Working With Chinese Manufacturers – Get More Out of China by Understanding Yourself and the Chinese

Introduction You have probably heard various stories about the difficulties westerners have working in China, or any other Asian country. From the authors’ experience working with handmade in Germany both westerners and Chinese, we believe that these are the result of three key things:  

  • Language
  • Cultural heritage
  • Establishes business practices (which can be related to cultural heritage)

Not much can be done about the language in one document, but the other two can be considered. At the end of this article the reader will understand the key cause of differences between Asia and the West. Hopefully, you will also be able to use this understanding to improve your success when you are working in China or working with Chinese partners.  

This article will cover three key issues.  

The first is the difference in heritage between Western and Chinese cultures. You will find it easier to understand not only Chinese culture, and why Chinese suppliers act the way they do. You will also find it easier to understand yourself, and why you act the way you do (along with your western cohort).  

Second is the differences in behaviour when working with Chinese in China. But be warned, it is not simply about how Chinese seem different to you. It is also about how you seem different to the Chinese.  

The final issue is the reputation of foreigners in China. You need to understand more than just how you seem different. You also need to realize what reputation you have in China simply because you are a foreigner. You will be surprised at how the Chinese can categorize and who they might categorize you with. You might be even more surprised at what some of your fellow countrymen have done: some people change completely when in another country!  

Cultural heritage Chinese – Confucius say…
Chinese culture can be described as ‘Confucian’. This means that the majority of the implicit values of Chinese society have come from the attitudes and teachings of Confucius. Certainly communism, and many other historical events, has had its influence. However, for the sake of this consideration you will see that Confucius gives enough insight into how Chinese culture differs from that of the west.   We have all heard the name, although no in China calls him Confucius, but who was Confucius? He lived about 2500 years ago. He was a public servant and philosopher who pondered things such as government, individual behavior, relationships between people and morality.

His teachings were collected into a set of rules called Confucianism and later neo-Confucianism. While these later systems might not be exactly what Confucius had originally thought, the basic tenants were still there. And they still influence Chinese culture today. Therefore, by understanding Confucianism one can better understand Chinese culture.  

So what did Confucius teach? Confucius thought about many things: ritual, loyalty, humanity etc. However, one of the themes that is very strong throughout his teachings is relationships. This includes how you should behave towards another. This depended upon the relationship you had with the other. The teachings also focused on what kind of a person one should be in a relationship with. Another strong theme is that of virtue and setting an example as a leader. It was more important for a leader to set a moral standard for behaviour than it was to be an expert on the everyday details of operations.   So in summary, a person should:

  • choose the right people to be in a relationship with,
  • ensure they meet their obligations in this relationship and
  • place most emphasis on the moral example

If everyone were to adhere to these principles, then there would be social harmony, and all would be well. Just take a moment to think about this. You can see how it could work, but some thing seems to be missing; something western.  

Western – Our man, Aristotle If history had been a little different then the most influential person in western history might have been Socrates. However, Socrates did not write anything down; it was only his student Plato who did. However, much of Plato’s writing was lost for some time. The one who is remembered most is Aristotle, the student of Plato. He was also the teacher of Alexander the great. While Aristotle was the biggest influence, it is easiest to understand his contribution by also looking at what Socrates and Plato did.   Socrates also lived around 2500 years ago. However, it seems he had no job. As best can be gauged, he thought most about ethics and logic. He did this by taking a problem and then asking a series of questions, each deeper than the previous, until the fundamental issue or cause or answer was found. These questions could be asked of anyone to help them resolve any problem. This implicitly meant that knowledge was not held in a divine individual or wise man, but that it was out there for the taking through proper thought by anyone. This method is still referred to as the Socratic Method. However, some suggest that Socrates had a reputation for taking this to extremes, and leaving people more confused than enlightened. He believed he was the wisest because he accepted his ignorance whereas wise men were not wise because they did not realize their own ignorance. In the end Socrates was executed for the crime of corrupting the minds of the youth. But he left is mark.  

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