Cultural evolution over the last 40 years in China: Using the Google Ngram Viewer to study implications of social and political change for cultural values

Rong Zeng, Patricia M. Greenfield
Published Online:
14 Jan 2015
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 50 Issue 1

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Chinese people have held collectivistic values such as obligation, giving to other people, obedience and sacrifice of personal interests for thousands of years. In recent decades, China has undergone rapid economic development and urbanisation. This study investigates changing cultural values in China from 1970 to 2008 and the relationship of changing values to ecological shifts. The conceptual framework for the study was Greenfield's (2009) theory of social change and human development. Changing frequencies of contrasting Chinese words indexing individualistic or collectivistic values show that values shift along with ecological changes (urbanisation, economic development and enrollment in higher education), thereby adapting to current sociodemographic contexts. Words indexing adaptive individualistic values increased in frequency between 1970 and 2008. In contrast, words indexing less adaptive collectivistic values either decreased in frequency in this same period of time or else rose more slowly than words indexing contrasting individualistic values.

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