CUHK Business School Research Reveals How Chinese Differs from Americans in their Perceptions of Bribery

Media OutReach - 10 April 2019 - Corruption is a major threat faced by
China and anyone who wants to do business in the country. In recent years, the
Chinese government's
crackdowns in
has led to some success.  In the Berlin-based non-profit Transparency
Perceptions Index 2017
, China ranked 77th with a
score of 41 out of 100, a slight improvement from the score of 36 in 2014. The
index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public
sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople with a scale of 0 to
100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.


While the government continues to combat corruption
from the top level, it also needs the support of individuals. How do Chinese
people perceive bribery acts? Are their perception any different from people of
the Western culture?
Prof. Hong
, Choh-Ming Li Professor of Marketing at The
Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School has revealed some
interesting answers in her research.


With her collaborators from other universities, her
research entitled "Is individual bribery or organisational bribery more
intolerable in China (versus in the United States)? Advancing theory on the
perception of corrupt acts" takes a look into how two cultures (Chinese,
American) perceive two types of bribery: individual and organisational.


bribery is bribe-giving on behalf of an individual to serve individual
interests (e.g., a parent bribing a teacher in order to get favourable
treatment for his or her child); whereas organisational bribery is bribe-giving
on behalf of an organization to serve the collective interests (e.g., a listed
firm bribes the auditor to produce fraud financial reports or a company bribes
the government for policy support).


to Prof. Hong, the distinction between individual and organisational bribery is
important. "Past research suggested that cultures vary in their construals
of individuals and collectives as two separate, cognitively meaningful social
entities," says Prof. Hong.


expect that in cultures emphasising the agency of collectives over individuals
(e.g., China), organisational bribery might be seen as a more significant
transgression than individual bribery, whereas in cultures emphasising the
agency of individuals over collectives (e.g., the United States), individual
bribery might be seen as a more significant transgression than organisational
bribery," she adds.


The Study

researchers conducted several studies with hundreds of college students and
working adults in mainland China and the United States. The participants were
presented with a list of nine individual (e.g., a person who breaks a traffic
law gives money to the police officer) and nine organisational bribing
behaviour descriptions (e.g., a company gives money in order to win a bidding
war). They were then asked to describe their perceptions toward the bribing
behaviours via questionnaires.


predicted that the Chinese participants would be more intolerant of organisational
bribery than individual bribery because they tend to perceive organisational
bribery as driven by internal desire, whereas individual bribery as driven by
external norms (e.g., other parents are bribing the teacher too). By contrast,
we predicted that the American participants make the opposite attributions In
other words, they would be more intolerant of individual bribery than organisational
bribery because they tend to perceive individual bribery as driven by a person's
free choice, whereas organization bribery as driven by external business norms,"
Prof. Hong says.


predicted, the results showed that participants in both cultures found bribery
intolerable. However, the Chinese participants were more intolerant of organisational
bribery while the US participants were more intolerant of individual bribery.


To unravel
the psychological mechanism underneath the difference in the cultural
perceptions toward bribery, the researchers recruited a fresh batch of
participants in mainland China and the U.S.


reading some of the bribing behaviours in the previous study, the participants
were asked to estimate the reasons for such behaviour. For example, an internal
reason for bribery can be presented as "a person or a company does not
have high moral standards" whereas "this is the social norm" is
regarded as an external reason.


Chinese participants made more internal attributions for organisational bribery
than for individual bribery, whereas the results for the US participants were
completely opposite," she remarks.


Perception of
Bribery through Bicultural Lens

To further test the cultural effect on intolerance of individual versus
organisational bribery, the researchers extended their study to Hong Kong where
people are being influenced by a combination of East and West cultures.


Previous research has shown that Hongkongers are bicultural in a way
that they grow up in a Chinese cultural milieu and are also exposed to Western
culture through education and the media.


"Cultures are like open systems and individuals may have access to
more than one system; when and how the cultural system influences one's
judgment depends on factors such as contextual cues and identities," Prof.
Hong explains.


To measure bicultural identity, the team adopted the Bicultural Identity
Integration (BII), which is the degree to which people experience their two
cultural identities as close and compatible or distant and conflicting.


"Hong Kong people who are high in BII view their Eastern and
Western identities as close and compatible, whereas those who are low in BII
view their two cultural identities as distant and conflicting," she
explains. "As such, people with high BII can easily switch between the
Eastern and Western culture in different situations, but those with low BII
will resist the switching and react against the situation," she adds.


Through conducting several surveys among 117 bicultural Hong Kong
Chinese undergraduate students, the researchers predicted that those with high
BII would show more intolerance towards organisational bribery when they are
reminded of the Chinese culture and more intolerance towards individual bribery
when primed with the American culture. That is, they will assimilate their
judgment in accordance with the primed culture. By contrast, those with low BII
are expected to behave in the opposite way.


Once again, the results confirmed the researchers' hypotheses.


The 'Slippery Slope' Effect

to Prof. Hong, one possible reason of Chinese people being more intolerant of
organisational bribery because lay persons perceive more agency or 'power' in
organisations than in individuals. That is, organisations often shape
individuals' outcomes, but individuals are relatively 'powerless' in altering
the paths of organisations.  This also
explains why organisational misconducts often evoke strong public outrages in
China (e.g., the infant milk formula scandal).


Chinese people are more intolerant of organisational bribery than individual
bribery, large-scale corruptions often start from an individual level that
typically escalates from personal favours into policy favours. Therefore, Prof.
Hong says this 'slippery slope' effect should be closely monitored to prevent
more damaging forms of bribery.


China, policies and measures may be necessary to regulate the acts of bribery
at the individual level, especially those that involve close relational others
(e.g., family members of politicians), as a first step toward preventing more
damaging forms of bribery from exerting influence," she says.


recent years, some of the anti-corruption policies and measures in China have
begun targeting individuals, such as the launching of more explicit
stipulations on specific behaviours by government officials and businessmen,"
she concludes.



Zhi Liu, Xiao-xiao
Liu, Ying-yi Hong, Joel Brocknerd, Kim-pong Tam and Yan-mei Li (2017), "
Is individual bribery or organizational bribery more
intolerable in China (versus in the United States)? Advancing theory on the
perception of corrupt acts
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Volume 143, Pages 111-128.


article was first published in the China Business Knowledge (CBK) website by
CUHK Business School:

About CUHK Business School

Business School comprises two schools -- Accountancy and Hotel
and Tourism Management -- and four
departments -- Decision Sciences
Managerial Economics, Finance
Management and Marketing. Established in Hong Kong in 1963, it is the first
business school to offer BBA, MBA and Executive MBA programmes in the region.
Today, the
School offers 8 undergraduate programmes and 20 graduate programmes including MBA, EMBA,
Master, MSc
, MPhil and Ph.D.


In the Financial
Global MBA Ranking 2019, CUHK MBA is ranked 57th. In FT's 2018 EMBA ranking, CUHK EMBA is ranked 29th in the world. CUHK Business School has the largest number
of business alumni (3
among universities/business schools
in Hong Kong
-- many of whom are key business leaders. The School currently has
about 4,400
undergraduate and postgraduate students and Professor Kalok Chan is the Dean of
CUHK Business School.


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