Chinese Culture and Modernization: Testing the Value Shift Hypothesis

50 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2011

Date Written: September 8, 2011


Drawing upon the most recent wave of the World Values Survey (WVS) data, this study empirically investigates the phenomenon of modernization and values change for China. Classic modernization theorists argue that the process of societal modernization is characterized by a significant value shift from traditionalism to more liberal thinking. Results from OLS regressions indicate that socio-economic development, measured by provincial GDP per capita and HDI (Human development Index), has a strong positive impact on the support of self-expression values. Our findings also reveal that respondents from the industrial coastal areas tend to be more self-expressive than people from the less developed inland regions. Meanwhile, a Confucian cultural heritage also contributes to explain values significantly, after controlling for socio-economic factors. This lends support to the culturalist theory that historical heritage and cultural traditions have an enduring influence on people’s value systems. At an individual level, education is significantly and positively associated with a rational and self-expressive value orientation. Interestingly, we find that people with a higher income level tend to be more traditionally oriented. We interpret this finding in the context of Chinese culture, specifically, in relation to Confucian ethics.

Keywords: China, Confucianism, modernization theory, culturalist theory, regional comparison

Suggested Citation

Gu, Man-Li, Chinese Culture and Modernization: Testing the Value Shift Hypothesis (September 8, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Man-Li Gu (Contact Author)

Taylor's University ( email )

Jalan Taylor's
Kuala Lumpur, 47500

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