Tightness-looseness, an important cultural dimension, captures the strength of social norm and tolerance towards deviant behaviors in a cultural group, and is found to closely related to social order and societal creativity. Since the reform and opening up, China has undergone tremendous societal changes, how has the tightness-looseness changed in China? What socio-ecological factors lead to these changes? What possible implications are caused by these changes? Four studies were conducted to answer these questions.
Study 1 utilized the 2005 and 2015 data of Chinese General Social Survey to investigate the change of tightness-looseness in public domain and private domain. Using people’s tolerance towards deviant behaviors as the indicator of tightnesslooseness, both comparison among cohorts and comparison between years showed that culture has become tighter in public domain but has become looser in private domain.
Study 2 conducted a retrospective survey of 94 middle-aged and elderly people to explore the change of general tightness and tightness in public and private domain across a longer period of time(1980s vs. present). Results showed that 1) general tightness has rose; 2) tightness in public domain has increased, while tightness in private domain has decreased; 3) tightness in public domain and private domain were relatively independent and general tightness measured by subjective perception correlated with tightness in public domain more.
By employing culture product method, Study 3 not only investigated the change of tightness-looseness, but also explored what socio-ecological factors can explain it and whether it can explain the change of societal creativity with time-series analysis method. The study first established word lists of both tightness and looseness by combining literature analysis and word vector technique, and then used this lists to analyze the content of Google Ngram Corpus(1970~2008). Results showed that: 1) an overall rising tendency was evident for both tightness and looseness; 2) economic growth has brought the rise of looseness and the reduction of pathogen threat can explain the rise of tightness; 3) no evidence supported the causal relationship between tightness-looseness and societal creativity.
Study 4 made use of another culture product, the text in People’s Daily (1970~2014), to examine whether the results of study 3 are robust or not. Results showed that 1) consistent with findings in study 3, both tightness and looseness have been on the rise and economic growth can explain the rise of looseness; 2) inconsistent with study 3, economic growth and the development of legal system can explain the change of tightness; 3) both the rise of tightness and looseness can lead to the enhancement of societal creativity.
Taken together, since thereform and opening-up, both a rising tendency of tightness(e.g., in public domain) and looseness(e.g., in private domain) has been witnessed in China; what is more, economic growth is the main driving force of the rise of looseness while other socio-ecological factors exhibited limited or inconclusive predictive power; both tightness and looseness can affect societal creativity. These findings not only enrich our understanding of tightness-looseness and cultural change in China, but also have implications for China’s practices of social administration and cultivation of societal creativity.