ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (5): 894-905.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.00894

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True self in east and west from Guanxi perspective

LIANG Yanfang, XIE Tian()   

  1. Department of Psychology, School of Philosophy, Wuhan University, Wuhan 430072, China
  • Received:2020-04-08 Online:2021-05-15 Published:2021-03-30
  • Contact: XIE Tian


The true self is regarded as a stable experience generated when it conforms to the autonomous motivation of the individual. To be more precise, the true self or authenticity refers to the consistency between individual behaviors and internal states (e.g., values, beliefs, and needs), including trait authenticity (that is, refers to a person's basic tendencies towards a set of emotions, cognition or behavior that reflect a stable individual difference.) and state authenticity (that is, refers to the true feeling that is consistent with one's own inner values and beliefs under the current environment or behavior). In this paper, cultural differences in the true self was proposed by comparing with relevant concepts (e.g., self-knowledge, self-concept clarity, self-congruence, integrity, and sincerity) and reviewing existent theories.

Based on a review of previous research, this paper pointed out that the essence of the true self may not differ in different cultures, that is, the feeling when one's words and actions are consistent with one's own values. Because everyone, no matter what culture they are, experiences what it feels like to live up to their own standards. On the other hand, however, there are cultural differences in the expression or realization of the true self, or in the way it appears. This paper proposed that the true self is driven by autonomous motivation in the Western culture, while it is driven by Guanxi requirements in the Eastern culture. Specifically, Western culture focuses on individuality, and individuals seek to satisfy their own independent needs such as their own values and beliefs. It is common for western individuals to pursue their own values, beliefs and other personal independent needs, and it is normal for them to prioritize themselves over others or relationship bodies. The individual also sees the self as a major independent entity, rather than as a role player in a relationship, even in a relationship situation. Therefore, the expression of the true self is driven by the autonomous motivation of the individual in typical scenes of Western culture. However, the eastern culture, especially Chinese society, is deeply influenced by the Confucian thoughts. And the individual is in the self-centered relationship environment, and the existence and maintenance of the relationship are also internalized into the cognition of the eastern individual. Thus, the Guan xi can also be seen as a part of the self, coexists with the individual itself. The true self experience at this time is influenced by the relational environment, rather than exists in the vacuum of the detached atomic individual. That is, the true self is driven by external relational requirements in the typical scene of Eastern culture. In general, this paper pointed out that the true self is driven by autonomous motivation in the Western culture, while it is driven by Guan xi requirements in the Eastern culture.

In multiculturalism, the consequences of cultural collision are not simple exclusion or integration, and the influence of cultural differences on true self-expression is no longer the influence of absolutely independent individuals or relationships. Under the influence of globalization, the psychological theme of the true self based on individual autonomous motivation, which is very important to Westerners, may also begin to appear in Easterners. Based on this, how does the true self behave in the complex relationship with the superior and inferior, the distant and near relatives and distant relatives? Future studies are recommended to further explore the true self from the “guanxilization”, integrating the traditional Confucian thoughts into theoretical construction and understanding toward new social phenomena (e.g., emerging Social Networking Sites, social changes), as well as advancing research methodologies (e.g., cross-cultural comparison, methods highlighting situation variations).

Key words: true self, authenticity, autonomous motivation, Guanxi, Confucianism

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