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					   Conflict Constructions and
Conflict Management in Families:
  The Case of Urban Chinese
         By Aaron J. K. Chong
     Master of Conflict Management
•   The dominant construction of Chinese cultural
    IDENTITY around the world : The essential
    Chinese based on traditional Chinese culture
•   The dominant influences in Chinese values of
    –   Confucianism : Defines conflict as the upset of the
        social order; Emphasises conflict as harmful and
        dangerous; Harmony must be preserved under
        social norms and relationships internally (more so in
    –   Daoism : Defines conflict as disequilibrium of a
        „balanced‟ state; Emphasises conflict as part of
        diversity; Balance can only be achieved if „sincere‟
        action is taken
• Dominant traditional Chinese third party
   – Mediation as (Re)Conciliation: A vested social
     member intervenes and „remedies‟ the immediate
     emotional and symbolic interests of both parties as an
     advisor*. Interventions are enforced through the
     power of the mediator‟s „face‟ and social connections
     as a threat of social sanction (Goh, 2002)
   – Arbitration as an alternative to mediation: A vested
     social member intervenes and awards outcomes
     when mediation of a prolonged/extremely petty
     conflict no longer works. Interventions are enforced
     much more harshly through „face‟ and social
     connections similar to mediation
• Traditional Chinese third parties :
   – Dominant qualities of a third party
      • Age (elder); wise; mature; sex; adherence to patriarchal
        norms; parenthood; family and community representative;
        social connections to people in conflict
• „Family‟ constructions in traditional Chinese
   – A cohesive group consisting of several generations
     (Goh, 2002)
   – The „human body‟ analogy (adapted from Hwang‟s
     1997-1998 „dragon body‟ analogy)
      •   „Head‟ = leader; elder (the patriarch)
      •   „Neck‟ = spouse - supports the leader; elder (the matriarch)
      •   „Body‟ = the children (the bloodline)
      •   „Limbs‟ = the outer family - community/state
• Current research gaps:
   – Historical context and social environment shapes the way we
     think and how things ought to be, and ultimately the way we act.
     Our actions are mediated by knowledge of the context (Morris &
     Fu, 2001)
   – How sure are we that the modern Chinese are not experiencing
     change in their values systems?
   – How certain are social researchers that the changing historical
     contexts of different Chinese communities have not altered
     Chinese conflict constructions and conflict resolution strategies
     in Chinese communities throughout the world?
   – Do contemporary Chinese mediators/arbitrators all possess
     similar qualities as traditional Chinese mediators/arbitrators in
     family conflicts?
   – What factors do contemporary Chinese mediators/arbitrators
     have to consider in the intervention of family conflict(s) and
     dispute(s) as compared to traditional Chinese
• What this research is about:
   – Focus of the modern contemporary Chinese experience in
     Malaysia – Comparing traditional Chinese constructions of
     conflict and contemporary Chinese Malaysians
   – Focus of an urban target population
   – Promoting cultural diversity in cross-cultural conflict research
   – Challenging cultural assumptions of the Chinese people as per
     reflected in the literature
   – Providing input for family conflict resolution theory and practice
     involving Chinese Malaysians
• What this research is NOT about:
   – Promoting Chinese Malaysian political interests
             Research Questions
1.   What are the dominant constructs and values in relation to family
     conflicts as constructed by urban Chinese Malaysians?
2.   What are the dominant conflict resolution styles (e.g. withdrawing,
     compromising, accommodating, forcing or collaborating) used by
     urban Chinese Malaysians in relation to family conflicts?
3.   What is the dominant informal conflict management third party
     approach (e.g. arbitration or mediation or mediation/arbitration)
     used in urban Chinese Malaysian culture?
4.   What are the dominant contemporary social characteristics of a
     Chinese Malaysian family mediator or arbitrator in the Chinese
     Malaysian community?
5.   What are the important elements to be considered by a mediator
     or arbitrator when managing conflicts involving urban Chinese
     Malaysians and their families?
•   Sample profile:
    – Chinese Malaysians living in urban areas
      who have access to emails and online
      access to the World Wide Web – „urban‟
      being defined as a population area that has
      more than 10,000 people (Department of
      Statistics Malaysia, 2000)
    – Proposed snowballed sample = 20*
    – Current snowballed sample = 32 (18 males;
      14 females)
• Sampling considerations
  – Ability to communicate in English
  – Online access to complete the survey
  – Age range was fixed between participants‟ late thirties
    up till their late sixties – this age range was ideal
    because cultural literature has demonstrated that
    „elders‟ achieve their status when they are
    responsible social members in their community
  – All participants had experienced conflict at some point
    in time, and had intervened in conflicts within their
    families and other families
  – Male and female groups will participate although
    more males would be expected*
• Survey method : The best method of collecting primary
  data at the cheapest cost
• Survey: Conflict Survey of Chinese Malaysians (CSCM)
  via the TellUs2 Online Interface (UniSA) approved by the
  UniSA Divisional HREC on 25th June 2007
• CSCM design:
   1. Quantitative
       • Five multiple choice questions
       • E.g. : “How do you generally manage conflict in your family? (A)
         Avoid (B) Compromise (C) Compete (D) Collaborate (E)
         Accommodate (F) Other (Please specify in next question)”
   2. Qualitative
       • Eleven open-ended questions
       • E.g. : “Who would you consider to be members of your family?”
1. Researcher forwards the research information sheet
    (which contains the survey link) to two sources* who
    have informal links to the Chinese Malaysian
    community via email
2. Email was sent to potential participants who had to
    respond to the CSCM questions. Participants were
    asked to forward the CSCM to other potential
    participants via email.
3. All participants had to complete each question and
    SUBMIT their responses after they had completed
4. Responses were collected, organised and stored in the
    form of a Microsoft Excel file downloaded from TellUs2
Data analysis:
• Quantitative analysis (Shaugnessy,
  Zechmeister, & Zechmeister 2003): Descriptive
  statistics – Frequencies; Percentages
• Qualitative analysis : Thematic analysis (Braun
  & Clarke, 2006) and thematic network (Astride-
  Stirling, 2001) – building thematic connections
  within the data and understanding underlying
             Quantitative Results
Table 1: Percentage of Chinese Malaysians’ view of conflict

