By Marcene Marcoux
I always enjoy the sharp mind, perceptions and wit of 54-year-old Ye Zhaodi. Yet, in his pensive moments, I sense an unspoken sadness. One time, we walked out of a tea house, and I quietly asked him, "If you could be doing anything, what would it be?" He looked up at me with his big, penetrating eyes, and with a slight smile, whispered: "I'd be doing what you do. I'd be an academic like you."
Even with his own brilliance and love of physics, Ye, like many other intellectuals, was sent during the 1960s and 1970s to factories and farms to be "reformed." Ideas did not grow readily on factory floors or in fields. The difficult work, energy, and physical effort often robbed him of his spirit and did not inspire great theories.
When I am with Ye, I often find it difficult to not respond deeply to his unnamed sadness and his silence that holds much quiet disappointment. Clearly, with empathy, one is not removed but involved; not detached but connected to people's lives, regardless of culture.
Whether you are doing business in Beijing, Urumqi, Dalian or Shenzhen, fully experience each city and its people. Be open to the unexpected. China will engage you, if you allow it.
When in China, also consider the following:
Avoid comparing Chinese events with parallel foreign ones
You may unconsciously compare. At times, during business meetings, comparisons with the West may occur automatically, but don't verbalize everything. It can be annoying to Chinese managers and can appear unappreciative. Don't make the West the standard for everything. When you're in China, be there.
Don't overly praise Western values and lifestyles
This is just arrogance run wild. Hold back your inflated sense of cultural superiority, which is often unfounded. I think of a New York congressman who recently visited Beijing. When there, he repeatedly asked the Chinese if they actually like living in China. In his arrogance, he believed most Chinese would yell out "No!" Of course, all the Chinese he met, looking quizzically at him, said, "Yes, of course. We love China."
Such a faux pas would destroy the possibility of doing business in China.
Know Chinese business styles
Chinese business is guided by Chinese, not Western, values. The aggressive, backslapping, ¡®let's get it on' Western approach just won't do. Leave the strutting and swaggering to American cowboys. Leave your Stetson, chaps and holster at the ranch, partner! Western machismo will surely produce a Western fiasco in China.
In fact, instead of heightened male-driven models, you'd do much better adopting a more androgynous style - one marked by a quiet strength and a passive determination. Success in Chinese business requires a new style that combines both masculine and feminine qualities, both strength and gentleness, both determination and flexibility. Linking competition with co-operation will serve you well during Chinese business meetings.
Consider the following guidelines for business in China:
Coming to agreement rather than reaching a majority is a priority. Reaching an overall consensus is crucial in China. The key is to address each business person's wishes in the decision. Getting the entire business group to agree is the goal, even when it simply involves choosing a restaurant for dinner. At first, I also couldn't understand why choosing a bottle of Dynasty Merlot or Great Wall Chardonnay at dinner required a lengthy discussion. Consensus is the answer.
It's a way of life in politics, business and of course shopping. I've found that bargaining affects everything from buying ivory chopsticks at the Summer Palace to requesting peapod hearts with bamboo shoots at the Li Jia Chai restaurant.
All business transactions seem to be exercises in bargaining. Almost everything requires bargaining: negotiating a lease for office space at Beijing's Kerry Centre, establishing rates for executive Guo Ziyang's monthly consultant fees, negotiating prices on goods manufactured in Xi'an or establishing percentages on government contracts with major vendors.
So, be prepared. If you're looking to manufacture or establish joint ventures, know that the first price or percentage you're given is never the final number. It's only a starting point, and from there you and your Chinese partners will work your way to a second and third price or percentage.
Some Chinese colleagues may even quietly alert you to this. When I initially received prices for products manufactured in Guangzhou, one of my Chinese partners said, "If these prices are too high, please come back with other prices. We won't be upset." He was teaching me the rules of bargaining.
Aversion to conflict or to any social disorder is high in China. Feeling ashamed in public is the ultimate taboo. Avoiding loss of face is primary. Thus, open disagreement between two business parties is avoided, since it would require one to lose face in public. Be sensitive to this: be aware that this is much more serious than simple embarrassment, and avoid any business situations that could cause or precipitate any public shame or embarrassment.
The author is a cultural anthropologist and senior partner with Great Wall Consultants Ltd.