Intercultural Communication

"It can be harmful to come, without thought, under the sway of utterly new and strange doctrines."
-- Confucius

Student Julian Flear attempts to address some of the problems faced by American business people when they are dealing with the Chinese, particularly in light of the American experience in China in the 1930s and 1940s. He focuses on the problems inherent in learning Chinese and about Chinese culture, such as Chinese ethnocentricity and the nuances of their non-verbal communication, and also on the many pitfalls in not doing so, such as a heavy reliance on the unknown abilities of individual translators, and the dangers of assuming that "they talk like us, so they must think like us" when dealing with western educated Chinese.

Since the Chinese brokers have a 12 to 14 hour day they must sleep when they can. Protocol is such that they would never leave for the day before the boss.
Julian Flear


Writing Workshop II

Professor Keefer

 Should an American businessman in 1997,  seeking to do business in China's southern coastal provinces,  be aware of the reaction of the Chinese Mandarin class to the encroachments of Western merchants in the nineteenth century,  and if so what strategies should he pursue to minimize the adverse effects of any lingering impact of these attitudes in China today?
	This paper will endeavor to establish what the reactions of the Chinese Mandarin class were to the growing Western influence in China in the nineteenth century, and what residual impact,  if any,  these reactions have on modern Chinese attitudes to foreign businessmen.  Further,  it will seek to address the question of what,  if anything,  an American businessman in China today,  needs to know  about these attitudes,  and whether he should adopt any strategies to counteract any adverse impact they may still have - particularly in his dealings with the Chinese Nomenklatura . The modern Chinese Nomenklatura  are in a very real sense the lineal descendants of the old Mandarin class,  and control the many State owned commercial enterprises in China today.
	The increasing penetration of China in the nineteenth century by Western merchants brought them more and more into contact with this Mandarin class,  encounters which made deep impressions on both sides.  For the Chinese Mandarins,  whose civilization stretched back thousands of years,  these foreigners,  or fan-qui   (Cantonese),  were representatives of an entirely alien and barbarian civilization,  far inferior to their own enlightened civilization.  For thousands of years,  they had been accustomed to dealing with foreigners from a position of military and cultural superiority - and furthermore those foreigners they had been dealing with saw things in the same light.  Now,  however,  they were having to deal with foreigners who did not regard China as 'The Middle Kingdom',  or Chung-kuo ,  and who were not cowed by the strength of China.
	"Their collective world view places the Chinese at the center of 'All below heaven' (Tian Xia  )  and at the apex of civilization,  surrounded by 'barbarian' cultures that occupy the periphery."  (Engholm  36).
	Not only did the Chinese regard themselves as at the center of the world,  but they could see no benefit to themselves in trading with the obviously inferior 'barbarians' - after all what could they possibly have to offer that the Chinese might need and did not have already?
	"As Emperor Ch'ien Lung  explained to Lord Macartney at the end of the eighteenth century:  'Our Celestial Empire produces everything that the human race could possibly require,  in profuse abundance.  We therefore have no need to purchase the goods of barbarians,  however interesting and curious these may be.'"   (Sitwell 150).
	The Manchu Ch'ing  dynasty (1644-1912) adopted a virtual 'closed door' policy toward the Western world during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,  partly because they sincerely believed that they had no need of the outside world but also because it suited them for domestic political reasons - they themselves as outsiders had gained control of China,  and they were not anxious for anyone else to emulate this feat:
	"The Manchurian conquerors of one of the most favored regions of the globe were not slow in realizing that,  being relatively few in numbers,  it was to their interest,  as overlords of an intelligent and law-abiding though passive race constituting one-fourth of the world family,  to interdict all efforts at change,  to seal the country so that a repetition of their own exploit,  or disaffection with their own rule resulting from outside influences,  would be impossible."  (Clements,  quoted in Fleming 25).
