Opinion

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Chinese stereotypes uncovered

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I recently retired as UK senior partner of BDO after 23 years as a partner with the firm. Last year, I took up a position as visiting professor at Xiamen University, China. My wife is Chinese and I decided to spend three months exploring business opportunities in the region and trying to learn some Mandarin. 

I’m blogging about my experiences in China for Real Business – catch up on part onepart twopart threepart four and part five of my journey so far.

Blog 18

In my recent blog about the Chinese HST crash, I observed that “The more power a government has, the more accountable its citizens expect it to be.” A Chinese friend has pointed out that “The more power a government tries to hold, the more responsibility it should take.” I can only agree with both statements. 

Professionals operating in China inevitably face significant regulation, some of which makes it hard for foreign firms to operate effectively here. 

In addition, the commercial professions face a cultural challenge: they are traditionally regarded as “Zhongjie” or “agents”, not advisers. 

Clients may pay (something) for results, but are much less willing to pay for advice; and frustratingly, they may not take the advice even if it has been paid for! However, the Chinese respect teachers and so academics are sometimes paid for their advice…and even listened to!

Blog 19

China’s government wants people to consume China-made goods and save less – but if that policy succeeds, it could result in greater long-term problems. 

The One Child policy ran officially for some 30 years, so China faces a significant demographic challenge. Whilst a significant proportion of the population are currently of working age, this group has a far greater life-expectancy than previous generations, with a significantly reduced working age population to follow. 

Today’s youngsters face having to support, not only their own children, but perhaps parents and grandparents, if today’s savings don’t suffice.

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Blogging’s brevity lends itself to sweeping generalisations. In that spirit, here are some I’ve heard in China, which may not be true but they made me think: 

  1. Shanghainese look up to foreigners, but look down on other Chinese; 
  2. Beijingers are good talkers, but poor doers; 
  3. Shanghainese are noisy, brash and reckon a “fair deal” splits 55:45; 
  4. All Chinese entrepreneurs are looking for short-term profit / gain; 
  5. Chinese education teaches people by rote and denies creativity; 
  6. In the West, wealth leads to power, in the East, power leads to wealth.

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