2012. Vol.3, No.4, 297-303
Published Online April 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 297
The Concentric Circle Revisited: Allocentrism and Self in a
Contemporary Chinese Community
Weining C. Chang1,2, Lynn Lee3
1School of Psychology, University of Western Austr alia, Perth, Australia
2Duke-National Univer sity of Singapore Graduate School of Medicine, Singapore City, Singapore
3National University of Singapore, Singapore C i t y, Singapore
Received November 17th, 2011; r e vised January 2nd, 2012; accepted February 1 6th, 2012
Contemporary literature has extensively documented the connection between allocentrism and interde-
pendence in self-construals. The present report comprises two studies that aimed to extend this literature
by investigating the traditional Chinese concentric circle model of self-representation in a modern Asian
community. Study 1 comprised a series of focus group discussions (N = 35, 4 males and 31 females, av-
erage age 20) to determine the qualitative content of self-construal. Participants reported a construct
called the “true self”, with a content similar to the private self, and a number of social-selves varying
along the perceived intimacy of the self-other relationship. In Study 2, 120 participants (all females, av-
erage age 19) were tested on their level of allocentrism and then allocated to an allocentric (top 25%, N =
30) and an idiocentric (bottom 25%; N = 30) group. Participants responded to the Twenty-Self State-
ment-Test (TST) on seven relationship scenarios with various levels of intimacy. Their responses were
coded into collective/private/public self categories. Allocentrism and scenarios were found to have main
and interactive effects on the proportions of self categories. The results were interpreted as supporting the
graded nature of Chinese self-other relationships and a modified concentric circle self-representation in
modern Asia.
Keywords: Allocentrism; Situation Sensitivity; Chinese Model of Self
The centrality of self-concept in psychological functions has
been well documented (see for instance, Baumeister, 1998).
Anthropological studies (e.g., Allan, 1997; Doi, 1985; Geertz,
1973; Roland, 1988) and cross-cultural reviews (e.g., Markus &
Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1990; Triandis, Bontempo, Villareal,
Asia, & Lucca, 1988) have converged on the theme that each
culture provides its own paradigm to guide the individual to
make sense of the self, others and the world (Geertz, 1973;
Miller, 1984; Shweder & Borne, 1984; Spiro, 1993). Therefore,
the self and the culture are seen to constitute one another mutu-
ally (Markus & Kitayama, 2010). Social institutions (Hsu,
1981), religious beliefs (Inada, 1997), values, customs, norms,
and interpersonal relations (Curtis, 1991) further act as infor-
mation filters that selectively guide the attention of the individ-
ual to certain aspects, presumably at the expense of attention to
other aspects of the self (Fiske, Kitayama, Markus, & Nisbett,
1998). In this paper we explore the self-construal of young
Chinese living in a modern industrialized society (Clammer,
1993). We show that their self-construal reflects the conceptual
framework of the person inherent within the Chinese cultural
tradition—a tradition that places a strong emphasis on intri-
cately differentiated interpersonal relations (Hsu, 1981; Tu,
1985) with a concentric circle conceptualization of the individ-
ual self (Fei, 1947/1984; Munro, 1969, 1985).
Culture and Self
Towards the end of the last millennium, two themes gained
acceptance in the widely disputed arena of selfhood in different
cultural contexts. The first theme was made popular by series of
research on the tripartite division of the private, the collective
and the public self-representations (for instance, Greenwald &
Pratkanis, 1984; Triandis, 1990) and the second theme is best
presented by the Markus and Kitayams’s (1991) influential
review of the independence and interdependence of self-con-
strual (see also, Markus & Kitayama, 2010). Both themes are
related to a cultural dimension—individualism/collectivism—
first presented by anthropologists Parsons and Shils (1951) and
then used by the psychologist Hofstede (1980/1984) in his mul-
tinational study. The independence and interdependence of
self-construal (Markus & Kitayama, 1991), as well as the pro-
portions of collective/private/public self (Greenwald & Prat-
kanis, 1984) were proposed to be related to the relative empha-
sis of a culture on the collective or collectivism (Markus &
Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1989).
