China's foreign trade totalled US$509.77 billion in 2001. By the end of June 2002, total foreign investment in China amounted to US$419.8 billion with investment from over 180
. Nearly four- fifths of the top multinational companies have set up their subsidiaries here. As the frequency of business communication with China grows, cultural differences and
present some significant challenges. One must
constantly alert, not only to different business behaviours, but also to their underlying values and their history, in order to prevent unnecessary mishaps.
Effective cross-cultural communication requires knowledge, attitude and tactics. Chinese people eat with chopsticks, they always have good excuses for you to drink more at the dinner table, they are reluctant to say no even if a proposal is unacceptable and so on. To present a long list of the differences in Chinese behaviour, one does not need to know an overwhelming amount about China. However, to understand and cope with these differences, it is necessary to go beyond this superficial level. As a matter of fact, behaviour is only the tip of the iceberg. Behind differences in behaviour lies attitude “ attitudes towards oneself, time, the environment and the people around them. What is more profound and deeply embedded are different beliefs and values that are shaped by experience, history, tradition, family and society.
Table 4.1.1 is a broad summary of contrasting cultural traits between Chinese and Westerners in terms of different business
. While considering the diversity and ongoing changes in the cultures under discussion, the author does not attempt to avoid charges of stereotyping.
Chinese people on the whole are not fervent adherents to any religion. Most have a practical mindset and are more
with earthly happiness than any spiritual quest. However, with the long history of reverence for a supernatural power derived from early Chinese civilization, superstition and animism are still occasionally present and can cause social waves. A bewildering array and variety of gods “ native, foreign, heroic and primitive “ can be found in Chinese shrines. The Chinese have long been tolerant of all religions and
and religious wars and persecutions are rare in Chinese history.
Though officially atheist, Chinese people have been strongly influenced by two prominent schools of thought “ Taoism and Confucianism “ and by the religion of Buddhism. Taoism and Confucianism, particularly the latter, are more philosophical
of thought than religions and are devoted to social teachings. Buddhism and Islam are formal religions. The former is widespread across the country, whereas the latter is practised mostly in the north-western
of the country.
As an officially atheist country, social customs are
more as part of the culture than as rigid rules of conduct and behaviour. The Chinese are known for their benevolence and tolerance. There are few taboos and sensitive topics and 'deviant' behaviour by foreigners are generally tolerated provided they are free from ill
. They are
considerate when dealing with foreigners: there is a Chinese saying that 'Ignorance is excusable'.
The influence of Taoism
Taoists believe that the world is constituted by the
of two interacting forces,
. The word
means 'the way' or 'the
'. Every object in the universe represents the process and outcome of interplay between these two forces, one passive, the other positive. These seemingly
forces can coexist, although one may prevail over the other at times. Moreover, even within
, there contains
, and vice versa. The state of
may over time shift to
Thanks to the Taoist influence, Chinese people are highly dialectical in their judgements. Expressions such as 'on one hand. . . but on the other hand. . .' or 'yes. . . but. . .' are part of their daily language. For example, if goods are returned because of inferior quality, it is not surprising to hear a manager remark that 'this is a good thing, on the other hand, because it helps us to dig deep to the root cause of the problem'. Balance, coexistence and harmony with people, time and environment both within and outside oneself are
to be essential constituents of a good quality of life.
For some Chinese, the practice of
(literally 'wind and water', which represent harmony with the physical environment) is popular when selecting building sites and arranging offices. Chinese people tend to be less enthusiastic to take initiative, be different or be confrontational. Drafting the contract or formulating the minutes of meetings is very likely to be the job of the foreign party. 'Let's meet halfway' is a typically proposed solution by the Chinese party during business negotiations.
The influence of Confucianism
Confucius was a pragmatic philosopher obsessed with defining specific personal relationships. Based on his central doctrine of
(proper conduct), Confucius expected every person
to observe his or her prescribed position in the different social strata in order to maintain the 'perfect social order' into perpetuity. In Confucianism, ruler and subject, father and son, husband and wife,
brother and senior and junior are
assigned proper rules of conduct in relation to each other. With good character and personal virtue displayed by every member of society, penal laws became unnecessary because acting contrary to
would result in the far graver moral and social
of shame. Without this sense of shame, however punitive the legislation may be, people would attempt to
Family is placed at the
of society and in Confucianism, to conceal the wrongdoings of family
is also addressed in dealing with friends. 'What a joy to have
from afar!' Confucius declared. The impact of Confucianism on the Chinese mode of thinking and way of life is profound. As one author put it, China may espouse Marxist socialism, but the bedrock
topsoil is almost pure Confucianism. A patriarchal organizational structure,
(face), reverence to
, unquestionable loyalty to the ruler, nepotism, hospitality and
are all familiar terms in the Confucian vocabulary.
Geert Hofstede attributed 'Confucian Dynamism' to 'a society's search for virtue' rather than a search for truth. This explains why China has been short of solid scientific foundations despite its rich civilisation. Examinations for public offices were the only path for scholars to move into official rank, but these exams included no discipline of natural science; more attention was paid to conscience and social order. China
this tight superstructure throughout its history, but its foundations for natural science are weak.
In fact, the origin of Chinese scientific understanding largely lies in the Taoist alchemy: a superstitious pursuit of immortality, and the initial motivation for the grand overseas expeditions in the Ming Dynasty was
but the search for the overthrown emperor who was thought to be hiding in
. Missing out on the sweeping industrialization and renaissance in Europe, empiricism and scientific experimentation have been lacking in favour of abstract thinking and relativism. Take traditional Chinese medicine for example. Most formulas involve a compound of herbal
by experience passed on through generations. Actual clinical studies, scientific processes, quality control and quality assurance are noticeably lacking.
The influence of Buddhism
Mahayana Buddhism was imported from India in the
century BC and soon became entwined with native faiths. The doctrine of
denotes fate or destiny operating by the cyclical law of causation. The present life is the result of deeds in the past life and the future life is determined by actions in the present life. To many Chinese, the law of causation is interpreted in two ways, as with the tenets of native Chinese philosophies.
The passive interpretation conforms with the Taoist
(let go, or do nothing); since every individual's destiny has been predetermined, and thereby all miseries, hardships and joys should be accepted as part of one's fate. Unlike Christianity, Buddhism calls on people to eradicate all desires and retreat from worldly affairs. The fact that Buddhist temples are secluded in high
are located in pre-eminent city areas is one manifestation of this contrast.
The positive interpretation is consistent with the Confucian insistence on active social service; good deeds in the present life will be rewarded in the
is also used to supplement Confucianism, which is rendered futile if social forces fail to enforce
to the prescribed ethical standards. It is at least emotionally comforting for victims of wrongdoing to believe that these wrongdoers will eventually receive adequate retribution on the strength of
law, when they are unable or unwilling to take positive action against them.
The confluence of Buddhism and Taoism means the Chinese are more content with the state of being than of doing. Chinese people tend to enjoy indoor activities “ playing poker
, mahjong, or simply spending hours cooking; they prefer to stay at home rather than travelling during their holidays. While none of these prevailing spiritual forces nurture entrepreneurship, they collectively breed impressive
during hardships or misfortunes. Chinese people have
so many famines, disasters and military
over their history that they find their own path to survival in forbearance and endurance. Despite the low level of disposable income, the savings rate in China is among the highest in the world, and a large body of the elaborate national cuisine is actually a reflection of the people's capability to live through famines by using whatever materials they could lay their hands on. Apart from all kinds of plants and vegetables, as the saying goes, 'Chinese people eat anything with two legs but a man, anything with wings but a chopper, anything with four legs but a table'.