Individualism Transition in Chinese Cultural Values Through A Case Study of TV Show Super Girl
“Individual“, the term by itself means something or someone unique. Thus, “Individualism” is a revolution which tends to power the rights of an individual. In countries like America, such a practice is followed. The people there wish that there should be enough personal space for every individual without being disturbed by name of any kind of authority or power as well. But the extreme opposite culture or practice prevails in China, which can be shortly called as collectivism. Here, neither the thought of individual nor their wish is given privilege. It is because they believe in group thought and they strive together for group success. If in case any individual in a group is having opinion mismatch with that of the group, then the individual is expected to suppress the thoughts without disturbing the group’s activities. (Pratt, D. D.1991) Such a practice could also be viewed as forcing a common thought upon everybody. But this is their culture and they have been practicing it for quite long years. We have to say that they got used to it.
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Now, in the recent past a TV show called “Super girls” has been commenced and succeeded as well. It is a talent reality show which brings out the talents of an individual to the sight of everybody by giving them a suitable platform. Another interesting fact about this show is that, it is the public who judge the show. They vote for their favorite star of the show and thus the winner is selected. But it is been condemned by the commentators that the Super girls show is kindling the individualistic feeling amidst the collectivism practitioners. Many have started protesting against the show fearing that the show may disturb the Chinese culture. But on the other hand the public started enjoying the entertainment. They are glad to vote for their stars. (Ding, Y. 2008)
China is a country which always value team success. Simply speaking, they follow collectivism. They give much importance to group thoughts than the individual opinion. This practice is strictly followed by them in the name of culture. Chinese people have not practiced direct election. But recently the situation has changed because of the Super Girl show in China. It is condemned by the analysts that this show has initiated amidst people individualism. Let us discuss whether the show is really spreading individualism among the Chinese youths.
The Chinese culture –A History
Change – has been the most prominent factor characterizing the world of today. Every second of our life is changed as discoveries and inventions galore the place we live on. This kind of transformation is not new to the least. It has been a constant factor; right from man finding fire to the scientific revolution, travelling from bullock-carts to modern cars, from eating anything to standardizing the meal we take, the world has almost seen everything.
Each change in turn was diversified among several groups of people based on their idealistic values, the ethical principles they followed and their welfare corresponding to their geographical region. These diversified changes slowly developed as cultural behavior of that particular group. Then there came a point where all the diversifications attained saturation. In the end, instead of these changes governing the cultural behavior, it turned out the direct opposite way where cultural behavior dominates the changes. (Songhua, F, n. d)
For now, the cycle has turned again. It’s almost a revolutionizing act if a person does the direct opposite of what their culture intends them to do.
Chinese culture gives the Chinese people their basic identity. They have certain core values which are exclusive and consistent, and these are fashioned by a tradition of four thousand years of history and maintained by the same language as well. Considered to be one of the oldest cultures, the Chinese culture has a vast and traditional history. Several groups of people, each having their own unique traits have shaped and nurtured the Chinese traditions and practices. It has evolved through different ages constantly but has always maintained its true identity. ( Destiny: Culture of China,1998)
Being the most populous country in the world, and the geographical landscape covering major part of Asia, there were as many as 56 groups of people who followed unique culture in ancient China. (Constitution, 1982) As time passed by, each of the groups lost their identity and their culture got erased with time. Chinese culture is well influenced by “Confucius”, who is a Chinese philosopher. The teachings of Confucius are called by the name ‘Confucianism’, which stress the importance of individual’s education based on morals so that the moral virtue of the state will be raised. (Downs, 1971)
In the current scenario, China is considered to be the fastest emerging super power engaging itself to compete at the top most level in almost all fields starting from business to space research. Its economic transition is increasing exponentially when compared to other countries. In such a high paced world, the time spent for conserving the true traits and habitat of Chinese culture is often neglected. Given the exposure to television and internet services, already doubts have risen among several quarters about the sustainability of the age old heritage. The different cultures exposed to people through these commercial mediums have fascinated the current generation of people to explore the then unassailable cultures leaving them unfazed by the deterioration of their own culture. (Child, J., & David, K. 2001).
