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Cognitive and social influences on gang involvement among delinquents in three Chinese cities.

Involvement in gang activities is a critical factor in the continuation and escalation of crime and delinquency among youth (Hill et al., 1999). In China, researchers have held that gang involvement is substantially responsible for the growth of youth crime and delinquency, noting that a great deal of crime involves youth gangs (Xi, 2001). Gang association is also prevalent in the United States where about one-third of youth offenders in cities are associated with gangs (Yoder et al., 2003). Thus gang involvement is an important area of concern in preventing delinquency and crime. Identifying and understanding why young people participate in gang activities is a precondition for combating crime. Such understanding is particularly necessary in Chinese societies, which have witnessed a dramatic growth in youth crime and delinquency (Xi, 2001; Ngai, 1994; Zhang et al., 1993). This trend is likely to persist because of the ongoing structural transformation such as geographic mobility caused by unequal levels of economic development within China (Jin 1994; Ma et al., 1986; Zhang et al., 1993).

Western research and theory about young people's gang involvement may not be readily applicable to Chinese societies. Even within China, there are differences in sociocultural contexts in different parts of the country. These regional differences suggest a need to collect data from diverse Chinese societies in investigating gang involvement. Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shanghai comprise such a set of Chinese cities. The most obvious difference among these cities is in their history. The colonial past of Hong Kong distinguishes it from the socialist history of Guangzhou and Shanghai. While Guangzhou and Shanghai are on the mainland of China, each has its own culture, manifested in dialect, art, and drama. Guangzhou and Hong Kong are at the southern tip of China, which is far from the Yangzi River Delta where Shanghai is located.

A gang has been defined as a group oriented and committed to antisocial, deviant, and criminal activities (Kennedy & Baron, 1993). Typically, youths understand what a gang is and are able and willing to become involved (Yoder et al., 2003). A gang usually recruits its members on the streets. While delinquent youths can freely form their own gangs, many Chinese youths prefer to join gangs affiliated with the triad society (Che, 1992; Wong, 1999). The triad society has existed in China for several hundred years, initially as an underground political association formed to revolt against rulers of the ethnic minority. Gradually, the triad society has developed into enormous organizations that are present in most Chinese societies, including overseas communities. The triad society, headed by adults, is keen on enlisting young members to sustain its criminal interests. At the same time, delinquent youths are willing to join the society when they find it to be powerfully protective. Even where they do not join the triad society formally, many delinquent youths claim to be members and name their gangs as branches of the society. Because of the difficulty in discerning genuine triad gangs, from those that are bogus, the police strive to dissolve all Chinese youth gangs. Rather than waiting for young gangsters to emerge, inhibiting youth involvement is perhaps a more effective way to combat crime. The present study aspires to identify and reinforce the inhibiting factors.

Research and Theory

Factors inhibiting delinquent youths' involvement would stem from those postulated in social control theory, social learning theory, and cognitive development theory, which have been useful in explaining delinquency in Chinese contexts (Wong, 1999; Wong, 2001; Zhang & Messner, 1996) as well as Western contexts (Benda & Corwyn, 2001; Ennett et al. 1999; Kaplan & Liu, 1994). Social control theory refers to the informal, normative control by parents, family, school, work organizations, helping professions, and other noncoercive and conventional institutions in preventing delinquent or criminal activity (Warr, 1993; Rosenfield et al., 2001). It posits that involvement, attachment, and commitment to informal and normative institutions and their activities lead youths to endorse moral, normative beliefs that are antithetical to any criminal, delinquent, or gang persuasion (Benda & Corwyn 1997; Elliott & Menard, 1996). The essence of social control is the individual's awareness of parental or other conventional control, attachment to social workers, teachers, or other helping professionals, and acquisition of moral beliefs (Benda, 1999; Elliott & Menard, 1996; Hagan & McCarthy, 1997; Junger & Marshall, 1997; Vega et al., 1993). Research findings concerning gang involvement that are consistent with social control theory are those related to the negative effects of attachment to neighborhood, dropping out of school, unemployment, and being in a family with legal problems (Hill et al., 1999; Klein, 1997; Yoder et al., 2003).