Many studies on collectivism/individualism and self-con-
strual have been carried out by contrasting self-representations
of Asians with those in the West. In contrast, Asian investiga-
tors often resist the blanket characterization of Asians as “col-
lectivists” (see Matsumoto & Kudo, 1996; Yang, 1992). They
contend that the construction of collectivism-individualism as a
single dimension is overly simplistic. Collectivism and indi-
vidualism can take on a variety of forms in different cultures
and each can make a unique contribution to the formulation of
self-concept. We propose that it would be conceptually more
transparent to investigate each dimension separately rather than
combining them and treating them as one construct or a single
In the present report, we focus on the construct of collectiv-
ism at the individual level—allocentrism (Triandis, 1990)—and
propose that allocentrism is not homogeneously distributed in
modern Asia, and that subscription to it varies considerably
across Asian populations. Cultures of these modern Asian com-
munities often show a bifurcation of subscription to more or
less collectivism (Chang, Wong, & Koh, 2003; Yang, 1996).
Within a given Asian population, we can identify individuals
who are more allocentric and those who are less allocentric. For
convenience, the terms “allocentrists” and “idiocentrists” are
used in this paper to label those who are strongly allocentric
and those who are weakly allocentric, respectively.
Allocentrism and Social Sensitivity
Allocentrics have been found to be more sensitive to situa-
tions that involve social others and to respond differentially to a
variety of social scenarios (Triandis, Chen, & Chan, 1988).
This sensitivity is evident because allocentrics tend to attribute
behavioral consequences to others (Choi, Nisbett, & Noren-
zayan, 1999; Morris & Peng, 1994) and are more likely to
delegate the choice of their own actions to significant others
(Hernandez & Iyangar, 2001). Compared to idiocentrics, allo-
centrics are less likely to attribute their behavior to the attitudes
of individuals (Kashima, Siegal, Tanaka, & Kashima, 1992).
These findings provide evidence to support that others who are
significant to the individual have been included in the meaning
of self by and functions as the self (Markus & Kitayama, 1991)
for allocentrics. This is the psychological interdependence that
forms the foundation of the interdependent self (Markus &
Kitayama, 1991, 2010).
The Chinese live in a world with finely defined layers of re-
lationships (Hsu, 1981) that makes in- and out-group differen-
tiation gradated rather than binary, resembling ripples emanat-
ing from the individual or a concentric circle with the individ-
ual self in the center (Fei, 1947, 1984; Munro, 1969, 1985) (see
Figure 1).
We hypothesized that the Chinese system of self-representa-
tion might be structured by this perceived gradation of self-
other relationships. Other Chinese researchers have proposed
similar views: King (1992) in Hong Kong, and Yang (1996),
Hwang (1992) and Yu, Chang and Hu (1992) in Taiwan.
Summarizing the above, we further hypothesized that there
might be an allocentrism-and-situation interactive effect on
Figure 1.
A schematic presentation of self in the traditional Chi-
nese social context.
self-construal in addition to the main individual effects of allo-
centrism and situation that affect the content of the interde-
pendent self-representation of the Chinese. The concentric cir-
cle of self-representation in Chinese might be a result of the
interaction effect of allocentrism and sensitivity to different
relationship situations.
In the present study, we used a multi-staged approach (Chang,
2000) to explore the selfhood of contemporary Chinese. We
employed sequentially focus group discussions on the partici-
pants’ perception and meaning of the self and the relationships
experienced in their normal everyday life, followed by a stan-
dard test of self-representation using the Twenty Self-statement
Test (Kuhn & MacPartland, 1954) with the private, collective
and public self-construal categorization (Greenwald & Prat-
kanis, 1984) in an experimental study by systematically ma-
nipulating the situation variables to “map” the complex Chinese
Empirical Studies
Two empirical studies were conducted. Study 1 used focused
group discussions (Morgan, 1997) to elicit reports of the quali-
tative content of the prototype of self-representation in con-
temporary Chinese participants. Using the results of Study 1,
Study 2 tested the self-construals in relation to the allocentrism
and social relationships of individuals. Several hypotheses were
generated on the basis of the proposed Chinese selfhood.
