Confucius Say: Risky Business

Financial risk-taking is ingrained in Chinese culture, while the American way teaches us to hoard our pennies.

By Chris Taylor, published on March 1, 1999 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The Chinese may take risks far more than average Americans do, thanks to advice from traditional proverbs.

Ohio State University professor Elke Weber, who studied the differences between American and Chinese proverbs, found that financial risk-taking is ingrained in Chinese expressions, while American sayings urge you to hoard your pennies. For example, the saying "At a good bargain, think twice" is pretty risk-averse, says Weber. On the other hand, a typical Chinese proverb such as "Seize an opportunity and make good use of it" shows how risk-taking is ingrained in Chinese culture. His study sifted through thousands of expressions to determine what proverbs, myths, and rhymes tell us about a culture's economic values. Weber says the difference in folklore has little to do with Asia's torrid economy and everything to do with long-standing cultural norms. A traditional familial "safety net" in Chinese culture means that financial gambles won't land you in the poorhouse. "But in an individualist culture like ours, you don't have that," she says. "Something bad happens, and you're stuck with it."