Social learning theory posits that delinquent behavior is a result of learning from the activities and messages of others or from the media (Felson, 1996; Tracy & Kemef-Leonard, 1996). These activities and messages serve as either direct models or reinforcement of behavior (Akers 1998). Friends are important models from whom youth learn delinquent behavior, and friends' approval of that behavior reinforces the delinquency (Bao et al., 2000; Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999). In research on gang association, social learning theory reveals the effects of association with delinquent peers--use of subcultural symbols and attire, and exposure to violent media (Klein, 1997; Yoder et al., 2003).

Cognitive developmental theory regards inadequate cognitive development as a cause of delinquent involvement. Cognitive development manifests itself in one's ability to process and analyze information in order to formulate solutions to problems (Husband & Platt, 1993; Okwunnabua & Duryea, 1998). That is, the ability to think about social as well as individual problems would prepare one to resist problematic social influence and act in a socially desirable way. Very often, delinquency results from the inability to cope with a problem. The crux of assistance in cognitive development is its support for the individual to think about alternative, socially desirable means of solving a problem (Houston, 1998). This ability involves empathy, perspective taking, and ethical reasoning, which are cognitive guides of one's behavior (Raine 1993). As such, delinquency arises out of ignorance of others and society in general. This ignorance is reflected in preoccupation with self which can lead to impulsive pursuit of one's self-interest by delinquent means (Gibbs, 1991). Ignorance also can result in anger and quarrels with, and even violence against others based on failure to understand and tolerate others' actions. Cognitive development functions to regulate that impulsivity and propensity for delinquency (Bickley & Beech, 2002). Understanding or even thinking about social problems would be an indicator of cognitive development (Alter & Egan, 1997; Cheung, 1997, 1998, 1999; Weast, 1996). In research on gang involvement, factors compatible with cognitive development theory include dropping out of school, and the age at which youth are unsupervised (Yoder et al., 2003).

Research in Chinese contexts has lent support to the explanations of social control theory, social learning theory, and cognitive development theory for a youth's delinquency. In support of social control theory, past findings have suggested that youths' adherence to Chinese culture, intergenerational harmony, attachment to school, and integration with society can predict their delinquency (Wong, 1999; Wong, 2001; Zhang & Messner, 1996). Similarly, Chinese children whose parents exert greater control over them are less likely to be involved in delinquency (Nagasawa et al., 2001; Wang et al., 2002). In contrast, a Chinese youth associated with delinquent peers is at risk of delinquency (Ma et al., 1996, 2000). Cognitive development has also emerged as an inhibitor of delinquency via the effects of academic achievement and problem-solving ability (Chen et al., 1997; Wang et al., 2002).

Differences in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shanghai

The above discussion leads to the formulation of a number of hypothesized predictors of youths' expected gang involvement: parental control, attachment to teachers and social workers/counselors, moral beliefs, friends' moral beliefs, and theorizing about social problems. These effects tend to vary among Chinese societies because of differences in sociocultural contexts.

There are remarkable differences between the capitalist, Westernized, and individualist system of Hong Kong and the socialist and collectivist tradition of Guangzhou and Shanghai on the Chinese mainland. The three cities' different histories have shaped their socioeconomic development differently. On the other hand, the cities have in common that they are large, densely populated, and leading the economic development in China (Gu, 1999). Shanghai plays a leading role in the development of Mainland China (Zhang, 2002). It is rapidly catching up with Hong Kong in economic development and its rate of growth is unparallelled anywhere in the world (Zhu & Yuan, 2001). Although Shanghai is a relatively new city in Chinese terms, it has been the industrial and commercial center of China for a thousand years. Its prosperity has been historically attributed to the movement of wealth and talent from north of the Yantzi River to the south, due to repeated wars and disturbances in the north (Jin & Liu, 1992). Moreover, like Hong Kong and Guangzhou, Shanghai is a port city, and has been an important conduit for trade since the mid-19th century. Guangzhou is the oldest city of the three, and has been a significant socioeconomic center for about 1,200 years. Following the disintegration of China during the time of rapid changes in dynasties, Guangzhou gradually evolved as the political and cultural stronghold in the south, which supported the revolutionary forces against the despotic administration in the north. Thus, whereas Shanghai is famous for its industrial and commercial success, Guangzhou is proud of its revolutionary heritage. In sharp contrast to both, Hong Kong's development began only 150 years ago, and for most of its short history, it has been a colony of Britain. It has obviously had the greatest exposure to Western culture among the three cities, which is what most sharply differentiates it from the two mainland cities.