Conflict View                                 Percentage (%)

Necessary/Desirable                           15.63

Unnecessary/Undesirable                       68.75

Neither of the above                          15.63

Both                                          0.00

Table 2: Frequency of Chinese Malaysians’ particular family conflict
management style

Family Conflict                 Frequencies (f/Nf)*            Percentage (%)
Management Style
Avoid/Withdraw                                   25                     78.13

Compromise (50:50                                26                     81.25
Compete/Force                                    10                     31.25

Collaborate                                      26                     81.25

Accommodate/‘Give in’                            23                     71.88

Other(s)                                         13                     40.63

           *Total frequency for each conflict management style was 32
Table 3:
Number of participants’ frequencies of being called upon as a third
party intervener

Frequencies of being called to intervene                  N

Never                                                     2

Sometimes                                                 17

Often                                                     13

                                                          Total N = 32
Table 4: Percentage of Intervention Strategy Type

Intervention Strategy Type                          Percentage (%)

Mediate                                             62.50

Arbitrate                                           3.13

Both of the above                                   34.38

None of the above                                   0.00

                                                    Total = 100.01
            Qualitative Results
• Themes generated:
1. Family
2. Conflict
  •   Conflict constructions
  •   Conflict interventions
      •   Intervener qualities and characteristics
      •   Intervening factors
     Chinese Malaysian

Family              Conflict

                           Inner                                              Outer

           •Grandparents              •Spouse
             •Siblings             •Parents-in-law             Friends                     Students

Children                                                      Employees

                                                               Constituents           Church members

           Constructions                                   Interventions

                                                                     Characteristics of
Positive                   Negative              Factors

                Positive                                Negative

Education                                                            Confrontational