Adopting the conventional tripartite division of self-statements,
we hypothesized that:
1) Different facets of the Chinese self-representation, opera-
tionalized as the composition of the private versus the social:
i.e., public and collective self-representations, would be elicited
by their respective situation cues, operationalized as the imag-
ined presence of different others.
2) Different compositions of the private/social self-repre-
sentations are systematically organized along a dimension of
perceived intimacy with the target other: i.e., the concentric
circle representation of the self.
3) An individual’s collectivist orientation: i.e., allocentricism,
influences the situation variation in self-representation.
4) The concentric circle of self-representation is an interac-
tive effect of allocentrism and situation cues.
We tested these hypotheses by eliciting spontaneous self-
statements in multiple situations.
Study 1. Focus Group Discussions on Self and
Self-Other Relationships in Singaporean Daily Life
Participants: Thirty-five university students (4 males and 31
females; average age = 20, all Chinese) were asked to discuss
issues relating to self, self-knowledge and self-representations
in their normal everyday life. Six focus group discussion ses-
sions were held with 5 - 8 participants in each session.
Procedure: The participants were grouped into six discus-
sion groups. Each group was given the following topics to dis-
cuss. What do I think myself is? How do I know myself? From
what sources do I obtain self-related information? With whom
do I interact often? What do I tell them about myself? The sen-
ior author led all the discussions. Participants were encouraged
to make as many responses as possible regardless of whether
they considered the comment to be relevant or not. Participants’
responses were recorded verbatim.
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Results: A content analysis was conducted on the written
records to identify the major themes. The participants made a
clear distinction between the self that they considered “true”
(participants’ word), and self-statements that involved the self
with different social others in various situations. We labeled the
latter the “social self”, according to James (1890, 1978). The
true self was described as containing personal dispositions—
characteristics of the self as an individual. The participants
traced their knowledge of this true self to two major sources:
self-reflection as well as direct and perceived feedback from
social others.
With regard to social selves, there seemed to be two major
categories: self-in-relation-to-specific others (Curtis, 1991), and
self-as-a-part-of-a-collective or common identity (Brewer, 2002).
The participants referred to the category of common identity as
“dawo” (big self) where the individual characteristics, “xiaowo”
(small self), were masked by the common group identity. Par-
ticipants reported that they were not normally conscious of their
collective identities: being Singaporeans or being Chinese.
These identities became salient and relevant in their behavior
only on National Day or ethnic festivals, such as the Chinese
New Year. They were more aware of self in different relation-
ships in normal everyday social transactions.
The participants reported that they would “share” their true
self when appropriate, and that the appropriateness was defined
by their perceived intimacy with the target other. The situations
considered to be appropriate were defined by the perceived
intimacy with the intended audience.
It appeared that without being aware of the literature, the
participants concurred with Sternberg and Grajek’s (1984)
definition of intimacy in interpersonal relationships: the ten-
dency to disclose or share your private thoughts and feel-
ings—what the participants considered to be “true self”.
We then asked the participants to rate the level of intimacy of
the people with whom they normally interacted. There was an
almost unanimous consensus in the following rating: from most
intimate to least intimate, which corresponds to most disclosure
to least disclosure of the private self, self-close friends/the im-
mediate family-classmates-acquaintances-strangers/distant rela-
tives (see Figure 2).
Conclusion and Discussion: The small group discussions
yielded qualitative information concerning the construction of
Decreasing intimacy & confidence;
decreasing private & individual aspects
of self; and increasing role & stereotypical
ects of se l f
Figure 2.
