Answer – International Marketing and Culture

International Marketing and Culture

A Cultural Analysis of China


The national and official language of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) with 1.3 billion speakers. There are a further 200 languages in use as well as a countless number of dialects. People from differing provinces often have trouble understanding each other.

Values and attitudes

Chinese culture is influenced by the philosophical principles of key thinkers. Despite the ideological changes encountered during the Cultural Revolution and more recent market orientation, Confucianism still has a strong cultural impact upon Chinese society (Chan 1999). The culture in China strongly respects a good education and degrees and diplomas enhance a virtuous education (Oh 1991). The Chinese have a value orientation (Zhu and He 2002). Communism, materialism and Post-materialism are the three competing value orientations. The communist values see a selfless dedication to the well-being of society and mankind. The materialism values see the pursuit of immediate rewards and physical happiness. The post-materialism values see a way of life where the importance of material rewards is downplayed and there is an emphasis upon harmony between people and nature ( Inglehart, 1979). To understand the place of education in the GRC one need only to look at the expansion of education in the GCR and the increasing number of Chinese learners gaining Western qualifications. Whichever value the student subscribes to, education is highly regarded.


There are a series of cross-cultural differences between Western designed websites and Chinese developed sites (Hedberg and Brown 2002). The results of their study into visual media and cross cultural meaning holds some interesting results for websites that undergo a straight translation from English into Putonghua. For example the left edge of the page may not be the point where the student begins to read. The aesthetics of Chinese art may hold the key to web design that suits Chinese learners. The Chinese are keen gamblers and game players. Games tend to be rich in colour and appear very complicated to the Western eye, and this is reflected in the popularity of Internet gaming. The cultural understanding of colour and images could also lead to confusion in communication. For example parts of Chinese culture see people marrying in black and being buried in white. Logos and symbols associated in marketing may not carry the same impact to Chinese learners as they do with their Western counterparts. According to the Chinese Peoples Daily top Chinese brands include Hongtashan (cigarettes), Haier (household appliances) and Wuliangye (liquor).Chinese branding and images need to be considered when constructing case studies or using examples.

Law and Politics

The National People’s Congress is the highest organ of state power in the PRC. The Government is controlling and this makes commerce very different to that in Western culture. The recent problems encountered during the SARS virus outbreak may make the Chinese government less prone to holding back information that is in the public interest. Copyright remains a huge grey area. This means that website content could be copied or reproduced without permission. Censorship still exists if one wishes to publish an educational text in China. The Asian Law Centre links to resources on Chinese law and banking and finance, competition law, commercial law and e-commerce law, amongst many other legal areas. China has its own laws on e-commerce and e-transactions, privacy and information security that need to be considered especially if an e-learning project is to collect information, collect fees or protect any intellectual property.

Technology and material cultures

Filtering is a problem for Western websites. Effectively the Chinese government censors websites by blocking access from China. The Chinese government maintains an active interest in preventing users from viewing certain web content. It has managed to configure overlapping nationwide systems to effectively block such content from users who do not regularly seek to circumvent such blocking. Such blocking systems are becoming more refined (Zittrain and Edelman 2003). Blocked sites tend to fall into one of a number of categories including democracy, health, news, government, religion, Taiwan, Tibet, entertainment and education. Indeed both the Western and GCR Marketing Teacher websites suffer from filtering. They share this disability with MIT and the Learning Channel as well as almost 700 sites list in Yahoo’s education directories (Zittrain and Edelman 2003). The Chinese government does not co-operate on the issue of filtering and this makes it difficult to accurately represent the extent of this problem. Until its extent is understood, strategies for overcoming the problem cannot work. This is a huge problem for providers of free or chargeable content. One could invest time and effort in created online materials and promoting their existence only to find that your site has been filtered and that no right of appeal exists. As technology develops apace there is a sources of very up-to-date information on China and technology.


