, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 245-262

Emotions and their expression in Chinese culture

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Abstract

This paper attempts to integrate the scattered studies on Chinese emotion and proposes some methodological and substantive suggestions for future work. Emotions are construed as interpretations of physiological response to important social events with these interpretations guiding behavior. Concerning interpretation, the dimensions used by Chinese to understand emotion-eliciting events are the same as those found in many other cultures. Which sorts of events are keyed to these dimensions appear to differ, however, in ways consistent with theorizing about power distance and collectivism. Concerning physiological reactions, there appears again to be evidence for universality in the pattern of response for given emotions. What differs in Chinese culture is the lower frequency, intensity and duration with which emotions are typically experienced. Cultural beliefs about emotions support this general moderation and have implications for conceptions of psychopathology. Concerning the action component of emotions, evidence suggests that the expression of emotion is carefully regulated out of concern for its capacity to disrupt group harmony and status hierarchies. It is concluded that all these features of Chinese emotional responding are likely to be found in other groups that share cultural characteristics with the Chinese.

Virtue is the establishing of perfect harmony.

—Chuang Tzu