Self and social relations reported by Singaporean students.
the self that involves a body of knowledge of the “true” self, the
content of which could be classified as the “private self” in
James (1890, 1978). From this body of knowledge of the “true
self”, the participants selectively presented certain aspects of
their true self to others. Depending on the perceived intimacy of
the relationship with the interacting other, the participants pre-
sented a different aspect of the self, the part that they consid-
ered to be relevant to the other party. They were keenly aware
of the effects of others on the self and its functioning (Ste pel &
Koomen, 2001). They considered the self to be intimately em-
bedded in the specific relationship in which they were engaged.
Thus, they had a keen sense of the relational self (Anderson,
2002) or relational selves as an integral part of their self-repre-
sentations. In summary, these young Singaporean participants
presented a sketch of the self that embodied the self/social self
conceptualization of James (1890/1989) who observed, more
than a century ago, that “There are as many social selves as
there are people who know” the individual; the contemporary
Singaporean participants reported that they presented different
aspects of the self to others. However, there is a systematic
selection criterion, in terms of which aspect of the self to pre-
sent, that is the perceived intimacy with the other person.
Study 2. Twenty Self-Statement Test in Different
Social Contexts
This study was designed to test the following hypotheses: 1)
self statements vary as a function of the situations operational-
ized as different target audiences; 2) with increasing intimacy,
the proportion of private self will increase, at the same time, the
proportion of collective self will decrease; and 3) the collectiv-
ist orientation-allocentrism of an individual will interact with
the situation to produce greater situational variation in the pri-
vate/collective self-statements.
Participants: One hundred and twenty female undergraduate
students, with average age of 19.1 years, participated in this
study. Only female students were recruited because the Faculty
of Arts and Social Sciences has a predominantly female (90%)
student body, and an all-female sample would be more repre-
sentative of the student population.
The participants were randomly recruited from the National
University of Singapore’s psychological research participant
pool. They were administered the Singapore Collectivism Scale
(Singh & Vasoo, 1994) described below. On the basis of the
scores on the Collectivism scale, participants were categorized
into high collectivists (top 25%) (N = 30)—labeled allocen-
trics—and low collectivists (bottom 25%) (N = 30)—labeled
idiocentrics—following the terminology of Triandis (1989).
Instruments: Two instruments were administered: the Col-
lectivism scale (Singh & Vasoo, 1994) and the Twenty Self-
statement Test. Modeled after Hui’s (1988) individualism and
collectivism scale, Singh and Vasoo’s (1994) Singapore Col-
lectivism Scale was designed on the basis of individual atti-
tudes towards the relevant collectives in Singapore: family,
spouse, neighbors and co-workers. This scale was used to as-
sess the participants’ allocentrism. The internal reliability of
this scale was found to be 0.90. The participants were instructed
to complete the test in response to the following scenarios:
1) Control situation—imagine you are sitting by yourself,
write down 20 items to answer the question: “Who am I?”
2) Immediate family—imagine you are sitting with your
parents and siblings, write down 20 items to answer the ques-
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 299
tion: “Who am I?”
3) Close friends—imagine you are sitting with close friends,
write down 20 items to answer the question: “Who am I?”
4) Classmates—imagine you are sitting with classmates,
write down 20 items to answer the question: “Who am I?”
5) Extended family—imagine a distant aunt came to visit you,
write down 20 items to answer the question: “Who am I?”
6) Acquaintances—imagine you are sitting with some ac-
quaintances, write down 20 items to answer the question: “Who
am I?”
7) Total stranger—imagine you are sitting next to a total
stranger, write down 20 items to answer the question: “Who am
Dependent Measur es: Participants’ responses were coded in
terms of private self, collective self, and public self (Greenwald
& Pratkanis, 1984; Triandis, 1989; Triandis, Bontempo, Vil-
lareal, Asai, & Lucca, 1988). Because the responses were lim-
ited to 20 items, the proportion of each self category from the
overall responses was used as the dependent measure.
Analyses: The proportion of each type of response (private
versus collective versus public) in each scenario for each sub-
ject was calculated. For each situation, the respective numbers
of private, collective and public self-statements were divided by
the total number of self-statements made by the participant for
that situation.
