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Nevis’ Hierarchy of Human Needs By comparing cultural assumptions underlying Chinese management practices with those underlying American ones, Edwin C. Nevis constructed a Chinese hierarchy of needs showing the cultural relativity of the Maslow framework based on American culture and suggesting different need hierarchies for different cultures classified according to an individualism-collectivism dimension and an ego-social dimension.


In Mao’s era (1893-1976), national unity and loyalty were not compromised in China. All farms were communal and no individual farming was allowed; industry was state-owned and operated; revolutionary pattern was recycled to attack societal classes taking form and keep China as classless as possible; lack of color in clothing was a hint of desensualization; groups were extensively used to control political, factory and commune work. Their group-oriented life style was also marked in the social life which centered on work unit activities and coworker lives as they all lived in the same apartment buildings. Once a Chinese individual belonged to a work unit, “iron rice bowl”, like “golden handcuffs” in the U.S., was guaranteed with many basic needs cared for by the work unit and the government, such as housing, education and medical care. This juxtaposition of belongingness and the satisfaction of the physical rewards resulted in the Chinese basic assumption of collectivism that being a good member of society and putting group goals before individual needs should govern all practices. Some other assumptions were national loyalty, equal pay and equal bonus regardless of skill or output differences, avoidance of personal credit for accomplishment, importance of communal property, and emphasis on group forces for motivation. On the contrary, Maslow’s formulation was clearly made from basic American cultural assumptions stressing self-concept of individuals and individual achievement.

Moreover, ego needs and needs for self-actualization were not highly valued in Chinese culture in the way that Americans held it. Many Western observers noted the embarrassment of Chinese people at being singled out for individual achievements, and the fear being seen as special, or having more than the neighbors. Judging by his survey results from Chinese workers and graduate students, Nevis found that although social needs predominated over individual needs in China, what was worth speculating was that the difference between workers’ and graduate students’ survey ranks indicated that ego or self-esteem, which was missing in the Chinese hierarchy and defined through items like “interesting job” and “full appreciation for work done”, might emerge as a new level in the new generation of Chinese with the opening up of individual freedom in the country. Although actualization remained at the top of both hierarchies, to call the highest Chinese order of need “social confluence” might be more appropriate since self-actualization was understandable only in terms of contribution to society. However, American people perceive self-esteem needs as a driving force, and symbols of achievement as rewards for successful self-actualization.