up for a luxury purse made by Richemont or Louis Vuitton. Post-80’s-generation Chinese refer to these individuals as “modern Madame Bovarys.” This type of Chinese luxury consumer lives beyond their means to attain a luxurious lifestyle like that of the main character in Gustave Flaubert’s famous novel.

Besides self-enhancement perspective and motivation theory, the moral self-licensing effect provides an alternative interpretation of the paradoxical behaviors of Chinese young luxury consumers. The moral self-licensing effect suggests that past good deeds can liberate individuals to engage in behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic, behaviors that they would otherwise avoid for fear of feeling or appearing immoral, such as political incorrectness, prosocial behavior, and consumer choice (Merritt, Effron &Monin, 2010). Consumer choice represents one major domain in which moral self-licensing is evident. Everyday purchasing decisions are tinged with morality. At the extreme, some utilitarian philosophers argue that it is immoral to spend disposable income on unnecessary things because that money could go to people in need elsewhere (Singer, 1972). Though probably few consumers subscribe to such drastic views, buying luxury items or frivolous goods is nonetheless associated with feelings of guilt and self-indulgence (Dahl, Honea, & Manchanda, 2003). According to the logic of self-licensing, individuals whose prior choices establish them as ethical and reasonable spenders (or ethical and reasonable people in a more general sense) should be more likely to indulge in frivolous purchases later on. In other words, one can self-license frivolous consumption by behaving in ways that establish one’s morality. For those Chinese luxury consumers who do not have enough salary to support luxury purchases, skipping meals or other ridiculous saving behaviors might license their feelings of guilt and self-indulgence because they feel that they have paid for their consumption in advanced.  In addition, the announcement that luxury consumption made important contribution to economic growth persuades luxury consumers that what they are doing is actually prosocial. In sum, imagining engaging in prosocial activities seems to license self-indulgent purchases and reduce of guilty feelings about the frivolous choices of Chinese luxury consumers and further courage them to engage in such irrational purchases.

What Are China’s Luxury Consumers Buying?

Anna C. Merritt, Daniel A. Effron,& Benoît Monin. (2010). Moral Self-Licensing: When Being Good Frees Us to Be Bad. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 344 – 357.

Internet Avengers

By Erica Zaiser

In China, the Internet has provided a new kind of medium for vigilantes to work together to dole out punishments to perceived offenders. This “human-flesh search engine”, as an article in the New York Times calls it, doesn’t work like a conventional Internet search. Instead, it is a vast network of online users who work together to reveal the location and personal details of people who the users feel have violated a norm. In one example, Internet users from all over China worked together to collect the personal data of a woman who posted a video on the internet of her stomping a kitten to death under her spiked heels.  After discovering her location, the vast network of users encouraged everyone who came in contact to her to assist in driving her out-of-town, ruining her business, and destroying her life. The article describes a number of examples of offenders (accused of committing a wide variety of perceived “crimes”) all being punished severely through this network and often being unable to return to work, their homes, or normal life after the “search engine” finds “justice”.

Although this type of mass justice seeking behaviour is relatively unstudied, it has interesting implications for a number of research areas like social identity, bullying behavior, collective action, social rejection, and anger and aggression. When people witness behavior that violates norms and invokes moral outrage, they often desire justice. According to social psychologists, there are different types of justice people can seek when they witness a crime, they include retributive justice (punishment for the offender) and compensatory justice (compensation – money and apology etc. for the victim). Interestingly, in this Chinese human network, the justice form doled out by online avengers is always a harsh punishment for the offender. Nobody in the network is encouraging others to seek compensation for the victims.

In line with this, one set of studies found that when people “observe” a crime, but are not close to the victim, they prefer a retributive type of justice to a compensatory type. The less close the bystander is to the victim, the more they prefer punishment to compensation. When you are dealing with an online network of avengers who likely don’t even know each other, much less the victim, its easy to see how this punishment response could escalate as the networks extends to more distant users. Furthermore, given that it’s all online, there is an added sense of anonymity for the justice seekers. All of these aspects make the “human search engine” an interesting phenomenon for social psychologists to unravel.

Read More: Retributive versus compensatory justice: Observers’ preference for punishing in response to criminal offenses