Two raters coded the self-responses, and the inter-rater reli-
ability was found to be 0.85. The final results were generated
by discussions and consensus between the raters.
Results: The overall mean proportions were 74% for private
self, 23% for collective self and 3% for public self. Because
public self-responses accounted for only 3% of the data, they
were not analyzed further (see Table 1).
A 2 × 7 × 2 analysis of variance was performed with one
between-subjects factor (allocentrism) and two within-subject
factors (social scenarios and the type of self-response). A sig-
nificant within-subject main effect on response type was found
(F (1, 51) = 264.76; p < 0.001). As mentioned above, the pro-
portion of the private self (M = 0.74) was much greater than
that of the collective self (M = 0.23) (see Figure 3).
A significant interaction effect was found between allocen-
trism and scenarios on the response proportions (F (6, 306) =
2.12; p < 0.05).
Table 1.
Mean proportion of Private-Collective self statements as a function of
high and low allocentrism.
Private Collective
Idiocentrist Allocentrist Idiocentrist Allocentrist
Control (m yself) 0.83 0.83 0.13 0.14
Best Friend 0.84 0.73 0.15 0.24
Immediate Family 0.84 0.75 0.12 0.21
Extended Fa mily 0.72 0.62 0.26 0.35
Classmate 0.84 0.70* 0.14 0.30*
Acquaintance 0.85 0.64** 0.14 0.34**
Total Stranger 0.68 0.69 0.32 0.31
Note: *p < 0.015; **p < 0.00.
Idiocentrists Allocentristss
Mean proportion of responses
Private self
Collecti ve self
Figure 3.
Proportions of private and collective self-statements in different situa-
We report below the analysis of the private self and the col-
lective self separately.
Private Self: A significant main effect of situation was
found in both allocentrics (F (6, 306) = 3.85; p < 0.001) and
idiocentrics (F (6, 306) = 3.85; p = 0.001). The only significant
differences found in the pair comparison across the allocentrics
and idiocentrics were in the classmate and the acquaintance
situations, where the idiocentrists reported greater proportions
of private self.
Visual inspection of the means revealed small differences
across all situations and in the right direction: i.e., an increasing
proportion of private self with increasing perceived intimacy
with the target audience. These small but systematic differences
did not reach statistical significance, which might be due to the
small sample size and hence the low power of the statistical test.
By plotting the proportions of the private self across situations,
a finer and graded differentiation of the proportion of private
self by allocentrics was found. This was mirrored in the in-
creasing proportions of the collective self with decreasing inti-
macy (see Figure 4).
Collective Self: Main effects were found for allocentrism (F
(1, 51) = 8.65; p = 0.005) and situation (F (6, 306) = 9.17; p <
0.001) in the collective self-representation. Allocentrics re-
ported a higher proportion of collective self-statements than
idiocentrics across all situations. Situational variations were
found for both allocentrics and idiocentrics; with increasing
rated intimacy, a decrease in collective self-representation was
found, an pair comparison showed significant differences in
collective self in the acquaintance and classmate situations,
where allocentrists reported a significantly higher proportion of
collective self.
Plotting the proportion of reported collective self across
situations revealed that allocentrics made a finer differentiation
(see Figure 4).
Conclusion and Discussion: This study represents a direct
empirical test of our hypotheses that Chinese self-construal is a
complex structure that consists of a private and multiple social
selves defined by different relationships. The results also con-
firmed the Triandis et al. (1988) observation of the “target sen-
sitivity” of allocentrics in social interactions. The allocentrism
and situation (relationship scenario) interactive effect suggests
that allocentrics were more sensitive to situation differences in
the reporting of their private self. The self-representation in this
modern Chinese community reflects James’s notion of multiple
social selves, and that, to these modern Chinese participants,
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Control (Myself)
Immediate Family
Best friend
Total Stranger
Extended Family
Control (Myself)
Immediate Family
Best friend
Total Stranger
Extended Family
Private Self Statements
Idiocentrics Allocentrics
Mean proportion of responses
Figure 4.