Individualism – A theory
Oyserman, Coon, et al.’s (2002) through their extensive analysis on individualism and collectivism suggest that Individualism can be considered as a stand-alone construct for analyzing cross-cultural comparisons. They suggest that individualism as the core reason for the extensive differences society, emotions and individual behavior. Individualism can be considered to be the most critical factor for modeling a personality of oneself. Mcrae (2001) also suggests that a country’s decision to explore and try out new things depends on their individualistic nature. Since every person contributes to the success of a country, this statement does offer a fruitful thought about individualism and its effects. The thought of exploration and trying new things is termed to be an important characteristic of individualism as it leads individuals to form new relationships based on their needs and tasks. Also, the relationship life is not formed on the basis of solidarity and people often entangle themselves in new relationships, which is completely opposite to Chinese culture.
Another important characteristic of individualism is that it plays an integral part in the well being of an individual. The individual may be fully satisfied with the right to choose their own purpose and their own vision in their life. They enjoy complete satisfaction of what they are performing. This is one of the reasons that individualistic countries produce lots of inventions and new kinds of activities every now and then. People are allowed to explore in their own ways. (Lam C 1997) On the other hand, though individualism allows people to have their own relationships, it also lends to an increase in the number of divorces in an individualistic country. But then, by all means, people are satisfied in both ends with their relationships and they enjoy complete freedom. People following individualism provide higher importance to their leisure activities compared to other nations. It has been confirmed through reports that individualistic people tend to make self analyzed decisions based on their own experiences instead of carrying out tasks suggested by others. (Schimmack, Radhakrishnan, et al., 2002)
Collectivism versus individualism
Basically Chinese people value collectivism rather than individualistic opinion. There is no difference that matter to race, class or community. Their focus is upon the opinion or claim of a group or association. They always demand that a group is more important than an individual. This at times led to suppression of self opinion and interest for the welfare of the group as a whole. Thus collectivists must be able to do sacrifice. But the interesting fact about this is, pure democracy is a form of collectivism. (Jhuener,2006)
On the other hand most American countries have developed individualism. They believe, without protecting individual’s right, there is no sense in protecting an individual. Thus individualism is described as a revolution which protects an individual’s right which in turn protects a man from the other and thus it protects the state as a whole. It opposes collectivism saying that it denies an individual his or her right to life. Moreover they charge against the collectivists that they are poisoning the country. Also they condemn that the ability and efforts of some men are been sacrificed for the sake of others. (Wong, E. Y. 2001)
David Brooks, a newspaper editor, has analyzed about the striking behavior of the mentality of the collectivists and that of the individualists. He cites an interesting example. If we show the image of a fish tank to an American, he will focus the biggest fish in the tank and will start explaining about it, whereas if the same image is shown to a Chinese person, he will view the tank as a whole and will start explaining about the contextual behavior of the group of fishes inside. Brooks says (2008) “An American in general looks into the category but a Chinese will look into the context”. Also Brooks (2008) explains the behavior of people in collectivistic countries and individualistic countries as
People in individualistic countries tend to overestimate their skills whereas those in collectivistic societies under estimate their skills. People in countries like China will always tend to contribute more for group efforts.
Scientist too has supported his thoughts. They say relationship is the key to happiness. People living in groups tend to flourish whereas those living alone tend to depression and they even commit suicide.
Super Girl – the show
Any country which gets a feel of something attractive and something they could get attracted too would welcome it with open hearts. Such is a scenario with the television show, “Super Girl”. It is basically a Chinese version of “American Idol” TV show. When the show first started in 2005, it attracted as many as 400 million people from China, almost equaling the population of US and UK totaled together. It is a female contested show, where any girl irrespective of our background origin and other details can participate in it and showcase her talent. The show was conducted in a hierarchical round order, where each round filters the number of candidates and only the best of the lot enter the final round. (China Daily, 2005)
The 2005 season saw more than a hundred thousand applicants. Everyone was given 30 seconds to perform on stage and in the allotted time they have to impress the judge with their talent. Out of the entire competitors, three were filtered for the final round. They battled it out in one of the most exciting shows that entire China has never experienced. (China Daily, 2005)
The exposure was so much that during the final show, almost every Chinese voted for the contestants to show their support. The major feature that attracted people towards the show apart from the glittering display was that the people were in turn played the role of the judges. It involved voting through SMS and other services. This made everyone feel as if they contribute towards the selection of the winner and this in turn motivated each individual’s spirits. (Ding, Y. 2008)
One of the major factors of individualism that affected the Chinese culture through this show was neither the Government, nor the party had any sort of role to play in its success. It’s an ultimately new thing for the people of China.
