Reading a Chinese translation of Towards a Genealogy of Individualism by the Czech writer Daniel Shanahan reminds me of how this term was once interpreted as being antithetical to the interests of a community before the 1970s.
Given the fact that China is becoming increasingly pluralistic as far as its culture is concerned, individualism will never become a political label that can be used to nail anyone on the slate of shame as it used to be before the 1970s. Yet it does not necessarily mean that many know the real meaning of this term and its relationship with ancient Chinese culture.
This term is by no means a synonym for selfishness or egoism although it emphasizes the interests and rights of an individual. But at the same time, individualism attaches enough importance to the development of individuality, which coincides with the popular saying that self-fulfillment of every individual should be a prerequisite for the progress of a society at large.
From this perspective, I would rather define individualism as containing both the rights and obligations of an individual when it comes to his or her relationship with a community or society at large.
Compared with what happened to individualism before the 1970s when an individual's self-fulfillment was denounced as ideologically anti-proletarian or bourgeois, the overemphasis on individual rights and interests has turned out to be a major social problem today. To be exact, an increasing number of people have become increasingly concerned about how much they can get from the community rather than how much they can do for the common good.
That explains why many dog owners leave their dogs' excrement on pavements rather than clearing it up for the good of all, and why many spit wherever they want in public or cast cigarette butts wherever they feel convenient without ever giving enough thought to how their behavior will contaminate the environment they are living in. Though they may strongly call for the protection of individual rights and interests when they are condemned for what they've done, they are by no means individualists. They are egoists and too selfish to have any sense of social responsibility and obligation.
The cultivation of an individual's moral character, which was emphasized by Confucianism in ancient Chinese culture as a necessary preparation for a person's dealing with others, can reasonably be interpreted as part of the content of individualism or say, individualism with Chinese characteristics.
Instead of stressing the necessity of gaining the respect of others, the rationale of Confucianism is that you must behave in order to get what you're entitled to as a decent person.