Mean proportion of self-statements as a function of Individualism-
there are as many social selves as there are different relation-
ships. The multiple social selves found in the participants were
arranged systematically along the range of perceived intimacy
of relationships with the target audience.
General Discussion
Anthropological studies have proposed that the Chinese
selfhood, operationalized as a system of self-representations,
incorporates not only internal dispositional information about
the individual but also the internalized layers of self-other rela-
tionships, “guanxi”, arranged according to the perceived inti-
macy/confidence with the target audience.
Results of the focus group discussions provided preliminary
information that Chinese in the modern context have an aware-
ness of information related to internal, individual characteris-
tics—what they called the true self—as well as a sensitivity to
their relationships with others. In this sense, Singaporeans, like
Chinese in other regions of the world, are relationship- or
The richness of the self-focused information about the “true
self” is in sharp contrast to most contemporary self-studies
involving Chinese. This provides proof that, although they are
relationship-oriented, the Chinese are keenly aware of the exis-
tence of their internal, dispositional attributes. However, the
awareness of internal attributes is subject to the influence of
perceived intimacy in the relationship context. When the Tw ent y
Self-statement Test was administered without situational cues,
Singapore Chinese participants reported higher percentages of
the private self than of the collective self. Similar findings have
been reported in Hong Kong with Chinese university students
(Bond & Cheung, 1983). Using a different methodology, Yu,
Chang and Hu (1992) found that Taiwanese university students
showed a faster reaction time in recognizing trait-related terms
than role- and relationship-related terms, suggesting that the
private self, the awareness of individual traits, is very much
alive and prevalent in Chinese participants. Our study not only
concurred with this finding but further extended the literature
by finding that the reporting of this private self, termed “true
self” by our participants, is tempered by the perceived intimacy
of the target audience.
The very small proportion of the public self—the self in rela-
tion to the general public would be what Chinese sociologists
Fei (1947, 1984) and King (1992) would have predicted. These
scholars observed that the Chinese place great emphasis on
personal, specific “guanxi” rather than on the impersonal gen-
eralized others.
Our findings support the context-dependent nature of repre-
senting abstract personal traits by the Chinese. It is interesting
to note that, without explicit situational cues, our participants’
responses were highly similar to those found by collapsing
self-statements across multiple scenarios. This suggests that the
data obtained from Asian participants using the “standard” de-
contextualised procedure might be an algebraic average of the
trait information across multiple trait-in-context schemata. Thus,
either by introducing the contextual cues (Cousins, 1989) or by
collapsing data across multiple situations as we did, we might
be able to “sift” out the abstract personal characteristics used by
Asian participants.
The participants told us during the focus group interviews
that collective identities, such as being Chinese or Singapor-
ean—the possible “dawo” identities—were not relevant to them
most of the time in their normal everyday life. The contextual
cues that were important to them were interpersonal relation-
ships, and they presented more person-in-relationship state-
ments. This led us to a concern over the categorization of these
two different types of social self—common bond and common
identity (Brewer & Gardner, 1996)—under the same category
called “collective self”. In our coding of the collective self,
following conventional practice, we did not differentiate be-
tween “guanxi” “wo”-relational self, and “dawo”. We coded
selfstatements such as “I am a Singaporean” as a collective
identity in the categories of collective selves, and “I am your
niece” as a role in self-with-other statements. It is proposed that
future studies differentiate these different types of collective
self, using measures that appropriately define the various self-
construals (see Brewer, 2002), because they might have differ-
ent psychological and behavioral implications.
The participants reported different proportions of the pri-
vate/collective self in different situations. This supported our
hypothesis that the Chinese self-construal is a complex struc-
ture that consists of many and varied relationships—i.e., many
self-schemata, each representing a different unit of self-in-
situation information. The results of our studies also reinforce
the findings of Trafimow, Triandis and Goto (1991), in that
there might be different types of cognitive constructs for the
private self and the collective self and that different priming
would elicit different aspects of self (see, for instance, Brewer
& Gardner, 1996).