Concomitant with the Western influence in Hong Kong is its emphasis on individualism and the nuclear family, as opposed to the two mainland cities with their collective emphasis on the extended family, clanship, and neighborhood organizations (Chan & Lee, 1995). In an individualist society, people rely on themselves and their parents. Support from the extended family and neighborhood organizations significantly reduces the burden on parents (Chen et al., 2000; Jessor et al., 2003). Moreover, socialist policy on the mainland is to promote productivity through full employment, including that of mothers (Lu et al., 2000). Mainland China therefore discourages parents from spending too much time on household tasks (Lu et al., 2000). The role of parents is therefore less significant than in Hong Kong, which emphasizes the responsibility of the individual and the family (Wong, 1995). While the role of parents is weaker on the mainland, that of teachers and other professionals tend to be strong, due to its authoritarian tradition (Leung & Nann, 1995; Zheng, 1994). Despite their low income, teachers enjoy high status in Mainland China. The role of teachers in Hong Kong has more to do with preparing students for examinations (Moneta & Siu, 2002). The influence of teachers on students' moral development is weaker in Hong Kong than in Mainland China.

The sociocultural differences are therefore likely to modify the hypotheses derived from social control and cognitive development theories as follows:

1. Parental control has a stronger negative effect on youths' expected gang involvement in Hong Kong than in Guangzhou and Shanghai.

2. Attachment to teachers has a stronger negative effect on youths' expected gang involvement in Guangzhou and Shanghai than in Hong Kong.

3. Attachment to social workers/counselors has a stronger negative effect on youths' expected gang involvement in Guangzhou and Shanghai than in Hong Kong.

4. Theorizing about social problems has a stronger negative effect on youths' expected gang involvement in Hong Kong than in Guangzhou and Shanghai.


Data were collected by individual face-to-face interviews with 229 delinquent youths in Hong Kong between April 28 and July 15, 1999, 312 delinquent youths in Guangzhou between March 29 and June 26, 1999, and 297 delinquent youths in Shanghai between June 24 and October 15, 1999. The delinquent youths were users of various youth service units, which represented coverage of all services working with delinquent youths in various cities (i.e., 24 outreaching social work teams in Hong Kong, correctional schools for juvenile offenders, and vocational schools for young offenders in Shanghai and Guangzhou). Social workers or counselors of the service units helped recruit delinquent youths for the study.

The average age of the youths in the three cities was 15.8 years, .and variation among the cities was not significant. However, delinquent youths in Shanghai were disproportionately and significantly more likely to be between 12 and 14 years of age (29.7%), whereas those in Guangzhou were less likely to be in this age range (11.8%). Of the surveyed sample, the delinquent youths in Guangzhou and Shanghai were predominantly male, while only about two-thirds (68.9%) in Hong Kong were male.

There was a significant difference in the number of years of formal education among delinquent youths in the three cities. Those in Hong Kong had the highest level of education and those in Guangzhou had the lowest (9.37 vs. 6.20). A disproportionately larger number of delinquent youths in Guangzhou were on an educational level below senior secondary. The great majority (85.4%) in Shanghai were on a junior secondary educational level. The youths in the three cities also significantly differed in their fathers' and mothers' education level. Parental education of delinquent youths was highest in Shanghai and lowest in Guangzhou (see Table 1). Substantial proportions of the fathers (57.5%) and mothers (49.6%) of the youths in Hong Kong did not have an education above the primary level. In contrast, a higher proportion (48.5% and 54.7%) of parents in Shanghai had attained a junior secondary education level.