	For a foreigner dealing with the Chinese today,  it is important to realize that the Chinese did not only regard the mental,  or intellectual aspects of foreign culture as 'barbarian',  they also tended to physically regard  non-Chinese races they encountered as alien and repugnant as well as being markedly inferior to themselves:
	"...the Chinese regard Europeans as a fierce,  mentally deficient,  semi-tamed breed 'to be placated like dogs,  or as willful children' "  (Williamson,  quoted in Fraser 309).
	This kind of disdainful attitude toward the physical attributes of other races,  by no means a purely Chinese phenomenon - the Western merchants and seafarers in China at the time certainly did not regard the Chinese as being their equals - is very deep rooted in Chinese culture,  and can be traced all the way back to ancient Chinese creation myth:  
	"In Chinese creation myth,  the universe was created by Pan-gu ,  a cosmic being.  When Pan-gu  died,  his limbs metamorphosed to create the natural world.  Human beings were cooked up in an oven by the goddess Nu-gua .  Some humans were burnt black and some were underdone and turned out white.  Those done just right turned out yellow - the Chinese."  (Engholm 36-37).
	Possibly the most significant area of conflict between the Chinese Mandarin class and the Western merchants,  from the point of view of a modern American businessman,  was the great gulf in understanding concerning their differing attitudes to the 'rule of law',  and the importance of a well regulated legal system to the efficient running of a modern state. On the Western side,  this can be traced to the paramount place accorded in their Graeco-Roman legacy to the Justinian code,  and it's successors,   with it's strict emphasis on the rule of law,  and the exalted position it accorded to lawyers in society.  This was   contrasted on the Chinese side with the prevailing attitude in the Mandarin class created by the clash between  the Confucian and Legalist philosophies,  and the eventual compromise reached between the two.
	"Confucian thought maintained that laws,  ideally,  should not be necessary;  people were by nature good,  and if they strayed from the path of goodness they needed to be brought back by benevolence and sincerity,  not by force.  The Legalists....took the opposite view - that people were evil minded donkeys who understood the stick better than the carrot.  The controversy between the two schools ended in a compromise,  the gist of which was that good people did not need laws but bad people did.  Law,  accordingly,  never came to be seen in China as the framework of society,  in the Greek or Roman manner;  it was seen as something inflicted upon the dregs of society,  and as often as not something 'lingering,  with boiling oil in it.'  Ordinary disputes were settled by custom or arbitration,  not in the courts."  (Sitwell 164)
	Furthermore,  on a more personal note for the average Mandarin,  the Mandarin class's own privileged position within Chinese society was threatened by these barbarous foreigners and their constantly expanding influence.  As a result of the (regrettably) many 'Unequal Treaties'  between China and the various Western powers,  these powers received de facto  control over large areas of China These were their 'Spheres of Influence',  and  by the end of the nineteenth century these were very extensive,  not to mention their direct control over many of the most important port cities of China - the so called 'Treaty Ports'.
	"In all,  thirteen out of the eighteen provinces of China were pre-empted in this way,   as well as the three provinces of Manchuria."   (Fleming 30).
	Within the Treaty Ports,  Settlements and Concessions,  under the principle of extraterritoriality,  all foreigners in China were tried by their own judges under the laws of their own homelands.  Also,  even throughout the rest of China,  certain of the national institutions were placed under the direct control of foreigners,  nominated to their posts by the Western powers,  not the Chinese government - such as the Post Office,  and the Customs Service.  As an example,  at the time of the 'Boxer Rebellion',  the Imperial Maritime Customs was headed by an Englishman,  Sir Robert Hart,  and of it's 5,604 employees,  993 were foreigners (503 of whom were British) - and it would be a reasonable assumption that these foreigners were not concentrated in the lower grades!
