What Geert Hofstede tells us about Chinese business culture

As a social psychologist, Geert Hofstede has spent much of his life defining cultures using a five-dimensional model (Culture’s Consequences, Comparing Values, Behaviours, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2001) . By cross-referencing survey answers by country, Hofstede created a scoring mechanism that has provided insight into over 90 countries worldwide.

Geert’s categories of Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity/Femininity, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Long Term Orientation help to give an insight into the values and structure of a certain culture. We look at his results for China (source: geert-hofstede.com), and help you understand how you can apply that knowledge to Chinese business culture.

Power Distance

This category measures people’s attitudes towards distribution of power. A high score demonstrates China’s hierarchical structure, and the belief of its people that you should respect and honour those with higher status than you.

As a foreign business entering the market, you need to understand and honour your place in Chinese society. Respect those who rank higher than you, demonstrate that you understand and appreciate your place, and you will make a positive impression upon the China market.


A low score here shows that China is a Collectivist society. The people of China tend to think in terms of ‘We’, and place the needs of others ahead of their own. Guanxi (relationship), is therefore very important to Chines business culture.

This attitude means you have to approach Chinese consumers differently to the Western consumers. Thinking collectively does not meant they do not make personal purchases, but when communicating with Chinese consumers, you need to be aware that different messages will resonate with them.


China is society in which success is defined by achievement – categorised as Masculine by Geert. Long working hours, working away from home to achieve higher pay and promotions, and high exam scores are all important to Chinese people, as salaries and results are measures of success.

Chinese people want to be the best at what they do. Appealing to their desire to achieve greater things for themselves could be an effective way of marketing in China.

Uncertainty Avoidance

In the Western, we are quite happy to carry on with things without needing to know what’s going to happen next. The Chinese people are the exact opposite. They need a structure and a plan, and would prefer stability to adventure. Chinese people don’t like taking risks, which is why it is so important to build Xin (trust) with them.

Long Term Orientation

China is a very long term orientated society. This ties in with Chinese people’s drive to succeed in life; they are willing to persevere and work for a long time to achieve. Chinese people are not so much about instant gratification, and when they invest in things, it tends to be for the long term. Conveying the permanence and durability of your product or services is therefore going to be more appealing than short term pleasure.

Market Me China understands Chinese business culture and will help you to present your company and product to the Chinese market in the most appealing and engaging way for Chinese consumers. Call us today to discuss our plans for your company.

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