There was no significant difference in student status among delinquent youths in the three cities (see Table 1). About one-fifth (20.2%) were students. There was a significant difference in the number of jobs that the youths had held. The delinquent youths in Hong Kong had worked at more jobs (1.46) prior to the time of the survey. Moreover, there appeared to be a significant difference among delinquent youths in the three cities in the number of years of residence. Those in Guangzhou tended to have been in the city for the shortest time (4.8 years, see Table 1); only 41.9% of those in Guangzhou were natives of the city.

Measurement of moral belief, parental control, attachment to social workers/counselors, attachment to teachers, theorizing about social problems, and friends' moral belief involved multiple indicators included in the survey questionnaire (see Appendix). Each indicator employed a five-point rating scale to record the intensity of each factor experienced in the past six months. The response scores ranged from 0 to 100, with 100 representing the fifth point on the response scale (the greatest extent) and 0 (the lowest extent). The average of the indicators were the composite scores representing their respective concepts. The composite scores had favorable reliability based on estimation of the reliability alpha coefficient (.558-.917, see Table 2).

A measure of prior gang involvement was responses to the question: "How many times did you participate in gang activities in the past month?" The self-report measure has proven to be adequate in tapping youths' gang involvement (Yoder et al., 2003).

A measure of expected gang involvement was responses to the question: "How likely is it that you will participate in gang activities in the coming month?" The responses generated scores ranging from 0 to 100, with 0 for "very unlikely," 25 for "rather unlikely," 50 for "so-so," 75 for "rather likely," and 100 for "very likely."

The average of all five-point rating items measured the concept of acquiescence, defined as the tendency to rate all items uniformly high (or low) regardless of the content of the items (Zagorski, 1999). It was a method artifact which created meaningless relationships among variables.

The analysis relied on LISREL, especially for testing the equality of regression coefficients between and across cities (Joreskog & Sorbom, 1993). These tests examined whether increases in likelihood ratio chisquare due to equality constraints were significant.

Analysis isolated the effects of social control, social learning, and cognitive development by controlling for a basic set of potential confounding variables, including the youth's prior gang involvement, sex, age, education, student status, residential stability, acquiescence, and parental education. The effects of the confounding variables would reflect alternative influences due to gender-role socialization (Brack & Brack 1994), education (Misra, 1997; Pascarella et al., 1996), maturation (Winters et al., 1995), and inertia or continuation of past gang involvement (Tracy & Kemef-Leonard, 1996). Moreover, since the effect of age tends to be curvilinear (Haynie, 2001; Menard, 1992), the square of age is an additional control variable.


Youths in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shanghai differed significantly on all factors examined in the study, except for age and student status (see Table 1). Essentially, expected and prior gang involvements were highest in Hong Kong. On the other hand, Hong Kong was the lowest on the youths' moral belief, parental control, attachment to teachers, theorizing about social problems, and friends' moral belief. Attachment to social workers/counselors was highest in Hong Kong and lowest in Shanghai. This finding reflects the greater severity of the problem among Hong Kong youths, which results in higher levels of contact with and attachment to social workers/counselors. Apparently, greater attachment results from more contact with the professionals, in line with contact theory (Morgan & Streb, 2001).

Effects on Expected Gang Involvement

Prior gang involvement and moral belief were predictors that consistently showed significant effects on youths' gang involvement in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Shanghai (see Table 3). The effect (.510) of prior gang involvement was particularly strong among youths in Guan gzhou. This effect reflects the stability of gang involvement. Nevertheless, the stability was not overwhelmingly high, suggesting that factors other than inertia are required to explain expected gang involvement.

Supporting both social control theory and social learning theory, moral belief had the most consistent effect on youths' expected gang involvement, among the theoretical factors. This internalized factor was more influential on the youth in Hong Kong than on those in the mainland cities. This finding endorses the relatively higher importance of individualistic influence in Hong Kong.

