W, 4, Shanghai 上海 – The “tiger toddlers” of China’s next generation

By Olivia Halsall (郝文婕), 66hands.com With a teddy bear in one […]

By Olivia Halsall (郝文婕), 66hands.com

With a teddy bear in one hand and a strong black coffee in the other, I’m standing in front of thirty 4-year-olds all gazing up at me in wonder. Less than eight weeks ago I was clutching my 1st class degree in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other … and in all honesty before this morning I’m not sure I knew the difference between a 1-year-old and a 5-year-old. Today is my first day at work as an English teacher for one of Shanghai’s most prestigious government kindergartens; Yuyuan Kindergarten 愚园路第一幼儿. To understand China’s next generation, I chose to uproot and live alongside them for a year in Shanghai, dropping an MSc offer from Oxford.

Unlike every 66hands study thus far, W represents each and every little 4-year-old I teach here in Shanghai. Education is highly valued in China and can act as one of the predominant means for social mobility – but inequality at Yuyuan kindergarten is evident, and already at the age of 4, only the fortunate toddlers are given a bounding head start in their Chinese education marathon.

I use the term “tiger toddlers” to refer to preschool children (aged between 3 to 5) whose parents spend more than half of their income on their extracurricular activities ranging from additional English, Maths or Science classes, to luxurious weekend trips away filled with developmental activities.

The term “tiger mother” was initially coined in 2015 by Amy Chau upon the release of her autobiographical account of how she, a Chinese mother and Professor at Yale Law School, raised her two daughters “the Chinese way” in the USA. Chau mentions a study in which, out of 50 American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, 70% of American mothers felt “stressing academic success is not good for children” – by contrast 0% of Chinese mothers felt this way.

Each year in May, Yuyuan Kindergarten releases their catchment area. Yet within 500m of the school, you can buy a plate of jiaozi from a hole in the wall restaurant for 10RMB or alternatively, across the road you can stay in the Renaissance hotel for a minimum of 900RMB a night. Two separate worlds living side-by-side along the same road.

Based solely on my experience and observations to date, dental hygiene is positively correlated to wealth, and thereby English level – those that learn English outside of class (often with a price tag of between 200-500RMB per hour) have white teeth. Those that have had no previous exposure to English, who look at me with blank, confused expressions, have black, rotting teeth. One of my colleagues told me the carers (often the grandparents as both parents usually work full time) let them eat too much sugar and are simply ignorant of basic dental hygiene.

In 20 years from now, Eric and Amy will be 24. Now sat side-by-side, it is likely that within two decades the pair will hardly recognise one another. Eric will have been sent to an international school and then onto University in the UK or the USA where he will graduate with strong prospects of seizing a well-paid job maybe in engineering, law or business. His parents will pay his tuition fees in addition to buying his apartment and car.

Amy will go to a local school, reciting English from a Chinese teacher and working late hours to do well in the Gaokao – China’s University entrance exam. If she is in the top 0.91%, she has a chance to attend either Peking or Tsinghua University (Oxbridge or Ivy League equivalent). If not, as her parents won’t have the financial means to send her abroad for higher education, she’ll stay in China and go to a second or third-tier University. If Amy and Eric were to go for the same job aged 24, Eric would win hands down.

Were it not for a surge in China’s “tiger toddlers” becoming overeducated and overindulged, both Amy and Eric might be on an equal footing as they begin their education – as the Chinese government might have intended. In 2016, 3.9 trillion RMB was spend on its education system (the largest state-run education system in the world). 280.2 billion RMB went straight to kindergartens.

The expenditure is reflected in Yuyuan’s facilities. Each classroom is equipped with an interactive whiteboard and enough toys and fancy dress to fill a small shop. Each has ensuite toilet facilities, a dining area and a designated sleeping room with 30 beds. Beyond each individual classroom, there is a communal reading room with 500+ books, an outdoor and indoor play area as well as luxurious teacher meeting rooms.


Olivia is the founder of 66hands.com, featuring very interesting and insightful stories from Olivia’s China experience, reflecting on China’s past and present. 

Read More

The Rise of Cross Cultural Virtual Teams – and Their Challenges

China Unbound will be hosting a talk on 26 November […]

China Unbound will be hosting a talk on 26 November with intercultural specialist RW-3 Cultural Wizard on ‘How to Succeed in a Cross Culture Workplace’.  In this post, their Director of Learning, Sean Dubberke, shares with us his experience on intercultural challenges working with virtual teams and some tips human resources managers and team leaders can use to get the most out of them:

In March, we conducted our biennial global virtual team survey, drawing on 1,620 executives in major organisations from 90 countries around the world. No less than 88% of respondents agreed virtual teams are critical to daily productivity.