(These figures are taken from:  Fleming 65)
	In addition to all this,  of course there was the long running (and sordid) saga of the Opium trade.  Despite being officially proscribed,  this trade grew from the importation of 4,000 chests annually in 1790,  to 70,000 chests in 1858 - chiefly smuggled in by the British,  but ably supported by the French and Americans.  When the Chinese Imperial government attempted to put an end to this trade,  the result was the two Opium Wars,  when they were compelled by Britain and France not only to acquiesce in the trade,  but also to grant special privileges to the traffickers!  The negative impact of these on Chinese perceptions of the Western world  (and its claims to being a civilization on a par with China's) can hardly be over stated.  The Treaty of Nanking,  which ended the first Opium War against Britain,  in particular was resented by the Chinese - as the first in a long line of 'Unequal Treaties'.
	"It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this treaty,  which was  a turning-point in the relations between China and the West."  (Fleming 26).
	This should be particularly borne in mind by our American businessman if he is negotiating with the Chinese from a position of strength - largely as a result of such treaties,  the Chinese now are very wary of Westerners apparently dictating terms to them.
	It can be well imagined,  therefore,  that the Mandarin class was not entirely over the moon about the growing influence of the foreigners,  and indeed bore them malice.	
	Even today,  these attitudes resonate - for after all,  the Chinese did not recover full sovereignty over their own country until the conclusion of the Second World War - with the notable exceptions of Hong Kong and Macao,  which are finally to be returned in 1997 and 1999 respectively - and this still leaves Taiwan,  handed by the Americans to Chiang Kai-shek  and his nationalist forces,  thereby denying it to mainland China.
	Whilst today the way the Chinese regard foreigners is by no means as overtly xenophobic and hostile as it has been at some stages in their history,  particularly such episodes as the 'Boxer Rebellion',  the officially tolerated (and quite possibly sanctioned) anti-foreign uprising at the turn of the century whose watchword was:
	"Protect the Ch'ing  dynasty.  Exterminate the foreigners."  (Fleming 23)
they are still wary to a certain degree of foreigners,  and acutely conscious of their own 'uniqueness'.  This is particularly true of business interchanges,  for whilst the Chinese are well aware of their need for outside expertise and capital,  they are loathe for this need to become too apparent,  thus potentially exposing them to the disdain of these foreigners - in other words losing face to them.
	"So sensitive are the Chinese to losing their own 'face' or inflicting damage on the 'face' of others that they have extreme difficulty in being candid and forthright in their dealings with others."  (De Mente 61).
	It is not only that the Chinese do not wish to lose face to the foreigners,  but traditional Chinese culture,  with its emphasis on the collective good as opposed to the Western 'cult of the individual',  frowns upon 'bragging',  so the Chinese naturally wish to avoid circumstances which are likely to lead to such 'bragging'.
	To a large degree, the present nomenklatura  and the old Mandarin class are one and the same,  and they are dealing with the current situation of ever increasing contact with the outside world by 'passing the buck' down the line to the regional authorities,  thereby minimizing their own involvement,  and the attendant risk of 'contamination' with potentially subversive foreign doctrines:
	"It can be harmful to come,  without thought,  under the sway of utterly new and strange doctrines."  (Confucius).
	This has been largely accomplished by restricting,  or directing,  foreign investment in China to the southern coastal regions,  particularly through the creation of the Chu Kou Techu,  or Special Economic Zones (SEZ's).  Here the Chinese Nomenklatura  has been willing to loosen their grip on parts of the country,  largely in order to maintain it unchallenged in the remainder,  and to devolve significant powers to the regional government:
	"The province has the right to regulate itself in all other fields,  including the so-called three freedoms - to import and export goods,  to import and export capital,  and to import and export foreign staff."  (De Mente 49).
	It can be readily seen,  therefore,  that these historical perspectives to a large degree color modern Chinese attitudes towards the Western world,  and in particular their commercial contacts with it.  The question remains though,  how aware of all this should a businessman be now?  It would be perfectly conceivable for an American businessman to be entirely unaware of this background in his dealings with the Chinese,  but this state of affairs would lead to considerable frustration on his part at what he would undoubtedly perceive as the arrogant,  unreasonable,  obstructive attitude and behavior of his Chinese business contacts - he might quite likely feel as if he were beating his head against the proverbial wall.  If he had even a rudimentary understanding of the historical underpinnings of the Chinese attitudes,  particularly those of the nomenklatura,  he would better be able to weather "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (Shakespeare,  "Hamlet") with a good grace,  and hopefully transact  his business to that satisfaction of all.