The other social control factors did not consistently show negative effects on the youths' expected gang involvement in the three cities. Whereas parental control was a significant inhibiting factor in Hong Kong ([beta] = -. 136), attachment to teachers was a significant inhibiting factor in Guangzhou ([beta] = -.144). In contrast, attachment to social workers/counselors tended to be more protective in Shanghai than in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Thus, each of the socializing agents played a different role in preventing the youths' expected gang involvement in the three cities. Regardless of the nature of the socializing agent, social control from parents, teachers, or social workers/counselors had a weak negative effect on gang involvement ([beta] = -.050 -- -.065). Moreover, the influences of the three socializing agents were not significantly different, despite the apparent variation (see the last row in Table 3).

Friends' moral belief showed a significant negative effect on expected gang involvement in Hong Kong and Shanghai, but not in Guangzhou. In Hong Kong and Shanghai, the negative effect of friends' moral belief was comparable to that of the youths' own moral belief. Theorizing about social problems had a significant negative effect on expected gang involvement only in Hong Kong. This finding lends support to the hypothesis that personal factors are more influential in the individualist context.

Females were significantly less likely to participate in gang activities only in Hong Kong ([beta] = -. 144), after controlling for prior gang involvement and other background characteristics. Expected gang involvement was significantly lower in older youths in Hong Kong and Guangzhou. However, involvement significantly escalated particularly among the older youths in Hong Kong. The relationship between age and expected gang involvement took the form of a U-shaped curve in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, expected gang involvement was also significantly higher among youths with longer residence in the city and whose mothers were higher in education. By contrast, youths in Shanghai had significantly higher expected gang involvement when their education was higher or when their fathers' education was lower. These background characteristics displayed no significant effect on youths' expected gang involvement in Guangzhou.

Common Effects on Expected Gang Involvement and Their Variations Across Cities

Prior participation in gang activities was the strongest predictor of youths' expected gang involvement in the three cities ([beta] = .347, see Table 4). However, the effect varied significantly across the three cities. Thus, prior influence was the strongest in Guangzhou and the weakest in Shanghai, suggesting differential stability in gang involvement in the three cities.

The factors of moral belief, attachment to teachers, theorizing about social problems, and friends' moral belief showed significant common effects on youths' expected involvement. This supports the effects of social control, social learning, and cognitive development. The effects of theorizing about social problems and friends' moral beliefs were significantly different among the three cities. The differential effects supports hypotheses derived from the difference between individualist and collectivist contexts. Notably, theorizing about social problems was more protective, and attachment to teachers was less protective for youths in Hong Kong, where individualism is stronger. However, other social control factors, including parental control and attachment to social workers/counselors did not show common significant influences on expected gang involvement. On average, social control from parents, social workers/counselors, and teachers was significantly negative ([beta] = -.058). This effect was not significantly different among the three cities.

Sex, age, duration of residence in the city, and education made significant differences in the youths' expected gang involvement. The effects of sex and age, nevertheless, significantly varied across the three cities. Furthermore, significant variation occurred in the effect of mother education, which significantly affected youths' expected gang involvement only in Hong Kong.


The expected effects of social control, social learning, and cognitive development are sustainable in this study of delinquent youths in three Chinese cities. Notably, moral belief, friends' moral belief, attachment to teachers, and theorizing about social problems exhibited significant common effects on the youths' expected gang involvement. Social control from parents, teachers, or social workers/counselors, on average, was significantly negative. Furthermore, the hypotheses concerning differentials in the effects between Hong Kong and Guangzhou and Shanghai received considerable support. In support of Hypothesis 1, parental control was a significant inhibitive factor of expected gang involvement only in Hong Kong. Consistent with Hypothesis 2, attachment to teachers was a significant inhibitive factor in Guangzhou but not in Hong Kong. Supporting Hypothesis 4, theorizing about social problems was a significant inhibitive factor only in Hong Kong. Moreover, the effects of theorizing were significantly different among the three cities. In line with Hypothesis 3, the effect of attachment to social workers/counselors on expected gang involvement was negative in Guangzhou and Shanghai, whereas it was positive in Hong Kong. These effects, however, were not significant. Hypothesis 3, therefore, does not receive adequate support.