An overview of the educational system of China is offered by Surowski (1996) and includes systems for primary, secondary, higher and adult education. E-learning is one aspect of blended learning and has its own series of issues that are evaluated as follows. A simple text translation into Mandarin has a series of problems. It should be appreciated that learning is an active process and teaching materials should be variegated (Liu, Lin and Wang 2002). The activity associated with online learning is seen as a clear advantage. It is the critical engagement with the World that ensures that learning takes place (Dewey 1916). The system of education in the PRC is demanding and often begins at a young age. Learning Putonghua demands a good deal of effort as well as time consuming rote learning. Chinese culture is collectivist and often depends upon informal chains of communication. Therefore open discussion albeit in forums or web casts could see an infringement of cultural values (Can 1999). Western educators need to be sympathetic to the successful teaching strategies used by Chinese teachers, and embed them into e-learning projects. Levy (2003) explains that most learning in China takes place in classrooms. Even where technology such as television or software is used it tends to be heavily instructor lead.

Social organization

Liu, Lin and Wang (2000) advocate that the individual learning styles and preferences of e-learners need to be taken into account since a simple text translation may suit some learners whilst a multimedia approach is beneficial to others. Indeed it is possible to take a deeper look into the learning styles of Chinese students. Confucian philosophy has a role in shaping Chinese thinking and learning styles (Chan 1999). So there is an opportunity to conduct leaning styles surveys (Kolb 1984, Mezirow 1991). This may give an indication of the preferred learning environment of the Chinese e-learner. Then web content can be developed to suit the preferences of a number of individuals. There is a need for further research into the learning styles of e-learners from the Greater China Region.


Chan, S. (1999), ‘The Chinese learner – a question of style,’ Education and Training, Vol 41 No. 6/7, pp. 294-304.

Friesner, T and Hart, M.C. (2004) ‘A Cultural Analysis of eLearning for China’ Electronic Journal of eLearning, Vol 2, Issue 1.

Inglehart, R. (1979) , ‘Value priorities and socio-economic change,’ Cited in Zhu, J.J.H., and He, Z. (2002), ‘Information accessibility, user sophistication, and source credibility: the impact of the Internet on value orientations in mainland China,’ The journal of computer-Mediated Communication, Vol. 7 (2).

Kolb, D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Liu, L., Fuzong, L and Xue, W.(2003), ‘Education practice and analysing behaviour in a web-based learning environment: and exploratory study from China,’ Online Information Review, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 110-119.

Mezirow, J. (1991) Transformational Dimensions of Adult Learning, Jossey-Bass.

Oh, T.K. (1991), ‘Understanding managerial values and behaviour among the gang of four: South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong,’ Journal of Management Development, vol 10 No. 2, pp. 46-56.

Zhu, J.J.H., and He, Z. (2002), ‘Information accessibility, user sophistication, and source credibility: the impact of the Internet on value orientations in mainland China,’ The journal of computer-Mediated Communication, Vol. 7 (2).

This exercise is based upon an adaption of Friesner and Hart (2004). It is written from a Western European perpsective. Therefore if you live in the Greater China Region your local knowledge may be more detailed and realistic than that contained in this exercise. So please take into account that it is meant as an exercise for marketing learners, rather than as a source of decsion-making information on the country of China. It is simply a case study, and nothing more

However the dialects do have a common written form and this would be a saving grace when it comes to communicating with the whole GCR. Translation of the Marketing Teacher website is an important issue and indications show that direct word-for-word translations are not adequate. Therefore any Western co-ordinators of e-learning projects need to beware the pitfall of self-referencing. From a Western perspective it would be like a Chinese website being translated into English, and as one respondent commented ‘It would be very boring.’

Hedberg and Brown (2002) comment that grammar is context specific in Chinese languages so that the student builds up a picture of the meaning of symbols as the text is being read. Hence graphics and pop ups can distract the reader and confuse the context of the communication. So catchy homepages that are intended to grab the eye can also confuse the non-Western reader and therefore have the opposite effect.


Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism are the main religions. Care should be taken to make sure that religious beliefs are not contravened. However there may be a benefit in recognising the behaviour of Chinese e-learners. For example, one respondent pointed out that by recognising a particular religious event or festival a website could earn favour and respect.

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Tim Friesner

Marketing Teacher designs and delivers online marketing courses, training and resources for marketing learners, teachers and professionals.