I was recently asked to do a preliminary screening about potential Chinese suppliers. And when I mentioned the research be done after work because only my personal laptops have Chinese keyboard, I get this response, “if those Chinese companies want to do business with Americans, they should have an English websites.” As much as I agree on communication and language being the key factor of cross-country business, I, however, disagree with the mindset behind all these “Americanism.” While it might be the attitude to have 20-30 years ago, (American dreams, right?) it will surely sink your boat as you sailing towards Chinese market.
Just earlier I was reading How to Do Business with Chinese Companies by Golden Hints, British Embassy in Beijing, Google, at the meantime, was pulling out of China because of Internet censorship and unsuccessful negotiation with Chinese government. Many research and newspaper then jumping into the analysis game trying to figure out why and how to win the battle over this mysterious wonderland called China. Articles like Washington Post and Forbes “The Panda Has Two Faces” make valid points about how Chinese people think and how their business is like. Needless to say, even with all the tumble & fumble expanding business in China, Western companies still crave for the enormous opportunities (400 M Internet users in China versus 240 M in America, are you kidding me?) But instead of watching kung-fu panda or any Bruce Lee’s film to think you get a taste of Chinese, dear world, listen to what I have to say:
– We like to be “In-control”: If we think Westerns are “macro-managing,” then read this: according to China Digital Times, a publication based in Berkeley, Calif., “the Chinese government maintains a list of hundreds, if not thousands, of banned search terms, with new ones added periodically.” And if a foreigner tries to jump in thinking he/she can run the game? You are outta here.
– We are hospitable, “selectively”: Many foreign countries’ first impression about Chinese companies is they are very, very friendly. They wear smiles, escort all the way, and serve you the most exotic Chinese food they can ever imagine, but it is another story after the contract is signed. Chinese have their own mechanism and their own pace, as much as we complain about the bureaucracy and inefficiency ourselves, Chinese allow no interruption of the way we do things. So fight, work your way around, but make adjustable expectations.
– We are humble, but you’d better kiss our butt too: Companies need to show an almost exaggerated respect for China’s traditions: the Chinese are simultaneously immensely proud of their history. Getting close to Chinese companies, one needs more than standard courtesy as smiles and hand-shakes. It’s all about”guanxi,” a concept very similar to professional relationship for American companies but not exactly the same as professional & personal relationship are frequently mixed when it comes to the final deal in China. Here’s a joke from my college professional who frequently fly to China and do research with locals. “Chinese like to “”research”” (pronounced “yian-jo” in Chinese, very close to cigarette (pronounced “yian”) & alcohol (pronounced “jo”) In short it means unless you give them cigarettes & alcohol, they will not even bother looking at your proposal) You might call it “bribery,” but it’s the way relationship in Chinese culture works for thousands of years.
What I said above may not reflect the whole picture but at least it is an outlook from an Asian working and living almost 4 years in America. China may seem a vibrant community with a lot of unknown issues and short of clear channel or public voice, it is, still, the next superstar that any business can’t afford to miss.
I would love to hear any feedback and thoughts if you have done business in China 🙂