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Culture Wise China
Tuesday, 07 August 2012 07:34

China is different, very different.  So if you wish to negotiate an international agreement, do business with China, live there or even simply visit, you need to be "culture wise China".  And to obtain such cultural wisdom, there is no better place to start than Leo Lacy's book of that title.

Lacey's book provides a wideranging overview of issues like: culture shock; the Chinese people, their history, their values and ethics, and national icons; the administrative complexities of getting started in China; breaking the ice in human relations with the Chinese; dealing with the language barrier; working in China and the Chinese at work; transportation from bicycles to high speed trains; the Chinese at play which usually involves food and drink; retail therapy in a country with the world's largest supermarket; and various odds and ends including pets, religion and toilets!

Culture Wise China contains information for everyone.  According to Lu Xun, a writer and social critic, "Throughout the ages, Chinese have had only two ways of looking at foreigners.  We either look up to them as Gods or down on them as wild animals".  Chinese actress once said "In China we don't see someone as truly beautiful until we have known them for a long time and we know what is underneath the skin".  

You may be surprised to learn that although Westerners are turning more and more to Chinese medicine, young Chinese prefer the faster results provided by orthodox Western medicine.  A Chinese man's home is his castle, and the drawbridge is usually up, so don't be offended by neve being invited across that threshold.  By contrast, a consultation with a doctor is not very private, with the door often being left open and trainee doctors and a couple of nurses in attendance.  But the most shocking are public toilets, which can be alarmingly public, with either waist-high doors or none at all!   

It's important to learn some Chinese language.  As Nelson Mandela once said, "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.  If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart".  But never lose your temper or say harsh things to a Chinese person in front of other people, because you will both lose face.   

In business, while Chinese people work through the wording of a contract in fine detail, the Chinese language version is nowhere near as definitive as the English or French version -- which means that their understanding of a clause may be very different from yours.  Guanxi, meaning connections and exchanging favours, is key in Chinese social transactions.  Many people will go to great lengths to do other people favours in order to have them in their debt. 

And please remember that while it is dangerous to drive in China, it is even more dangerous to ride a bicycle or walk.  Most people killed in road accidents are pedestrians or cyclists.

In short, when you deal with China and Chinese people, you will be in for a dose of "culture shock".  Thankfully Lacey warns of us the five stages of culture shock; the honeymoon phase; the rejection or distress phase where the initial excitement wears off; the flight stage because of the overwhelming desire to escape; the recovery or autonomy stage where you begin to integrate and adjust to the new culture; and lastly, reverse culture shock when you feel like a foreigner in your own home.

But Chinese President Hu Jintao's exhortation for government officials to be aware of the temptations of power -- money and beautiful women -- serves as a nice reminder that China is not totally different from the rest of the world.

I have visited China more than twenty times, and read many books on China, and believe that Lacey's "Culture Wise China" to be the best single volume introduction to that country.

 

Reference
Leo Lacey.  Culture Wise China: the essential guide to culture, customs & business etiquette.  Survival Books.  London, England.  2011.
http://www.survivalbooks.net/products/culture-wise-china/


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