            Agent for Change

                                                                   Antecedent for
                                        Communication                  • Peace
                                          Breakdown                  •Harmony

                  Factors                                                      Characteristics
             for Intervention                                                   of Intervener

       Sex                                                       High „face‟ value                 Patience

                            Impartial and                           Cultural
       Age                                                                                    mindedness
                             Persuasive                            knowledge

Face          Connections             Social order       Good Character       Ability to resolve
• The traditional constructions of the inner family (i.e. three
  generations) and outer family have not structurally changed in urban
  Chinese Malaysians
• Conflict is constructed into positive and negative aspects in urban
  Chinese Malaysians. However, a majority of responses indicate that
  conflicts are generally negative (i.e. antecedent to harmony, balance
  and peace; relational and communication breakdown) – consistent
  with the literature
• But the constructions of conflict slightly differ from traditional
  constructions as participants highlighted that urban Chinese
  Malaysian culture has been adaptive to the social-historical context
  in Malaysia. Each urban Chinese Malaysian generation gain a
  different social outlook as they receive different education systems,
  legal contexts and expositions to other religious belief systems
• Conflict constructions influence ideal ways of approaching conflict.
  Majority of responses showed that there is no one dominant conflict
  approach, rather approaches to conflict are continuously evolving
  across time and relative contexts
•       Approaches to conflict and conflict constructions
        influence the intervention strategy adopted –
        accommodate, avoid, collaboration and compromise
        for long term solutions in mediated/arbitrated conflicts
•       Mediation is the most dominant conflict resolution
        strategy in family conflicts and is consistent with the
        literature to a certain point
•       Participants also cite a combination of both mediation
        and arbitration intervention tactics to resolve family
        conflicts*. Possible reasons:
    –     To achieve long term harmony and contain the escalation,
          consistent with dominant Confucian values on relational
          cohesion – does not necessarily mean that justice is served
    –     Urban Chinese Malaysian family conflicts are very difficult to
          be resolved especially when family members appeal to
          another family member to intervene. They‟d rather have on
          outsider who is outside the family to mediate and/or arbitrate in
          order to save „face‟.
•       Mediators and/or arbitrators are expected to have
        desirable social qualities – superseding „face‟ value;
        high status in the social hierarchy; good character;
        impartial; open-minded; essential connections;
        experiential knowledge; language skills; and a similar
        Chinese Malaysian background rather than of any
        other Chinese national backgrounds*.
•       Urban Chinese Malaysian mediators/arbitrators have
        to consider the following factors in family conflicts:
    –     Context of the conflict – what happened?; why has it
          occurred?; can it be managed internally?; what is the truth of
          the matter?
    –     In sync with traditional cultural notions of non-confrontational
    –     „Self-esteem‟ of the family and community in conflict
    –     Personal effect – how does this affect me?
•       Those factors are said to impact on the impartiality of
        the intervener.
• Self-reporting bias
• CSCM did not take into account what „types‟ of
  conflicts can be resolved
• Relatively small sample size (N=32)
  representing the urban Chinese Malaysian
  – Sample could be representative of a particular social
    group within the urban Chinese community
  – Sample was limited to participants who had online
    access to the WWW.
• Short research time frame
• Family conflict resolvers working with urban Chinese
  Malaysian clients need to consider that conflict is
  constructed as negative and that social harmony must
  be preserved in both short and long term solutions
• Family conflict resolvers need to consider the primacy of
  privacy in conflict and conduct themselves impartially
  despite their close connection with one of the disputants
• Family conflict resolvers need to possess a high „face‟
  value and carry themselves with high social status
• Family conflict resolvers can call upon people who are
  socially connected to the disputants to assist with the
  mediation or co-mediate
• Family conflict resolvers in the urban Malaysian context
  need to engage reflectively and fluently from their own
  cultural underpinnings and adapt to the cultural norms