The multiple self-with-(specific)-other and self-in-situation/
relationship schemata also suggest that the concept of “collec-
tivism”, defined as the relative emphasis of the collective,
might vary from culture to culture (see, for instance, Traindis &
Gelfand, 1998). For the Chinese, cultural collectivism and the
corresponding individual allocentricism seem to be a situa-
tion-dependent trait. Therefore, to determine the behavioral
consequences of allocentricism, situation cues in the form of
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 301
perceived relationships with the target audience have to be
introduced (Kashima & Hardie, 2000). It is also suggested that
scenarios—context specific cues—are more appropriate for
assessing the self-related psychological processes (see Matsu-
moto, Weissman, Preston, Brown, & Kupperbusch, 1997; Tri-
andis, Chen, & Chan, 1998) in Asian populations.
More importantly, we proposed that the scenarios—as ex-
perimental stimuli—have to afford the same psychological
meaning to the participants as that intended by the researcher
for the investigation to be culturally valid (Cole, 1996). The
scenarios that we used were constructed on the basis of the
rated intimacy of relationships derived from the focus group
discussions with Singaporean students. The experimental ma-
nipulation was therefore ecologically valid in the present study.
Juxtaposed between East and West, Singaporeans are not
homogeneous in their collectivist orientations. We felt that this
cultural diversity needed to be addressed. As we hypothesized,
the idiocentric Singaporeans (low collectivists) reported a
higher proportion of private self and less situational variation
than the allocentric Singaporeans (high collectivists). This in-
tra-cultural variation further confirms the predictions of Trian-
dis (1989) of high target sensitivity and more collective self-
reference as consequences of collectivism.
Comparing the self-construal of these contemporary Chinese
with what Confucian scholars might have envisioned (see Fig-
ure 1), the Singaporean self-construal mirrored a change in the
social structure of modern Chinese society (see Figure 2).
Closest friends rivaled immediate family members in the inner
layer of the self; while distant relatives were relegated to a
similar position as strangers in the rating of intimacy. Matsu-
moto and Kudoh (1996) found that Asians (Japanese in their
study) in modern Asia have a conceptualization of society that
reflects the self-other relations of a modern society rather than
those of strictly hierarchical traditional Asian communities.
Selfhood is shaped and formed by internalized self-other rela-
tions, and varies as the social structure changes. There are as
many interdependent selves as there are forms of interdepend-
ence. The independent versus interdependence dichotomy or
the public, collective and private self tripartite have both been
proven to fall short as explanations of Chinese self-representa-
tions. As Ashmore, Deaux and McLaughlin-Volpe (2004) ob-
served, the construct of collective identity needs to be expanded
to include the different senses of interdependence and self-
categorizations. The self-representations of the Chinese cer-
tainly provide an excellent case in point.
This study was based on empirical data drawn from mostly
female university students in Singapore. As such, a limitation
should be noted: being mostly female, the participants might be
more socially oriented, that is allocentric, than the population as
a whole. However, being better educated and predominantly
English speaking, the participants, who represented the modern
sector of the population, were also more attuned to internal
self-characteristics (Yang, 1996). The effects of gender, use of
languages and education are important factors that might influ-
ence selfhood. Future studies should systematically address
these issues.
The popular tripartite division of self-representations—pri-
vate, collective and public self-construals—was used in the
present study to explore Chinese selfhood; however, the appli-
cation of this method was more of a convenience to enable a
comparison of the findings with those of other studies on cul-
ture and self. The various terms denoting the Chinese self-“wo”
are not readily translatable into contemporary terminology of
private, collective and public selves. More recent developments
in the construct of the relational self (Anderson, 2002; Curtis,
1991) provide an interesting complement to the private and
social self dichotomy (see also Kashima & Hardie, 2000). The
Chinese have developed a much finer gradation in self-other
relationships (Hsu, 1981) than is permitted in the conventional
three-way division. Theirs is a “guanxi”-oriented, specific rela-
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cultural and linguistic context would be best described and
analyzed by employing the Chinese lexical system of the self
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