The findings largely support the generality of the protective function of social control, prosocial social learning, and cognitive development on Chinese delinquent youths' gang involvement in terms of the common effects for the three cities. Moreover, they support the differences in the effects due to sociocultural differences, notably between the capitalist-individualist and socialist-collectivist contexts in Hong Kong and mainland cities. In the capitalist-individualist context of Hong Kong, individual and parental influences are crucial, even though parents exert less control there than in mainland cities. By contrast, teachers and social workers/counselors are more authoritative in Mainland China (Chu, 2001; Luk, 2001) and as such are more protective in terms of youths' gang involvement in Guangzhou and Shanghai. In the socialist-collectivist context, although control from the nuclear family is less crucial, professional and community support is more helpful. In addition, the individual's cognitive development and moral belief are less protective against gang involvement in the collectivist context.

Whereas prior gang involvement had the greatest effect on expected gang involvement in Guangzhou, friends' moral belief displayed the lowest effect there. Apparently, stability or inertia is the best explanation for gang participation and prosocial social learning is irrelevant in Guangzhou. These findings may be attributable to the especially low proportion of girls, the shorter duration of residence, and the lower parental education on average among delinquent youths identified in Guangzhou. Apparently, delinquent youths in Guangzhou tend to be boys with a lower socioeconomic background who have been residing in the city for a short time. They may not have had time to develop trusting friendships which affect their gang involvement (White & Glick, 1999). Instead, their delinquent habit and attachment to teachers are stronger factors affecting their gang involvement. This finding echoes the view that teachers help young migrants settle down in the city and avoid delinquency (Goyette & Conchas, 2002; Nagasawa et al., 2001). In the absence of other effective sources of social control, teachers are the prime agents for young migrants (Nagasawa et al., 2000). Without them, migrants are prone to continue their habits, including clustering in ethnic enclaves and gangs (Nee & Sanders, 2001; Sampson & Laub, 1993).

In contrast, education showed a significant positive effect, and father education had a significant negative effect on expected gang involvement of youths in Shanghai. This may reflect the influence of parental education, which is the highest among delinquent youth in Shanghai. The high influence of parental education underscores the importance of education in Shanghai, which is a cultural hub in China and attracts people with higher education (Yusuf & Wu, 2002; Zhu & Yuan, 2001). In such a city, paternal education would accomplish its greatest protective function by facilitating effective social control over youths. However, education in Shanghai and in all three Chinese cities in general might empower the youth to resist social control (De Haan & Schulenberg, 1997). This is evident in the prevalence of participation in social movements among college students (Li & Song, 1992; Sherkat & Blocker, 1994). Gang involvement can thus be a side effect of education. The concentration of intellectuals in Shanghai probably exacerbates this effect.

In Hong Kong, maternal education and duration of residence in the city were two distinctive positive predictors of youths' expected gang involvement. The positive effect of maternal education may reflect inadequate social control, as mothers with higher education spend more time at work and social activities (Hanlon, 1986). Inadequate maternal control may be more conducive to youths' gang involvement in Hong Kong as there are few alternative sources of social control in an individualist society. Alternatively, a delinquent youth with longer residence in Hong Kong is more likely to participate in gang activities because of a climate that is conducive to gang involvement, as shown in the fact that it has the highest rate of involvement among the cities. Simply put, a context of prevalent gang involvement would foster youths' gang involvement over time (Klein, 1997).

Further Research

It would be desirable to use a longitudinal design in future research to confirm the causal effects on gang involvement over time. To guarantee the generalizability of the effects, a larger sample of diverse societies is necessary. Such a sample would shed further light on the differential effects due to societal conditions. Further research, using an enhanced design and a wider sample is necessary, because our retrospective design cannot verify the causal effects on gang involvement and because we use the measure of expected gang involvement, as opposed to observed gang involvement. Further research is required to investigate involuntary gang involvement, given that youth are vulnerable to pressure to join gangs (Klein, 1997; Yoder et al., 2003).

