Letter from China: Some Tips on Doing Work in China
Allow adequate time for planning - Decisions to get a project going may take longer than
you anticipate. There may be many people who need to be involved in the decision-making process or departments that have to review draft documents. This process may
often work at a slower pace than you might have hoped.
Be flexible - you may have to go in different directions - If your original plan does not
work out be willing to alter your thinking. There may be an
alternative strategy or option (or several alternatives!) that will prove more effective.
Consider government partners - Even if you may not be used to having governmental
partners in other countries, you may want to consider government partners in China. The
government is involved in wide range of activities and having a government partner may
allow a project that might otherwise be hard to accomplish to happen.
It takes time to build trust - Like in all international relationships it takes time to build
trust, but this is especially true in China. The Chinese have a strong sense of hospitality
or "ritualized etiquette". Do not mistake this hospitality for friendship or trust. Trust will take time to establish.
There is no tradition of information sharing - Because there has not been a tradition of
information sharing within Chinese society (and there have been some great
disincentives) information (even what you might consider to be "public" or non-sensitive) can be hard to find.
There is a tradition of working in groups when trust has been established - when the
credibility of a group has been established, working collectively in such groups comes
Get agreements in writing - Deals will often continue to be negotiated until they are
finalized and even then there may be changes. You can minimize misunderstandings by
clarifying as much as possible and having all agreements in writing in both Chinese and
Chinese is a complex language with words that have meanings imbedded in the culture -
Chinese is a complex language and many concepts do not have exact translations from
one language to another. The process of translation is thus more than just a literal
exchange of words. In some situations there may be no exact translation and an
interpreter or translator may need to choose from several available options. Spend the
time to work with your translators/interpreters to clarify your meanings so they will be
better equipped to help you.
Chinese who have worked with Westerners may be valuable "cultural interpreters" - The
Chinese and Westerners (foreigners or laowai) often have different ways of approaching
challenges. A Chinese who has worked with Westerners may better understand your
approach and be able to provide you with "cultural interpretations" and insights on how
best to proceed to accomplish your goals.
"Saving face" has many variations - We have often heard of the Asian concept of "saving
face", keeping one's dignity by not being the bearer of bad news. This concept goes well
beyond not liking to say "no". Not only may you not get an actual "no" response but the
people you are working with may look for many different ways to tell you that they do
not think that something is a good idea. Some of these responses may even sound like
encouragement and a "cultural interpreter" (see item above) can be especially valuable in