You have probably heard various stories about the difficulties westerners have working in China, or any other Asian country. From the authors’ experience working with both westerners and Chinese, we believe that these are the result of key facts.
Establishes business practices (which can be related to cultural heritage)
Not much can be done about the language in one document, but the other two can be considered. At the end of this article, the reader will understand the key cause of differences between Asia and the West. Hopefully, you will also be able to use this understanding to improve your success when you are working in China or working with Chinese partners.
First is the difference in heritage between Western and Chinese cultures. You will find it easier to understand not only Chinese culture, and why Chinese suppliers act the way they do. You will also find it easier to understand yourself, and why you act the way you do (along with your western cohort).
There are many differences in behavior when working with the Chinese in China. But be warned, it is not simply about how Chinese seem different to you. It is also about how you seem different to the Chinese.
Chinese culture can be described as ‘Confucian’. This means that the majority of the implicit values of Chinese society have come from the attitudes and teachings of Confucius. Certainly, communism and many other historical events have had its influence. However, for the sake of this consideration, you will see that Confucius gives enough insight into how Chinese culture differs from that of the west. We have all heard the name, although no in China calls him Confucius, but who was Confucius? He lived about 2500 years ago. He was a public servant and philosopher who pondered things such as government, individual behavior, relationships between people and morality.
His teachings were collected into a set of rules called Confucianism and later neo-Confucianism. While these later systems might not be exactly what Confucius had originally thought, the basic tenants were still there. And they still influence Chinese culture today. Therefore, by understanding Confucianism one can better understand Chinese culture.
If everyone were to adhere to these principles, then there would be social harmony, and all would be well. Just take a moment to think about this. You can see how it could work, but something seems to be missing; something western.
Western – Our man, Aristotle – If history had been a little different than the most influential person in western history might have been Socrates. However, Socrates did not write anything down; it was only his student Plato who did. However, much of Plato’s writing was lost for some time. The one who is remembered most is Aristotle, the student of Plato. He was also the teacher of Alexander the great. While Aristotle was the biggest influence, it is easiest to understand his contribution by also looking at what Socrates and Plato did. Socrates also lived around 2500 years ago. However, it seems he had no job. As best can be gauged, he thought most about ethics and logic. He did this by taking a problem and then asking a series of questions, each deeper than the previous until the fundamental issue or cause or answer was found. These questions could be asked of anyone to help them resolve any problem. This implicitly meant that knowledge was not held in a divine individual or wise man, but that it was out there for the taking through proper thought by anyone. This method is still referred to as the Socratic Method. However, some suggest that Socrates had a reputation for taking this to extremes and leaving people more confused than enlightened. He believed he was the wisest because he accepted his ignorance whereas wise men were not wise because they did not realize their own ignorance. In the end, Socrates was executed for the crime of corrupting the minds of the youth, but he left is mark.
Socrates also lived around 2500 years ago. However, it seems he had no job. As best can be gauged, he thought most about ethics and logic. He did this by taking a problem and then asking a series of questions, each deeper than the previous until the fundamental issue or cause or answer was found. These questions could be asked of anyone to help them resolve any problem. This implicitly meant that knowledge was not held in a divine individual or wise man, but that it was out there for the taking through proper thought by anyone. This method is still referred to as the Socratic Method. However, some suggest that Socrates had a reputation for taking this to extremes and leaving people more confused than enlightened. He believed he was the wisest because he accepted his ignorance whereas wise men were not wise because they did not realize their own ignorance. In the end, Socrates was executed for the crime of corrupting the minds of the youth, but he left is mark.
As a westerner you probably think to yourself: There is one single, right and logical answer to any question or problem. It is logical, independent of humans and based on an underlying fundamental principle that cannot be questioned. That answer just needs to be found. This is a commonly held belief by most westerners. It can be hard to accept that some other cultures have not worried so much about such things. However, you need to realize that this conviction is a product of your Aristotelian heritage and not the source of ultimate truth that all should accept. Many others have managed to build very successful societies in the past with different ideas. This is not to dismiss logic, it is very powerful. Just don’t expect it to always convince others or to be as highly regarded as you might think it should be.