The three selected Chinese cities are not broad enough to allow a thorough investigation of the effects of different sociocultural contexts. To do this requires a larger sample of societies. This would afford examination of how the availability of alternative sources of social control in Mainland China affects the social control function. Such examination should preferably control for background differences among youth in different places. The best approach would be a sampling design that matches youths with similar characteristics. Because youths in different cities are unlikely to have exactly matched background characteristics, counterfactual matching in analysis would be a desirable alternative (Morgan, 2001). The logical approach is to select cases of similar background characteristics from each context for analysis. This would also control for the selection effect of the length of youths' residence in a city. To compare the effect of residence in Hong Kong, for instance, the approach needs to compare youths in Hong Kong with their counterparts with similar characteristics but living in another place. This approach, proposed for future research, would require a sizable database for matching.

The influence of social learning and cognitive development also requires elaboration in further research. A number of social learning factors are missing in the present study, including peer influence and teaching, and youths' acceptance of and learning from their peers or friends and applying what is learned (Hagan & McCarthy, 1997). The learning would particularly reflect the value and rewards of gang involvement. Reinforcement and punishment from peers are crucial factors bolstering social learning (Akers, 1998). Similarly, social learning also includes the influence of exposure to mass media (Huesmann et al., 1992). Further research could investigate the effects of alternative indicators of cognitive development, including cognitive sophistication, perspective-taking, rational thinking, moral reasoning, and problem-solving skills.


Moral beliefs, friends' moral beliefs, social control from parents, teachers, and social workers/counselors in general, and theorizing about social problems are generally protective against youths' gang involvement. Promoting these factors is therefore helpful in cutting off the path to crime and delinquency. However, these are variations in the negative effects of these factors due to the differences in sociocultural contexts. Whereas parental control is an effective protective measure in a capitalist-individualist society, attachment to authoritative professionals is more significant in a socialist-collectivist society. Bolstering social integration and cohesion in the neighborhood would be an effective way to deter gang involvement in a collectivist society. However, the growth of high-rise residential buildings tends to diminish neighborhood integration (Adamson, 1998) and is therefore a challenge to the prevention of gang involvement in cities in modern China, which are undergoing urban redevelopment (Zhang, 2002). In contrast, an individualist society can capitalize on the significance of individual and family responsibilities to resist gang influence. In a collectivist society, cognitive development in terms of theorizing about social problems is less protective than it is in an individual society. Hence, cognitive development plays a lesser role than expected (Xi, 2001) in preventing gang involvement in China. Moreover, education can be a risk factor for delinquent youths' gang involvement because higher education leads to lower social control rather than better cognitive development. Similarly, higher education in the mother in an individualist society can weaken social control over youths' gang involvement. Hence, education is not necessarily a protective factor.

Appendix: Items of Measurement

Parental control (Hagan, 1988): How much did your parent do?

Encouragement to study and work hard; knowing the whereabouts of youths; talking with youths; joint activities; advice on school or work; prohibition against watching certain television programs. Attachment to social workers/counselors (Jones, 1987): How much did you receive / have/find / do?

Good impression of the counselor; helpfulness of the counselor; acceptance of the counselor's opinion; liking to disclose personal business to the counselor; seeking help from the counselor. Attachment to teachers (Miyazawa, 1993): How much did you receive/ have/find/do?

Teachers' care; good impression of teachers; acceptance of teachers' guidance; helpfulness of teachers; usefulness of teacher's help; seeking help from teachers. Moral belief, disapproval of offenses (Elliot et al., 1989): How much did you disapprove of?.

Flirting with women; taking illicit substances; fraud; theft; bullying; vandalism; assault; participation in gang activity. Friends' moral belief or disapproval of offenses (Vega et al., 1993): How much did your friends disapprove of?.

Rape; taking heroin, opium, or crack; robbery; bullying; assault; vandalism; participation in gang activity. Theorizing about social problems: How much did you do?

Finding causes of problems among friends; thinking about causes of problems in the family; finding causes of problems in school or work; having personal views on social problems; care about causes of social problems; liking to analyze political problems.


