Hong Kong Managerial styles: Chinese and western approaches to conflict management


Chin, Al-li S.

TitleHong Kong Managerial styles: Chinese and western approaches to conflict management
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication DateAugust, 1972


Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:

This seminar-workshop maybe a single event, or a sequence of events around related themes, but it is not altogether a unique event. Many of the attitudes, perceptions, and modes of interaction which evolved during the course of the two days are congruent with what we know of the Western man in a Chinese setting, and the modern Chinese face-to-face with the challenge of the West. From such an event we can discern two patterns which have general implications: Chinese-ambivalence about westernization, and Western dilemma about organizational superiority.


Modern Chinese realize the necessity of changing their own behavior and that of organizations; in order to meet the challenge of the West, but in some contexts they also value Chinese ways (much modified, of course) of doing things. Often these two elements coexist in the same person, perhaps one or the other aspect becoming more dominant according to circumstances. In this seminar, the "modern" orientation of the Chinese managers manifested itself particularly on three occasions:

1. greater Chinese approval than Westerners' of the managerial style of Mr. Law, and backing of the point of view of Mr. Daniels;

2. relatively milder objections to the mode of "forcing" as revealed in their rating of proverbs; and

3. greater preference for task-orientation in management as compared to Westerners. Yet, Chinese support and defense of the more Chinese manner of handling interpersonal relations is also clear and unmistakable. Both are integral aspects of the modern Chinese, though often one or the other is not readily evident in a particular person.


The Westerner's dilemma is that between his conviction of his superior method of conducting business and his commitment to a basic equality between peoples. When he is functioning in a more or less modern Chinese setting, he expects the Chinese to live up to Western standards of organizational behavior, but is sensitive to being described as acting superior. His self-image is that of a democratic man while he is dedicated to the Western mode of' organizational behavior.


Now a word about the process of intergroup relations during the two day meeting. Process of course depends on the inputs of various individuals and groups during the sessions, including that of the seminar staff. There was nothing inevitable about the particular way the individuals or groups interacted, yet given similar impetus, people of similar backgrounds and circumstances might well have displayed similar patterns. After the first role play, the impact of the Westerners' style of portraying the roles and the request by the seminar staff to give a Chinese interpretation undoubtedly brought out the "Chineseness” in the Chinese participants and made them consciously aware of cultural differences. The Chinese version of the role play in turn made a strong impact on the Western managers and highlighted their sense of frustration in having to cope with Chinese behavior in a modern business organization. Their remarks about Chinese lack of responsibility and respect for seniority together with Chinese reactions to these statements highlighted group differences and blurred individual variations. And finally, the entire process of interaction led to each side concluding that the other side harbours feelings of superiority.


The patterns described in this paper are thus in part unique to this particular occasion and in part general in significance. The essense of East/West relations in the context of modern management as revealed in this seminar is undoubtedly a crucial element in Hong Kong business circles while the nuances described in this paper may add to our understanding of the intricate texture of human relations.

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