Get access

The circular structure of values: The case of China


  • Support by the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship awarded to JM by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation is gratefully acknowledged. We acknowledge the collaborators from China, namely D. Cai (Shanghai Normal University, China), Z. H. Gao (North China University of Science and Technology, China), S. Lu (Capital Normal University, China), Z. Q. Sang (NanJing University, China) and J. Wei (Guizhou University of Finance and Economics, China). Eva Heim is the main author of the paper. She formulated the research questions, conducted the literature search, implemented part of the statistical analysis and mainly wrote the manuscript. Holger Steinmetz contributed data from his former meta-analysis on the circular structure of Schwartz values. What is more, he fundamentally contributed to the structure and content of the paper, as well as to the interpretation and discussion of results. Matthew Zeigenfuse was the statistical advisor, he implemented part of the statistical analysis, contributed substantially to the interpretation and developed the plots. Andreas Maercker was part of the scientific board of the BOOM study. It was on this initiative that the PVQ-21 was included in the study. He critically revised the manuscript and provided important scientific advice. Juergen Margraf is the Director of the BOOM study, he designed the concept and was responsible for the implementation of the study in the three involved country.


This study examined the circular structure of values in China. The circular structure is a central element of Schwartz value theory and visualises the idea that some values are similar while others conflict with one another. Whereas numerous studies addressed the question whether the circular structure of values can be generalised cross-culturally, results for China are inconclusive. In this paper, we argue that taking a closer look at China provides a challenge to the circular structure and allows for drawing conclusions regarding the limits versus generalizability of Schwartz' theory. For this purpose, we first conduct a re-analysis of Chinese data from a former meta-analysis (Study 1) and second, present results from a large study of 10,652 Chinese college students (Study 2). Results of Study 1 revealed that graphical representation of the circular structure matched theoretical expectations but five out of six samples showed relatively bad fit to the theorised structure. By contrast, data in Study 2 showed a good model fit. As an overall conclusion, the circular structure is well supported in the Chinese context, and small sample sizes in previous studies might have caused the imperfect match to the prototypical circular structure.