In his book Selfie Will Storr claims that:

In Chinese, there isn’t a word for individualism (the nearest they have translates to ‘selfishness’.)

I’m pretty sure there is a, modern, word for individualism and it is:

  • 个人主义

and I’m also pretty sure it doesn’t translate to selfishness.

His concept is a good one and I would love to buy into it, but I’m not really seeing it.

Any ideas?


In my opinion, the term 个人主义 might be a valid direct translation of the word individualism, but I don't think it always conveys the same meaning.

The suffix 主义 in Chinese hints to an actual ideology or ideological system. Whereas in English it can have a narrower application, as you can call an individualist someone who lives an independent life. So that would be 独立。

Westerners are more individualists than the Chinese.

Perhaps you can argue that 独立 here is used as an euphemism but what they mean is actually "individualist", which - also in English - means an independent person who doesn't need much support from others without being maliciously selfish.

  • Said word is supposed to translate as selfishness tho
    – Mou某
    Dec 18 '17 at 14:19
  • @user3306356 which word?
    – blackgreen
    Dec 18 '17 at 14:35
  • The original quote said: "In Chinese, there isn’t a word for individualism (the nearest they have translates to ‘selfishness’.)"
    – Mou某
    Dec 18 '17 at 15:23

yes, you are right. In Chinese selfishness is 自私

On the other hand, individualism is 个人主义


I am going to throw in another word: 个性, which is not an exact translation of "individualism" (it doesn't contain the "-ism" part), but it imparts uniqueness of an individual and it is not as abstract-sounding in Chinese as "个人主义" (which is often used as the equivalent to "individualism".)

So the usage would be: "So and So 有个性".


I don't think that author's statement is accurate. The opposite of individualism (个人主义) is collectivism (集体主义). Individualism becomes a bad word in China only because of the ruling of the Communist party. Because the Communists are absolutely collectivists and totally against individual thinking and actions, so they call lots of bad things on individualism. Selfishness is just one of them.

However, the communist China is not the same as China. Chinese communists are not the same as Chinese. When people talk about Chinese cultural, usually they mean Confucianism, which is obviously not Communism.

Under Confucianism, it is true that the family, community, and the state is important, but it never says anything indicating that individual means nothing. Actually the moral value of individuals is important in Confucianism. In a corrupted system, maintaining your own moral value , holding on to your belief, and not letting the environment corrupt you is called 独善其身. Is this a form of individualism? No Confucian will ever tell you just blindly follow the leader, or do what ever the leader tell you to do, or always sacrifice yourself for the good of the group.

For more details, you can read:

So, no, in Chinese individualism does not mean selfishness, if you can differentiate the Communist China from China.

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