The reason for that is, prior to this show, the only entertainment that was given to people through television was Spring Festival show, conducted by the government itself. And this show was running under strict supervision. Only the party people were allowed to view it, the rest were all watching through television alone. In fact, they were allowed only to watch, not even to participate. Rest of the shows that got aired was all military programs, bashing out all kinds of military anthems and stuffs. And so, in short, with this show, the party and the government were neglected all together. For, the people, any kind of information and policy from the government regarding the show wouldn’t have mattered anything. Hence, there was no show as universally accepted as this show was. (Hutong, X. 2005)
The country till then had never favored any individual pop star to turn media towards them and gain popularity. So, when the three young lads, in their early 20’s, rocked the stage with confidence and superiority, the whole nation appreciated and amazed. It was a freedom of liberty, a freedom of expression to many individuals to show their talent to all in a way they have never done before. (Hutong, X. 2005).
This is the most popular as well as the most sensational show as well. But then, it is been condemned by the politicians that this show is offending the traditional custom of China. Inevitably this show has kindled the nationalists to debate upon the democracy in China. Generally the success of TV shows lies upon the comments of certain analysts who could be political commentator. Thus they took in their hands to post-mortem about the sensational show. Yardley, J. (2005).
Rise of individualism
Since the time when China became as People’s Republic of China in 1949, ‘Collectivism’ has been their policy. It still remains the same. It does not have direct elections to select a person to run the country. On this point of view, the “Super Girl” show has provided the people a new form of election where individual voting matters. It just totally opposes the cultural values of China. (Junbo, J. 2009).
It follows the footsteps of ‘individualism’ which leads to the path of democracy in a non-democratic country. This is the point where the show attracted envy’s from all corners on a political perspective. As soon as the show gained popularity, the politicians criticized it to be ridiculous and rudimentary, obstructing the growth of Chinese culture and mentioned it as promoting individualism. (Quing, M. 2005).
The change in cultural values towards individualism did not stop with entertainment channel alone. The mindset of the people was another major factor that got changed. In China before Super Girl, people were not given an opportunity to vote. This in turn lead people disabled to execute their freedom to pursue their own course of life. In all ways, the government or the path came in their way. After this show, people have an opportunity to exercise their right to participate, execute their will. (Li, B. , 2005).
The other change brought about by this show is that the excitement and joy experienced by the people during the show, displayed that people are ready to move away from the idealistic values followed by the communist party. Though this seems to be just a view of people, many critics believe that it has led to a new phenomenon emulating the civil society, where individual people can be given the higher priority rather than the society. Starting from the end of the 20th century, there have been innumerable divisions within the society based on social and cultural values. Zhu Dake (2005) has even mentioned about this,
The Super Girls let us see that when the media can grasp public opinion, it can generate a powerful force. I feel that public opinion will be the most productive force in 21st century China.
Role of media
Coming to the part the media played in this, the “Super Girls” show has showed that how powerful media can be. It has given a solid strength and evidence to the people that media has the power to change the face of the nation. It has the power to raise the voice of the public, no matter how big the government is. Also, with the advent of internet really making its way into each and everyone’s lives, the right to express individual view as gathered attention and people are starting to use it.
Super Girl-Show for all
Before the show was aired, every activity performed in the country was gradually developing a split between the different levels of society. The elite and rich people of China had a better say in each and every activity than the under-privileged. This was turning out to be a major factor cultivating caste and ethnic group differences. The arrival of this show smashed up such theories that were existing and that were been practiced. It cleared the air stating a firm statement that the country and participation is for all. (Lynch, D. 2005)
Super Girls – the three finalists and their spirit of individuality
Out of the several thousands of people who competed in the Super girl show, three girls were selected in the final. They were Li Yuchun, Zhou Bichang, Zhang Liangying. Out of the three , Li Yuchun emerged as the winner with almost 3.5 million votes. What helped her , irrespective of our weak voice was her personality and undeterred attitude and motivation to succeed. These are the traits of individualism. She had a, very much look of boyish hair style and a smile that could lead 1000 other people smile. Her main characteristic that made her the youth icon of 2005 was her astounding capability to enthrall the public and her fearless competitive nature. She was determined to win the competitions and was ready to show her self-identity. She was an ordinary person with no identity till the show was conducted. Later on, she became the heartthrob of many youths, instilling individualism in many of them.
