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Lingnan University Releases Survey Results on How do Hong Kong Chinese Cope with Angry Emotions?

22 Nov 2007

Research conducted by behavioural scientists in Western societies has demonstrated that anger and hostility can often predict heart disease before traditional risk factors such as diabetes and hypertension. Therefore, managing and coping with anger is deemed important in our daily life, an empirical study of how Hong Kong Chinese cope with the psychological state of anger revealed.

Lingnan University ("Lingnan" or "the University") has been collaborating with the University of Hong Kong to conduct a behavioural science research on which coping strategies are most effective for Hong Kong Chinese when dealing with anger, aggression, and anger rumination. The results of the study showed that if Hong Kong Chinese often engage in a passive coping strategy or physical activity to vent angry emotions, the problem is unlikely to be solved. Psychologists have pointed out that when angry emotions cannot be managed properly, individuals may experience anxiety, hopelessness, or even depression.

People believe that Chinese culture disapproves of the adoption of extreme emotional expression to vent anger because physical aggression is regarded as pathogenic and disturbs the natural harmony of the body and spirit. Nevertheless, a previous study conducted by Dr Jonathan MAXWELL and his coworkers from the Institute of Human Performance at the University of Hong Kong showed that that Hong Kong Chinese adults scored higher than British adults on four measures of anger rumination (Angry Memories, Thought of Revenge, Angry Afterthoughts, and Understanding of Causes) (see Table 1). These findings demonstrated that when Hong Kong Chinese have angry emotions, they think about them for a long time afterwards so that negative memories or emotions are maintained rather than reduced. Maintaining negative emotions is likely to cause ill-health.

Previous studies, conducted by Dr Maxwell, suggest that the intensity of angry emotions and the frequency of thoughts of revenge increase the propensity for aggressive behaviours. It is also known that emotions and behaviours can be influenced by the types of coping strategies adopted by the individual. Therefore, Dr Maxwell and Prof SIU Oi-ling from the Department of Sociology and Social Policy of Lingnan University conducted a study earlier this year to discover which coping strategies are most effective for reducing anger, aggression, and anger rumination in Hong Kong Chinese. A total of 630 Hong Kong Chinese residents aged 16-75, including 356 male and 274 female, were interviewed.

Dr Maxwell and Prof Siu measured four coping strategies typically used by Hong Kong Chinese. These four basic Chinese coping strategies are generalized as (1) Active Positive Coping which refers to engaging in positive steps to resolve problems or maintaining a positive frame of mind, (2) Passive Adaptive Coping which denotes the acceptance of the reality of certain situations and letting fate have its way, (3) Social Support signifying talking to family and friends, and (4) Relaxation/Hobbies or engaging in distracting activities such as sport or computer games (see Table 2).

From this research, Dr Maxwell and Prof Siu found that Hong Kong Chinese scored low in anger and aggression, but relatively high in anger rumination. The results also showed that, interviewees who more frequently adopted an active coping strategy reported lower scores for anger, hostility, physical and verbal aggression, and thoughts of revenge. Those who used social support more frequently also reported having fewer thought of revenge. These findings revealed that an active positive coping style may reduce angry emotions and cognitions, and may also help prevent anger being expressed as aggressive behaviour. Passive adaptive coping and the engagement in distracting activities did not help in handling anger, anger rumination, or aggression. Further, people who engaged in more physical activity reported higher frequencies of thoughts of revenge and physical aggression.

The traditional Chinese way of coping with anger is in line with one important social virtue of Confucianism, “forbearance”, which means restraining one's emotions (e.g. anger) or other psychological impulses. The ultimate goal of “forbearance” is to maintain harmonious interpersonal relationships under stressful situations in order to avoid conflicts. Yet, forbearance may bring about negative consequences to one's health and well-being. It is pointed out by psychologists that individuals who are overly cooperative and appeasing have the tendency to experience hopelessness and depression. These findings suggest that the passive Taoist way may not be useful in dealing with anger; therefore, caution should be administered before recommending this style of coping to individuals in handling problems in their life.

Concerning gender differences, the results revealed that females scored higher than males for the frequency of adopting an active coping style and seeking social support. Scores for physical aggression and anger rumination, however, were higher for males relative to females (see Table 3). This shows that females tend to naturally adopt better ways of coping with angry emotions; something women have known for centuries!

Prof Siu and Dr Maxwell pointed out that this research demonstrates the importance of investigating ways of coping with anger among Chinese. They advise Hong Kong people to adopt active coping strategies in handling anger, aggression and anger rumination aroused from the workplace and daily lives. When encountered by anger-provoking events, one should immediately seek social support, talk to family members or friends or face the problem calmly and try to work out a solution. In the long run, one should face problems positively, try to find out what has gone wrong, and seek common goals in order to reach “win-win” solutions so that the risk of poor health (such as heart disease), resulting from an inability to cope with negative emotions, is reduced.

Table 1. Comparison of Anger Rumination between British and Chinese samples (Maxwell et al., 2005)



British (n=495)

Chinese (n=453)


mean (SD)

mean (SD)

1. Angry Afterthoughts

M     1.78 (.61)

2.08 (.57)


F      1.76 (.55)

2.08 (.61)

2. Thoughts of Revenge

M     1.66 (.65)

1.92 (.64)


F      1.51 (.50)

1.75 (.60)

3. Angry Memories

M     1.86 (.61)

2.17 (.56)


F      1.80 (.53)

2.00 (.49)

4. Understanding of Causes

M     1.86 (.56)

2.62 (.64)


F      1.89 (.57)

2.51 (.56)


Table 2. Chinese Coping Strategies


Do physical exercises.

Take time to relax.

Active Positive Coping:

Try to maintain an active and positive attitude.

Evaluate what has gone wrong.

Try your best to fulfill the task.

Evaluate and adjust yourself.

Social Support:

Discuss with your superiors.

Discuss with your colleagues.

Passive Adapting Coping:

Cannot manage it and accept the reality.

Accept the reality without straining yourself.

Let it be.

Let fate have its way.

Table 3. Gender differences in Coping Strategies, Anger Rumination, Anger, and Aggression



(n = 356)


(n = 274)

Coping strategiesa:



Active Coping*

4.11 (.90)

4.37 (.85)

Social Support*

3.49 (1.02)

3.93 (1.02)

Relaxation & Hobbies

3.81 (1.04)

3.62 (.98)

Passive Coping

3.52 (1.12)

3.71 (1.07)


Anger ruminationb:



Angry Memories*

2.05 (.54)

1.89 (.49)

Thoughts of Revenge*

1.78 (.58)

1.48 (.44)

Angry Afterthoughts

1.94 (.56)

1.83 (.54)

Understanding Causes*

2.14 (.59)

1.94 (.55)