China Business

On Why Being a "Friend of China" Matters to Your Business

foreign companies doing business in China

Great piece of cultural information from Jason Patent’s blog post, Friend of China or … Other? [link no longer exists].

Patent’s post starts out talking about Lenovo Chairman Liu Chuanzhi’s recent comment on how Lenovo is “lucky Steve Jobs has such a bad temper and doesn’t care about China. If Apple were to spend the same effort on the Chinese consumer as we do, we would be in trouble.”

Patent expects this comment “has been well received” in China and he attributes this to the fact that “few things are more important in China than being a ‘friend of China.'” Patent then quotes from Dr. James Chan, who has this to say about the importance of “Acceptance” in doing business with China:

There is one thing many Westerners don’t think about when they walk into China. What the Chinese people really want from Westerners is “acceptance.” If you want to sell anything to the Chinese or, for that matter, build relationships with the Chinese, you must make your customers, contacts, associates, and partners feel you are not behaving that a “barbarian” or “marauder.”

This is a key perception that is deeply-rooted in the Chinese psyche based on thousands of years of mistrust and distrust of the “outsiders.” There is one thing about “acceptance” that only you can do: you have to be able to accept the Chinese as they are. You want to do business with the Chinese; you don’t want to change the Chinese. The moment you make people feel that you’re going to China to make the Chinese look and act and adopt the same values that you fine “superior,” you’ll be perceived as the age-old “barbarian” and “marauder” whom they’ve learned and taught to distrust. You cannot make all 1.32 billion Chinese to trust you.

But you can find and groom the one or two persons, the “insiders” who feel that you respect them and that you listen to their advice. If you can do this, you will make money for as long as you desire in China.

I completely agree and this is something I am constantly preaching to clients and friends who go overseas, not just to China. We Americans are so used to being the “big dogs” that we generally do not care much about what others think of our country. I have learned through my own personal experiences that this is not true of most other countries.

My own experiences tell me that if you make an effort to learn some of the history and some of the language and some of the culture of the countries to which you go, you will be very much appreciated for it. And if you respect/accept what is good/right/beautiful in other countries, you will be much appreciated for that as well.

Rather basic stuff, I know, but I have sat through many a dinner or a meeting where someone from the West has used the occasion as an opportunity to explain to the Chinese (or the Korean or the Russian or the whatever) businessperson all of the things his or her country must do to grow/develop/improve or whatever. Nobody appreciates being talked down to, particularly those from countries who are already wary of Westerners claiming superiority. It is not good for business.

What do you think?

10 responses to “On Why Being a "Friend of China" Matters to Your Business”

  1. As a Western ex-pat in a senior executive with a western technology company in China, I can say your comments are “right on.” I have lived in China for the past 12 years and nothing makes me more angry than to see western executives “parachute” into China and start giving lectures. My message to these people is;” leave your western arrogance and culture at home, you will have more fun and be more productive.” Good article..

  2. Being nice and respectful to people — any people, not just Chinese — is a good thing. Just be sure you understand what friendship costs. In China, it’s always more than you think.

  3. So if Apple can become the most valuable tech company in the world without pandering to China, maybe pandering to China is overrated?

  4. Dan, now I will mostly play “Devil’s Advocate”.
    I think not long ago you had a post (or linked to posts) about how Chinese Soccer won’t take off until Chinese society changes its education system, building up a more “rounded” curriculum which has a place for sports (and team work and sportsmanship and proper competitive spirit etc). Its the same. You were telling Chinese what’s wrong with their country. I say the same thing to people BTW. I think they accept it in part because I tell Chinese people about my impressions… in Chinese. And in the case of soccer, most people i talked to didn’t make the connection between education system and the development of team sports. So, there was some value to what I said, even though I was essentially advocating Chinese change their values to understand that getting ahead in school academically is not the end-all-be-all of personal values.
    Often they don’t accept what I have to say, and this leads to good arguments. And sometimes I say things to piss people off, like saying that Ping Pong is not really a sport. But that’s a different story.
    As Americans, we are famous for telling everyone our opinion. Now I know that Americans are actually pretty good at listening to the opinions of others (at least compared to French and German peoples). However, I think the truth is we are usually right, and Chinese people know it. This goes for everything such as how to run a factory, to the invasion of Iraq. Sure Chinese people think America is arrogant. But (what I hear them say is) they think “well, America is arrogant. But they still did what had to be done.”.
    Of course no one likes self-righteous arrogant people,. On a personal level we should not try to force our views on people, especially potential business partners. But believe that when you have a relationship with someone, its quite alright to speak the truth about one’s observations about China. Speaking straight and truthfully is a sign of respect, even in China.

  5. Fully agree! The very worst thing a foreigner can do is “look down upon Chinese.” A lot of Koreans (who live here) do; Japanese occupiers certainly did; from 1644 to the end of the l9th century Han Chinese were VISUALLY second-class citizens (half-shaved head, pigtail and Manchu style dress). A lot of Chinese assume Americans will look down upon them and are looking for slights. And, of course, Chinese “look down upon” other Chinese daily – but that’s a different story.

  6. Good or bad, honesty or dishonesty, black or white, people sharing the same opinion to these basic common sense, regardless their race. A person goes to another country to live/work/study he/she need to be open and respectful to the local culture in order to gain trust and build up a relationship. I am a Chinese student studying Accountancy/Economics in the UK, one of the most important things i am learning is the Western culture and value. Without these social foundation, not to say having business relationship, there wouldn’t have any communication, connection or friendship. We all need to make effort to learn and respect each other’s culture and ideas. This, in my opinion, is human decency.

  7. @G.E. Anderson,
    Would you care to elaborate on what the “costs” of a friendship might be? I realize that you are probably not using friendship in the way westerners typically do, and I’d like to hear your idea on what the Chinese see friendship as.

  8. Jesse Covner, I don’t see the connection between China’s education system and the state of its sports. China’s mens football, volleyball and basketball teams may well be rubbish despite the obvious potential talent, but China’s women’s football, volleyball and basketball teams have been consistently good for quite some time now.
    As for the rest of your comment, I don’t know where to start. I guess it’s easiest if I just say that on one point you are absolutely right: “Of course no one likes self-righteous arrogant people.”

  9. I generally agree with this article and the general notion that visitors to different countries and cultures should be open-minded. I was in Mongolia recently. At one end, an American mom with her two teenage kids at a visa office complained loudly and often while waiting for her number to be called (oddly, the wait time was better than any DMV I’ve been to and was her complaining aloud in English going to win points with the rest of the persons waiting who most likely spoke no English). At the other end were two middle-aged ladies I met at a horseriding camp who took all difficulties and delays in stride. The contrast could not have been clearer.
    On the other hand, I would be wary of many Chinese who use that defense (“You don’t understand China” “You’re just a foreigner”) to deny or deflect any and all criticism as an excuse to keep acting the same way or condoning age-old “bad” habits just by reason of “tradition” and “millennia of history”. Of course, the people who look down on Chinese and treat Chinese the worst are themselves, but that’s another story.

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