Porous Personhood in Contemporary Chinese Culture: a Dialogue with Cross-Cultural Psychology

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This paper proceeds from the seminal distinction made by Markus and Kitayama between independent and interdependent selves as a way of explaining differences in the self-construct of individuals of, respectively, European-American and East-Asian cultural descent. As influential and productive as this cross-cultural distinction has been, this paper points out that the reproduction of the distinction across generations remains poorly understood. As various disciplines continue to reveal the degree to which our minds are embodied and engaged in constant interactions with our environment, it becomes increasingly obvious that the reproduction of both the independent and interdependent selves must be understood in their cultural context, rather than simply being conceived of as long-lasting effects of ancient agricultural systems or disease vectors. Pursuing this line of inquiry in the contemporary Chinese context, this paper shows that in the very important domains of religion, medicine, and architecture, a certain ontological porosity of personhood is both enacted through daily life actions and—through the medium of popular literature—represented with great momentousness in contemporary Chinese culture. It is suggested that this perception of ontological porosity characteristic of Chinese culture underlies the inclination towards interdependent self-construal that has been vested with such strong explanatory power in cross-cultural psychology. As such, this paper does not disprove the distinction between independent and interdependent self-construals, but it provides more fruitful ways of investigating and thinking about personhood that allows for the fact that human thought processes work themselves out within experiencing bodies who are enmeshed with their cultural environment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Arenas - An interdisciplinary Journal of Psychology, Culture, and Meaning
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)331-342
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2020

ID: 256878336