	As far as potential strategies to enable our eponymous American businessman to cope with the ' on the ground',  so to speak,  possibly the most important (and indeed,  obvious) one would be for him to avoid dealing with the nomenklatura  and their fiefdoms,  the myriad central government owned commercial and industrial concerns,  whenever possible,  and to confine his dealings to the growing number of privately held concerns,  and,  to a lesser extent,  those concerns owned by regional or municipal governments.
	Traditionally,  the argument most often presented in favor of dealing with the state owned entities has been that,  being demonstrably creatures of China's extensive bureaucracy,  they would prove invaluable guides through its Byzantine labyrinth.  For some Western companies,  this has indeed been the case,  but increasingly foreign companies are finding that being tied in with one of these state owned firms may not necessarily be a help,  and that a whole set of previously unforeseen problems arise from the relationship.  In large part,  these stem from the differing concepts of the rule of law between the Western firms management and the Chinese firms management - a difference largely explained by the philosophical backgrounds of the two different groups - the Graeco-Roman versus the Confucian/Legalist outlined above.  As an example of these problems,  when Unilever entered into a joint venture agreement with a Chinese state company in Shanghai to produce its 'Omo' brand of laundry detergent:
	"... the state partner started producing a washing detergent that had a similar formula to Omo,  in  a strikingly similar box."  (Economist,  April 19th 1997,  65).
	As a result of these and other similar problems,  the attitudes of many Western businessmen in China now can be summed up by the response from an (anonymous) multinational executive to the question as to what qualities he looks for in Chinese joint venture partner:
	"One who never comes to the office."  (Economist,  April 19th 1997,  64).
	The disdain of the Chinese nomenklatura  for western concepts of law is aptly demonstrated by the saga of the collapse in 1985 of the International Tin Agreement.  The failure of the ITA pact to support tin prices by purchasing metal from the world markets for its 'buffer stock'  resulted in losses of some $900 million.  In the aftermath of this,  some of the ITA member governments,  China's prominent among them,  refused to honor their debts,  the bulk of the losses being borne as a result by the London Metal Exchange.
	A privately held company,  or one owned by a local government,  is less likely to,  in a sense,  carry such historical baggage as one owned by the central government,  and is 
also less likely to have a 'hidden agenda' - its decision making process is unlikely to be influenced by considerations of national policy for example.  It is much more likely to be focused on a concept the American businessman is quite familiar and comfortable with - the famous 'bottom line.'  As such,  any problems which arise are more prone to be solved in an amicable and timely manner,  as both parties are speaking the same 'language':
	"When asked how he handled conflict with clients from different cultures,  one international businessman replied:  'What it comes down to ultimately is money.  What separates me from the other guy is the color green.  And so when there is conflict,  we try and avoid it at all costs.'"  (Khoo 4).
	If our American businessman is able to avoid any dealings with the state owned concerns in favor of the privately or municipally owned firms,  there are still other steps he would be wise to take in the interests of minimizing the friction's which are inevitable in any cross-cultural undertaking,  and of developing a fruitful long term relationship with his Chinese partners.
	On a seemingly trivial level,  he should not take offense at the Chinese style of greeting people,  which will undoubtedly appear very alien to his Western ears:
	"Polite Chinese greetings are usually,  'Where are you going?',  'What are you doing?',  'Are you busy?',  'Have you eaten?'...these polite greetings may be viewed by Westerners as an invasion of privacy.  On the contrary,  these phrases are very normal,  common,  and polite to the Chinese,  because  Chinese culture emphasizes concern for others."  (Quanyu 164).
