Doing Business In China

A  W A Y  W I T H  T H E  C H I N E S E

What are our impressions of the Chinese?

Unpredictable, non-responsive, secretive, awkward, shrewd in business…

While China is still a developing country, we are beginning to feel her influence more intensely than before. She is at the moment the largest developing country in the world and we could benefit learning a little more about her and her people (those from China and the overseas Chinese). In order to begin having a good relationship with them, we will first have to understand some fundamentals about their culture and civilisation.

There are some major influences within the culture that have effectively shaped the way the Chinese communicate, think and their beliefs. Let us take a brief look at the History, Religion, and Language of this culture.


First, there is Confucianism. What is it? Confucius was a philosopher whose writings had served as the foundation of the Chinese education for more than 2,000 years. His teachings revolved around the ideal of working towards social harmony (which was lacking in his time) and how to attain and maintain this harmony. One of the most important teachings is the existence of stable relationships, which he identified as the crux of achieving peace within the society. The five defined cardinal relationships are those between: ruler and the ruled, husband and wife, parent and child, older and younger siblings, and friends. Except for the relationship between friends, all others were strictly hierarchical. This has reflected in the Chinese a strong inclination towards respect for and obedience towards authority (be it due to seniority, power or rank) and of course the importance of what we know of today as relationship building.
Morality was another aspect that Confucius emphasized. One should always consider the righteous way of achieving a goal and that meant consciously knowing how one's action could impact the surrounding.  This often meant that the individual rights are forgone for the better of the group *in which one identifies with. As a result, we see the Chinese being more concerned with the means than end result. The process of a negotiation is much more important and can take time till a balance is found. 


One of the main religions that have shaped the Chinese culture strongly Taoism. Taoism was originally a philosophy that translated into a religious belief. 'Tao' - is the essential life force that flows through all living beings and holds the belief that the source for spiritual living comes from nature and that one could only thrive if one lives in harmony with the environment. The term 'Yin & Yang' originates from the Taoist Beliefs and explains the two principles of universe; Yin being earth, negative, female (not to be confused with gender), evil and dark while Yang being heaven, positive, male, light and good.
The flow of these two forces are essential both in the physical and spiritual aspects of life. Its beliefs encompass the way of Wuwei and Wuyu; not acting against the will of nature, to accept the way things are and not desiring too much from life respectively.

The other belief is in Buddhism. There are different schools of thoughts in Buddhism and further dividing them are countless of sects and sub-sects. It is not quite relevant the entire history of Buddhism here than the impact it has had on the Chinese culture. So, from this religion (again, more a philosophy) are some strong beliefs that have become more or less the way of the Chinese. First, is samsara or reincarnation, which is the eternal cycle of birth, suffering, death, and rebirth and arising from it the notion of retribution, or rather, Karma. Amongst many are altruism and humility valued virtues in Buddhism. Respect is given to those who can uphold these virtues.

What is common between Buddhism and Taoism is the presence of Deities (yes, I am giving them the Caps for a good reason). The world between the mortal and immortal, heaven, earth and hell, the belief in ghosts and spirits, the power of the Deities…of course that leading to a superstitious mind, a world that calls for respect for the unseen, unknown and unheard, for guidance from the higher beings and heavenly bodies.........

Now, we can understand better why the Chinese accept the idea of fate and destiny more easily than their western counterparts, especially when things go wrong.  As it seems, the change can only be made as much as fate allows it. Afterall, it could be retribution in action, so, why force the order of nature? No, the Chinese are not complacent, in fact, they are more industrious than we would think. They are just humble and more sensitive towards a force much greater than them.
The social norms, which have arisen from the superstitious mindset, play a ROLE in any form of interaction with the Chinese. Disobey them and you will be blacklisted. Money is important, but hell knows what will happen when we disobey the apparent 'spiritual laws'.

Working with the Chinese meant that we should caution ourselves against displaying too much pride, showing ignorance towards their social norms or what one could term as 'social laws', not showing respect, viewing time as a pure measure of success and the list goes on...


The Characters that make up the Chinese Language, Mandarin, have been evolved from drawings of pictures.

    Each character can be considered whole in itself.

As kids, Chinese are trained to memorise Chinese characters and understand the full meaning of each character. One learns from young to see first the 'entire picture' rather than to focus on the details. Chinese thinking thus leans more towards a holistic approach on processing information. To see the big picture is crucial in their understanding of ideas and concepts. Details are just components that make up this big picture.
The main purpose of this article is to allow you to know more about the mentality of the Chinese and how to understand them better. Armed with this, we can use our own discretion when we interact with them.

Of course, culture is dynamic as one begins to interact with the environment. Beliefs can be diluted or re-enforced, depending on our action and reaction with the surroundings. There is no one specific manner way to bridge this cultural gap, but many different. It depends on our purpose, the context in which we are in and of course our own personalities (partially shaped by our own beliefs).

posted: 26.10.05