Chinese cultural heritage places an emphasis on being in a good relationship with good people who set a good moral example
Westerners believe that to all questions there is a logical answer that is based on a fundamental principle that cannot be questioned by anyone. Is it a business or a relationship? This is quite a common issue when foreigners interact with Chinese suppliers. In the west, ‘Business is Business’. It is not personal; it is about getting things done efficiently, and there are logical rules and principles that must be followed, ‘The customer is always right’ for example. But in a Confucian culture, one works with good people with is had a good relationship. How one separate business from a relationship in such a system?
Let’s look at the facts from a mixed Aristotelian and Confucian perspective. The facts are:
Reciprocity Remember earlier when we creative solutions and maybe taking a hit can have benefits in the long run were mentioned? This will now be considered in more detail. Chinese have quite an ability to remember favors that they have done and favors that they owe. This is a natural ability that one develops when living in a culture that places an emphasis upon good relationships with good people. The authors have seen some Chinese hold quite a grudge and be openly appreciates depending upon what has happened. So what does this mean for the reader?
Summary on the key differences and what to do so when working with a Chinese supplier, keep in mind the following points:
When it comes to the reputation of foreigners, there is something else that should be discussed before concluding. And that is the reputation of foreigners in China. This is just so the reader knows what ideas some suppliers might have about them when they first make contact with a supplier.
Media matters so if one is in the same category as Namibians, Americans, Koreans and the French, what is your reputation in China? Well, it is worth considering the portrayal of the business practices of foreigners who make it into the mainstream media here in China. This certainly isn’t an accurate representation, it is what the media chooses to show, but it is what most Chinese will see. The typical story that makes it to the media is little like this.
A customer had a part made by a local Chinese injection molding factory. The sample was fine, according to the customer, so a few thousand were made and shipped to the customer’s home country. At this time the customer had only paid for the commencement of the production equipment. Therefore, he still owed the balance on the equipment and the cost of the first few thousand. However, the customer said that the first order was faulty. The factory requested that the original order be sent back and said that they would redo the job. The customer was of the opinion that he was he was the customer, and that he should not have to do anything. The factory agreed to send the second batch. These too were said to be faulty. Once again no payment was made. This is despite the fact that the tooling was completed and two batches were produced and delivered with no clear evidence of any fault. At the time of writing the customer was still trying to have their product made, but the factory refused to cooperate with him or anyone who was working with him. The customer was not viewed as a person that one should form a relationship with. What is worth pointing out at this time is that the Chinese factory has no legal recourse. How would they go about taking this person to court to get their money? One can now see that working for foreigners can be a risk for locals in China.
A client had an assembled product made in China. When the first batch arrived one of the parts was found to have been made from the wrong material. The low compliance of the material meant that the part did not function as was intended. Everything else was fine. It was not possible to determine how the mistake occurred. The factory offered to reproduce the parts and sent them to the client free of charge. However, the cost of replacing them in the destination country was prohibitive (recall the earlier comment about Chinese not realizing the high cost of labor in the West). In the end the original shipment was not paid for and the relationship ended. In this case, the risk simply came from the fact that it was international and not necessarily the individuals. The foreign aspect itself is what made it risky to the local supplier. In times like this, the only solution is to ensure that your client has made it completely clear what they want so that the final product can be checked prior to shipment.
Summary of foreigners’ reputation in China The above makes it seem pretty harsh. But, as was said before, this is just the extreme examples that get the attention. In short, though there is a risk dealing with foreigners. This means Chinese factories might want to get to know you and trust you before they can happily work with. This is especially the case for large jobs. All you can do is be patient and as clear as you can about what you want. If you push things too hard without being precise about what you want then you will probably just drive local suppliers away.
Getting what you want advances in information technology and allows unprecedented control over the production process. Ask for a photo or a video to be emailed to you at each major step. If you are satisfied, then the factory can proceed (you might be asked to pay a portion of the final payment). If there are any problems, then it is very easy to circle the corresponding section of a photo and send it back to the factory. You might use these key situations to gain external support, and only pay for middle man when they are genuinely needed.