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Ngan-pun Ngai, Ph.D., Professor, Chau-kiu Cheung, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor, and Steven Sek-Yum Ngai, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Social Work, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The authors thank the Social Science and Educational Panel of the Faculty of Social Science at the Chinese University of Hong Kong for a grant in support of this research.

Please send requests for reprints to Chau-kiu Cheung, Department of applied Social Studies, City University of Hong Kong, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China. E-mail:
Table 1: Means and their differences among the three cities


Variable Hong Guangzhou Shanghai [eta]

Expected gang involvement
 (0~100) 25.5 7.1 5.5 .345 *
Prior gang involvement
 (times) 1.6 0.3 0.2 .200 *
IVI oral belief (0~100) 64.9 81.5 76.7 .333 *
Parental control (0~100) 35.8 53.4 46.4 .349
Attachment to social workers/
 counselors (0~10O) 62.8 53.4 47.3 .290 *
Attachment to teachers
 (0~100) 39.5 58.3 46.5 .359 *
Theorizing about social
 problems (0~100) 40.6 54.0 48.2 .285 *
Friends' moral belief (0~100) 59.6 80.7 76.7 .330 *
Acquiescence (0~100) 42.4 50.2 45.6 .432 *
Female (%) 31.1 5.1 11.7 .299 *
Age (years) 15.7 16.0 15.8 .074
Studying (%) 85.4 78.0 78.6 .080
Duration of residence in the
 city (years) 13.8 4.8 14.6 .770 *
Education (years) 9.4 6.2 8.4 .431 *
Father education (years) 7.5 6.4 9.6 .252
Mother education (years) 0.8 4.9 9.0 .396 *

*; p < .05

Table 2: Reliability alpha coefficients of composite score;

Predictor Number Hong Guangzhou Shanghai
 of Kong

Moral belief 8 .809 .814 .796

Parental control 6 .598 .628 .632

Attachment to social workers/
counselors 5 .817 .643 .705

Attachment to teachers 6 .814 .712 .752

Theorizing about social
problems 6 .665 .558 .661

Friends' moral beliefs 7 .850 .900 .971

Table 3: Standardized effects on expected gang involvement

Predictor Hong Guangzhou Shanghai

Prior gang involvement .285 * .510 * .215 *

Moral belief -.287 * -.162 * -.136

Parental control
Attachment to social -.136 * .014 -.036

workers/counselors .048 -.035 -.085

Attachment to teachers -.052 -.144 * -.073

Theorizing about social problems -.221 * -.181 .074

Friend' moral belief -.263 * .017 -.153 *

Acquiescence -.456 * .242 * .141

Femme -.236 * -.015 .041

Age -1.330 * -.307 * 1.350

Age squared 1.148 * .260 -1.494

studying .050 -.042 -.025

Duration of residence in the city .110 * .029 .043

Education .080 .036 .210 *

Father education -.017 -.324 -.169 *

Mother education .150 * .030 -.091

[R.sup.2] .497 .373 .276

Constrained equal

Parental control, attachment
to social -0.05 -.058 * -.065 *

workers./counselors, attachment
to teacher

[DELTA][chi square] 5.61 3.19 0.28

*; p < 05

Table 4: Equalized standardized effects on expected gang
involvement for the three cities

Predictor [beta] [DELTA]
 [chi square]

Prior participation in gang activity .347 * 18.91 *

Mom! belief -.191 * 3.35

Parental control .153 3.15

Attachment to social workers/counselors -.021 2.44

Attachment to teachers -.094 * 1.37

Theorizing about social problems -.077 * 11.18 *

Friends' moral belief -.127 * 13.09 *

Acquiescence .277 * 8.40 *

Female -.065 * 16.07 *

Age -.330 * 6.75 *

Age squared .276 6.57 *

Studying -.008 2.03

Duration of residence in the city .062 * 1.29

Education .101 * 4.34

Father education -.058 3.84

Mother education .043 8.61 *

Parental control, attachment to social -.058 * 0.11
workers/counselors, attachment to teacher

*; p < .05
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Author:Ngai, Ngan-pun; Cheung, Chau-kiu; Ngai, Steven Sek-Yum
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Date:Jun 22, 2007
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