Even after several months of performing, all the three of them continued to improve their singing skill; the way handled the public and popularity was phenomenal. Chinese culture was basically related with human inner feelings and nature. They do not care about the outer looks. But then, through this show, the girls were dressed and prepared like Westerners. The Westerners got this trend only because of individual exploration. They were not afraid of the society for what they were wearing and in-turn led them to different findings. The same principle was followed here by the super girls, leading them to advertise the individualistic love for dresses to general public. They advertised themselves as an example of individualism. The culture of westerners is being imported by the girls but nonetheless, the girls have modified it to their own culture and traditions. (Robertson 1995) An example is the fast food processing identified by U.S but then, the Chinese followed it and created their own menus according to their culture. The girls served as the best examples of global advertising and cultural change.
Super Girl – reaction from government
As a result of the pressure scenarios created by the show, the government, on 2007, banned people from casting their votes through messaging and internet. In addition to this , the government also changed the show timings in such a way that it is not shown in prime time and as a result there won’t be as much viewers as there were in 2005. They have also placed rules on who all could participate in the show.
( Kim, N, 2009 )
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This is in response to their thought that the contenders are turning out to be bad role models for the current and future generation. They wanted even the dressings and hairstyles of the participants should be strictly in line with the traditional culture of the society. (Bao,. X.J., 2006). Rules were proposed to an extent that they decided to ban the show. But the show went on in 2009 with all these restrictions and is expected to continue.
Some critics who are in favor of the show believe the amendments in media rules to be a first step of success against the government. They are also of the opinion that with appropriate and planned teaching, people can be cognizant of the democratic values and can influence democracy to be started in the country. They pose the view that the people of US were not born with the talent of choosing right leaders, it came to them only in practice as part of their lifestyle. They believe that such thing could happen with China if practiced for twenty years. ( Ning, Q., & Ning, C.T.K. 2002)
Super Girl-benefits in different fields
Apart from democracy, this show has been a revelation in providing quality contents to the public, the method of operations being so contemporary, changing the ideal work ethics followed by the orthodox people. In terms of social values and society, the program was able to meet the demands inherent in common people. It helped them satisfy their desire to exercise their rights. In terms of financial changes, this show provided revenue like never before, thus increasing the economical stature of the country from entertainment industry too. (Xinhua., 2006)
Super Girl –Negative Remarks
As a show, society wise, it didn’t cause any problem. But due to its huge popularity, the show gathered crowd wherever it got telecasted. As a result of it, the law men had a tough time to handle the crowd. The crowds near the stadium were relentless to enter and the law men had to use their sources to get rid of them. The whole situation had become unruly. The politicians later on took this as one of the reasons for bashing at the show. The criticism was not a major one and it was forgotten as time passed by. Another issue that occurred was that the selection round was not done properly and there were complaints from some of the participants that though they performed well, they were eliminated and some kind of discrimination is done for selection based on some issue. All this has not been given strong evidence till now and hence the complaints were not taken seriously. These were some of the black marks which happened during its course time.
On a personal point of view, life is just a matter of mental perception. One can find a sea of change in life if the view of the same problem is just changed from its current perception. The people who come to participate in the competition are from different traditions and origins. Before they could perform, one could see their culture and tradition being exposed to others, either by themselves, or through their characteristics.
Such traditional culture takes a dump when they perform and get publicized after some success. Their individualism takes the front stage leaving out the collectivism and Confucianism. They are prompted to be self-aware, self –conscious, care about themselves and neglect the so called cultural collectivism. This can be seen in two ways. This either affects their own cultural development or in a positive note, helps them liberalize and understand their own self rights. It is obvious that both cannot be achieved simultaneously. (Bodde, D.1957)
Apart from the contestant point of view, the other factor that comes in here is the democracy and direct election. In my view, I don’t see any kind of relation between the Super Girl show voting system and democracy. Yes, I understand, it is one form exercising one’s right to participate. It gives you pleasure that you performed something that could change the fate of other person. But the change doesn’t have the magnitude that a democracy election would have over an entire country. (Zhou, R. 2005).