	He should also bear in mind that it is often considered inappropriate to greet strangers in China,  so,  whenever possible, he should wait until he is introduced by a mutual acquaintance. This is particularly true when encountering a stranger of the opposite sex.
	Food and dining occupy a very prominent role in Chinese culture ,  and it is very important to behave appropriately when dining with potential clients - if they feel you cannot be trusted at the table,  then you certainly cannot be trusted in business.
	Therefore,  it is vital to approach a meal with your Chinese host with a completely open mind.  As a guest at a typical Chinese banquet,  it would be the height of extreme bad manners to decline any of the proffered courses,  and would create a very bad impression in the eyes of your host.  This is not to say that you must eat everything put in front of you,  whether you like it or not,  more that you should at least try everything - and if you really cannot stomach it politely excuse yourself  - they don't want to make you ill after all!  It would be wise not to overindulge in the first few courses,  as a typical banquet can run to fourteen or more,  and it is impolite not to sample all of them  It is also important not to demand to know what everything is before trying it (or even whilst eating it),  as this can give the impression that you are only willing to try certain things,  and to the Chinese the banquet should be regarded as a whole,  not as individual dishes.
	Undoubtedly,  it would be a good idea for our American businessman to reciprocate,   and act as host for his potential Chinese partners. It would be regarded as more fitting for him to act as host at a Western style meal,  rather than hosting a  Chinese banquet of his own.  However,  he would be well advised to follow the 'tasting menu' style,  and  pre-select the courses himself,  as opposed to just giving his Chinese guests the menu to make their own choices.  This is because it is likely that they will be unfamiliar with the cuisine,  and the style,  and would feel uncomfortable with ordering - again potentially losing face if they were to commit some faux pas.   They would undoubtedly appreciate the meal,  and more particularly the opportunity to learn,  without having their unfamiliarity with the mores  of Western fine dining exposed for all to see. This way he could also spare himself the mental anguish caused by seeing his guests mixing 'Sprite' with their classed growth Bordeaux - a recently acquired habit among southern China's nouveaux riche.
	It would be as well also for him to ensure that he invited everyone,  not just the most senior - this way he avoids any possible suspicion that he is attempting i-i-fa-i  , a Chinese concept which almost exactly corresponds to the Latin divide et impera  ('Divide and Rule', or 'Divide and Conquer')  This also allows him to cater  to the more collectivist nature of the Chinese,  a shared banquet being highly prized.
	When entering into any negotiations with the Chinese,  it is important to remember the traditional Chinese respect for age.  To this end, our American businessman's team should not be 'monochromatic' in its composition in terms of the age of its members,  but should include both young and old.  However,  if the older member,  or members,  of the party are in fact the least senior in terms of the hierarchy,  it would probably be wisest in this instance to omit them,  as it would not be a good idea to be seen to be 'talking down' to them - the Chinese would be liable to interpret  this as a loss of face for these elders.
	"From Confucius,  Chinese tradition traced its emphasis on filial piety,  on respect for one's ancestors..."  (Sitwell 165).
	The Chinese in this case would be likely to feel highly uncomfortable at this disrespect,  and will look askance at the perpetrators.  Hardly the impression our businessman wishes to convey if he is interested in developing a long term and mutually rewarding relationship.
	In conclusion therefore,  it would seem that it is important for an American businessman to have some idea of the historical background of Western interactions with the Chinese,  at least as far as the reactions of the Mandarin class/modern day nomenklatura  are concerned.  This can help him to understand what might otherwise seem capricious and illogical actions,  or attitudes, on their part,  and hence not to prematurely terminate his negotiations with them.  The obstacles presented by the 'after effects' of these reactions can be largely overcome by keeping all dealings with this class to a minimum,  and dealing instead with a more 'grass roots' level  whose concerns are more likely to 'dove-tail' with his,  and come with much less historical baggage.   In dealing with the Chinese on any level,  as indeed with any race or culture,  the judicious application of common sense,  and a modicum of understanding,  will enable a smoother,  and mutually beneficial,  relationship to develop.
1 Flear 1
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