But working in multicultural cross-cultural virtual teams can be painful. Language and time-zone differences are the most obvious hurdles. But some of the most common frustrations voiced by our survey respondents are things like “lack of participation,” “lack of engagement,” “low-context communication,” and “lack of ownership” issues – all of which are open to extreme interpretation based on your personal cultural context.

In spite of these differences, professionals recognise the potential of global virtual teams: 72% of respondents believe diversity has a positive effect on their team’s performance. But how do they ensure they’re making the most of their cross-cultural virtual teams?

1. Provide Cross Cultural Training

No one is born with the skill to understand people from foreign cultures; it must be learned. For cross-cultural virtual teams to achieve their potential, workers must demonstrate mission-critical intercultural communication skills. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: cross-cultural training. People can learn how to resist the trap we all fall into when we evaluate situations only from our own perspective. By seeing business from the perspective of others, professionals are able to develop strategies to flex their work style and develop deeper intercultural insights – and stronger cross-cultural relationships.

2. Appoint a Clearly Designated Leader or Manager

An effective leader or manager must be able to clearly articulate the team’s goals, scope, decision-making processes, and more. They must be available to engage with team members – and not only through large-scale virtual meetings. I always recommend cross-cultural virtual team leaders advertise “virtual office hours.” These casual chats help foster close relationships that give leaders a better grasp of the different work styles present in their virtual teams.

To get the most out of meetings, leaders should prepare and distribute an agenda in advance, and share brief minutes after the meeting. Most of all, encourage group participation, as professionals from many cultures are often less comfortable at openly expressing their views, particularly disagreement or bad news.

3. Create a Team Charter

A high-performing team needs solid guidelines. Create a team charter that serves to clarify performance expectations. Be sure to provide a literal, explicit framework for success to ensure your whole virtual team is engaged and on the same page regardless of where they are in the world. Be sure to focus not only on the “what’s” but the “how’s.” In the same vein, always promote clear, open, and consistent communication. Honesty and openness can help foster traits like respect, familiarity, comfort, and trust, which help to prevent unnecessary challenges and conflict.

4. Promote an Open Environment

By creating an open environment that leaves rank and egos at the door, everyone can have an equal voice. It’s important for all opinions and questions to be valid – no question is “stupid.” Assumptions lead to misunderstandings, openly sharing information is key. The structure of global virtual teams makes it easy to hide behind a screen, but an effective leader pays attention to those who are quiet, recognizing their work styles and soliciting opinions during calls, meetings or during private conversations.

5. Provide an Internal Communication Site

A well-defined virtual space for teamwork – a shared collaboration platform, for example – can help ensure all team members are always in the loop. Interpersonal relationships are more likely to flourish if you include visual and written profiles of all team members, their roles, responsibilities, and contact info. A shared collaboration page should be a carefully managed asset. By including project details along with the ability to instantly share data and insights across borders and time zones, cross-cultural virtual teams increase their potential contribution to the business.

The strategies described above demand education and training – only a handful of us are born with them, or spend their formative years growing up in more than one country. So, remember, no matter how well our technology develops, people need developing, too!

Want to get the best out of your multicultural team? Don’t miss our 26 November 2018 event on How to succeed in a Cross Cultural workplaceRSVP here to secure your space.

Read More

Y, 24, Guangzhou 广州 – on Gap Years in China

By Olivia Halsall (郝文婕), 66hands Last year, Y contributed to “You […]

By Olivia Halsall (郝文婕), 66hands

Last year, Y contributed to “You Have More Freedom Than You Think” (你比你想象的更自由), a book documenting the experiences of 30 young Chinese who took a “gap year” 间隔年 to do something unconventional. Y is often asked how to overcome parental conflict as China’s only children deviate from their parents’ “fixed plan for their kids — primary school, middle school, college, job, marriage, and having children”.

Chinese education expert, Xiong Bingqi, explains that Chinese parents cannot fathom a year out of education because most Chinese universities only permit deferring in exceptional circumstances, such as illness; a “gap year” would hinder one’s chances of university admission when competition is already fierce. Another factor is one’s personal citizenship file: an unexplained year could disadvantage those applying at government or state owned companies. Despite this, Chinese youth are beginning to challenge traditional expectations of education, employment, and more importantly, social status. Sun Dongchun is confident that “society is progressing and more young people will be able to have their own gap year experience.”

On his own gap year experience, Y primarily freelanced whilst building his company’s website as he likes to be able to anywhere. For the first 6 months, he travelled between Guangzhou 广州 and Beijing 北京 (roughly 2,140 km), choosing to leave Beijing and its cold, smog-filled winter for New Zealand 新西兰.