This being one view, one other point of view is that this could be seen as a democratic seed sown in a communist land. People tend to exaggerate this simple thing into such a huge issue that it got concerns from the government itself and led to the restriction on the show itself. Here, I have to mention that Chinese people have thrown sand on themselves. They have seen something new, some new change being happening, which they could capitalize on and make it scale greater heights. Instead, they tried to expose the democratic alliance that it minutely had, into a full blown issue and it showed the effects of it. (Jakes S. 2006) It is not possible here to suggest a predicament on whether the democracy interpreted through the show is valuable, deep and thought provoking. There is no compromise on whether it kindled the thought or not. Some people would go for a yes, some would go for a no but there can never be a unanimous decision for this issue. (Time,1954).
People all of a sudden forget the mere existence of the central government and without any message or communication from the top level governance; they just started forming groups and started enjoying by their groups. They have merely forgotten the presence of a top level institution in the country. They were living in their reel life rather than their real life. (Ding, Y. 2008).
According to D.D Pratt (1991), transformation from collectivistic nature of human being to individualism involves transformation of personality. This in his view is done in terms of perceptual, rational and moral knowledge. On Chinese point of view, it is about perfection and education. Hence their view was fully focused on Confucianism, and their human nature was limited in its view. With the advent of this show, it is shown that the Chinese have found about the innumerable forms that a human nature relationship can take in its entirety. Hofstede, G. (2001).
The major highlight of the show that specially characterizes individualism is the way each one is given the freedom to express themselves, how they are given the freedom to express their emotions, there inside thoughts, irrespective of their tradition. The show showed that culture is just nothing but sharing between one another and the resulting boundaries that develop to individual groups.
When people from different culture, from different walks of the society are pitted against each other, they make their own assumptions about others only based on their own culture that is their values and principles they follow. These are only reasonable from their point of view, not from others. Hence, these conceptions take a dig when they do something wrong, which in turn, leads them to do self conscious work and that is, individualism. So, self-conscious nature gets into them once they enter the show itself. This in turn affects the already inherent cultural values inside them. (Ding, Y. 2008).
The other reasons that I could state for the analysis of individualism in Super Girl show is that it is not only providing the current generation youth, a role model to look for , or a principle to follow for, but the fact is the feel of warmth, a fresh charming wavelength flowing between the contestants and the youth. They give high priority to this warmth, higher than their friends; higher than their colleagues; and most importantly, higher than the model set created on a moral basis by the Chinese government.
The other factor is the psychological factor. The youth are able to get psychologically inspired through this show. Psychological inspiration involves , a belief in inside to follow their goal, a head start to achieve their goals and an attitude, that can take success or failure – no matter what comes, taking both in a positive way. So, for all these aspects, the culture of the Super Girls can be used as an instrument in shaping up their career. (Yan, Y 2000)
An apt example for this scenario could be, the application of rules and regulations in an apt manner can be followed by other rule making or governing institutions. People who feel are lagging in educational career, can concentrate on their extra-curricular talents with this show as an inspiration. So, this show gives the self confidence to the youth and in the process applies self-realization.
Another example that could be provided is how even the under-privileged people can learn from the Super Girls, the ability to persist until the goal is reached. It gives them the confidence not to rest until the limelight is achieved. (Zan, Z.2009). According to Ha Jin, an acclaimed writer, The Chinese youth have changed their own perception. They think about themselves differently. They are self-worthier and they have started to think in terms of earning money for themselves to achieve their purpose. He feels that people are no more thinking that individualism is a bad factor and they are appreciating it
It is a fact that the “Super Girls” show has sown the seed of individualism in China. This situation can be compared to a drowning person who gets air mixed with carbon dioxide. It is obvious that the person will try to take as much air as possible without caring the level of carbon dioxide. The same has happened in China. But, this cannot be exaggerated by any means. Though the show is running for a period of 6 years, the amount of individualism impact it had upon the Chinese youth is very minimal. Individualism is a complicated issue and is directly related with the development of the nation. China, being the fastest developer in the world is yet to come in terms with the individualistic nature of U.S on cultural perspective. The national differences are going to continue to be prevalent between these nations. No matter, how many different numbers of shows come, the domination of traditional collectivism in historic China is not going to be replaced by individualism any time soon.
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