Doing business in China ? Leave the attitude at home.

What people are saying about Mulberry Fields
I have read through quite a few of your blog posts and have enjoyed them very very much. We do business in China and face many of the challenges you describe. Much of what you write resonates with me and there are some very helpful tips”  -an apparel company in Utah.

About a month ago on Linked In there was a discussion started by someone who claims he was “ripped off” by an Asian supplier.  Needless to say the title of the discussion, which has seen a fair amount of activity, betrays the person’s own prejudices about China. I am assuming that the supplier in question is Chinese because the discussion is in the Business in China group.

I also read a book review recently of a new book written by someone who worked in the China office of a US company. As I have had the same experience, I found the review interesting. The gist of the book, as I read the review, was that the Americans paid little respect to their Chinese counterparts . And this was my experience when I worked for a major US textile company in China some 15 years ago. In terms of how Americans treat their Chinese colleagues, sadly it does not appear that things have gotten better.

In fact, the mentality among many overseas business people who do business in China is that the Chinese are there to dictate to and are not worthy of respect. I have accompanied numerous colleagues to China over the years who didn’t even think it was necessary to learn how to say “hello” or “thank you” in a country where they would be spending a week or two. This attitude is owing not only to historical biases towards the Chinese in countries like the US  but also to the fact that China before Reform and Opening was a very poor country, and one that was at political loggerheads with the developed world.  So the negative attitudes towards China persist.

But things have changed in China. China has the world’s second largest economy and one day may own the top spot. Its big cities like Beijing and Shanghai are world-class and they can be mentioned in the same breath with Paris, Tokyo, New York.  China’s athletes, entertainers and artists are also world-class. China applied for 25 % of the world’s patents in 2011 and a Chinese writer won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2012. And the list could go on and on.

In short, China today is not the China of old. The Chinese are aware of this. If you are doing business in China you need to be aware of this as well.



2 thoughts on “Doing business in China ? Leave the attitude at home.

  1. I fully agree with you, respect between people for others and for their culture is a must to work together and to become succesful in business. Forget the old colonial approach and the behaves of the white man bringing ‘some bread’ to the poor black,brown, yellow,green or blue fellow creature.

    Several years ago I heard a true story about a business trip to China of a delegation of a major European telecom company. The Eurpean company went to China to show their technical skills and they expected to score very quickly valuable contracts. Everything had been organized well and with the help of the embassy meetings had been scheduled with important telecom counterparts and gouvernemental bodies in China. After all the operation ended in a big deception, why, because the members of the team were not able to bridge the cultural gap between Europe and China. They were impatient, didn’t try to build relationships and made many other major and minor mistakes.

    Also I heard people proclaiming that “the Chinese have to listen to them as they buy their goods and they are getting paid for it”. The experienced businessman/woman knows that such guys are asking to be cheated and/or to learn their lesson in another way.

    Besides the business side of this story, every human being whatever the skin colour, religion or political opinion deserves respect untill it is proved that they are not worth getting it. With this attitude you can build valuable and very interesting relationships with other people in and outside the business communities, you will have much more fun during your travels around the world and finally book better results in business in this globalising world.

    • Yes, what happened with the Chinese telecom co. happens all the time in China. I would say it is par for the course. The Chinese, however, deeply resent what they sometimes, if not often, perceive to be a lack of respect from their overseas customers.

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