Fei Xiaotong's Comparative Theory of Chinese Culture: Its Relevance for Contemporary Cross-disciplinary Research on Chinese 'Collectivism'

  • Carsten Herrmann-Pillath
Keywords: Chinese culture, collectivism, Fei Xiaotong, field dependence, guanxi, Chinese religion


This article argues in favour of the triangulation of emic and etic methods in the comparative study of culture, taking China as a case. Starting from an indig-enous theory of cultural comparisons, Fei Xiaotong's concepts of 'group pattern' (tuanti geju) versus 'differential pattern' (chaxu geju), I review the contemporary literature on 'collectivism' in social psychology and management sciences. The article shows that Fei anticipated major revisions of this concept, resulting into a multi-aspectual approach that distinguishes 'individualism', 'collectivism', 'vertical/horizontal relations' and 'relational/categorial embeddedness'. In this frame, Fei's characterisation of Chinese culture can be restated in terms of the aspects of 'individualism', 'relational embeddedness' and 'verticality'. I argue that Fei's anticipation of modern research may be rooted in a feedback of culture-bound cognition to theory formation. Taking Chinese networks and Chinese popular religion as examples, the validity of this approach is further confirmed.