Motivation of Chinese learners: An integration of etic and emic approaches

Wing Yi Rebecca CHENG, T. M. SHU, Nan ZHOU, Shui Fong LAM

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter reviews our research program on three important aspects of Chinese learner motivation: social goals, teacher controlling behaviors, and success/failure experiences. With an integration of etic and emic approaches, we found both cultural differences and similarities. On the one hand, we found that the same psychological construct might carry different meanings for Chinese and Western learners. On the other hand, we also found psychological processes that might be invariant across cultures. While social goals were considered as performance oriented and mostly maladaptive in the West, we found that the social goals of Chinese students were internally regulated obligation with adaptive effects on motivation. In a similar vein, we found that the same controlling behaviors of teachers carried different affective meanings for Chinese and American students. When compared to American students, Chinese students perceived teachers’ behaviors as less controlling, which in turn led to higher motivation in class. We also found that success and failure experiences carried different motivational implications for students with Chinese and Caucasian students. While Caucasian students were more motivated after success, Chinese students became more motivated after failure. Despite these cultural differences, we also saw cultural similarities. For example, disregarding culture, the teacher–student relationship played an important role in student motivation. In short, our findings highlight the importance of integrating the etic and emic approaches in cross-cultural investigation. It is important to tease out what is culturally universal and what is culturally unique in the psychological processes in motivation. Copyright © 2016 Springer Science+Business Media Singapore.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe psychology of Asian learners: A festschrift in honor of David Watkins
EditorsRonnel B. KING, Allan B. I. BERNARDO
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherSpringer Singapore
ISBN (Electronic)9789812875761
ISBN (Print)9789812875754
Publication statusPublished - 2016



Cheng, R. W. Y., Shu, T. M., Zhou, N., & Lam, S. F. (2016). Motivation of Chinese learners: An integration of etic and emic approaches. In R. B. King, & A. B. I. Bernardo (Eds.), The psychology of Asian learners: A festschrift in honor of David Watkins (pp. 355-368). Singapore: Springer Singapore.


  • Chinese student motivation
  • Social goals
  • Teacher controlling behaviors
  • Regulatory focus
  • Self-construal