Interested to know what Y thought of the British, having just completed his Master’s in London, he told me before arriving in the UK he thought the British might be高冷. The characters literally translate as “tall, cold”, the closest translation I could find being “haughty”. Another word used to depict the UK, (owing to Chinese social media) was 腐国 which is Chinese slang referring to, “the perception of the UK as decadent for its attitudes towards sexuality”. The former image of haughty Brits formed a stark contrast with the flamboyant, modern and seemingly “decadent” supporters of homosexuals. 腐国in fact originated from Chinese social media trends and memes of various British TV series characters, that whilst we may appear cold and indifferent on the surface, we are humorous and light-hearted on the inside.

I asked Y if there is a particularly desired characteristic amongst the Chinese youth, to which he replied the spirit of being able to 折腾 which translates as “to toss from side to side”, or “to be weird and wonderful (crazy)”. If an individual is daring to persist, fight and dream for something they are passionate about all whilst having a positive impact on others as a role model, then, in the eyes of the upcoming Chinese generation, they have achieved 折腾. Y told me, “If you purposely pursue success, then you are just like everyone else in China. Pursuing success isn’t necessarily a desired characteristic because it’s too common, 折腾 is what the Chinese youth are now striving for”.

J, 20, Jinan 济南 – On love, sex and relationships in China.

Curious about the ways in which love, sex and relationships manifest themselves in contemporary Chinese society, I met with friend, J, to discuss boys, relationships and sex; more specifically J’s reasons for hiding her 3 year relationship with her boyfriend from her parents and gender roles in modern Chinese relationships.

J told me that people would not normally say 性 sex, but instead subtly clap three times, refer to it as  啪啪啪 (pronounced papapa) or say to do the 滚床单 (to roll around in bed sheets). J started dating one of her close friends in secret aged 18. 3 years on and whilst the relationship is no longer secret among friends, J is yet to tell her parents. One of the necessities in keeping the relationship undisclosed is because dating in Chinese secondary schools is often frowned upon and in some cases forbidden. In 2011, a school in 四川 Sichuan imposed a rule stating that students found “20 inches of each other would be told off by teachers in the first instance and then given a formal punishment”.  Whilst many parents express concern for their child’s love life, they also believe that relationships would interfere with one’s studies, so only after graduation should one find a partner, get married and have children.

A Chinese saying goes 宁坐宝马车里哭,不坐自行车上笑 I’d rather cry in a BMW, than laugh on a bicycle; coined in 2010, when 20-year old Ma Nuo, a contestant on TV dating show 非诚勿扰 If you are the one, rejected a potential suitor after he suggested they go on a romantic bike ride to which she replied she would prefer someone with a BMW. Despite social media criticism of modern Chinese dating values, this phrase represents the motivation and mentality of some Chinese seeking a partner. Without previous experience, based on parental advice and societal pressure, some Chinese are selecting life partners based on their material wealth as this guarantees financial security and a certain lifestyle.

J explained that in China, a marriage between two people is more like a marriage between two families, with less emphasis on individual happiness and satisfaction, and more emphasis on the needs and requirements of the family as a whole. However, more and more Chinese youth are shunning conventional expectations and choosing happiness over materialistic wealth. For example, a group of  剩女 (a term for leftover women i.e. those that have reached late 20s without having married) fought against parental and societal expectations in their “Marriage Market Takeover” video and couples are now embracing 裸婚 naked marriages which excludes the emphasis on materialistic wealth (house and car ownership) in a marriage.

J told me her boyfriend and her are equals in their relationship, but he displays  大男人主义 (chauvinistic) behaviour, considering his role as a boyfriend to protect and support her. Traditional expectations of Chinese women include “passive and inactive” behaviour, “maintaining one’s virginity” and “not to ask too much for sex and consider men’s satisfaction as one’s own”.  J said that men who hold onto these expectations are said to have 直男癌 (straight man cancer) and are fiercely criticised by many Chinese youths who strive for gender equality in relationships.

However, despite their shyness in talking about sex, Chinese youths are having sex at an earlier age than before. A study by Peking University showed “the average age for first time sex in China was 22.2 years for those born after 1980, dropping to 17.7 years for those born after 1995”  Furthermore, TV shows such as 女人帮·妞儿 China’s own “Sex and the City” are tackling expectations of virginity and sexism head on. Like many countries both developed and developing around the world, China has a long way to go before longstanding Confucian values (where women are inferior to men) are squashed and gender equality can be achieved.   Perhaps what we are beginning to see is the start of a  “Chinese sexual revolution”; China is slowly starting to lay the groundwork in becoming a society that feels comfortable in talking about love, sex and relationships.


Olivia is the founder of 66hands.com, featuring very interesting and insightful stories from Olivia’s China experience, reflecting on China’s past and present. 

Read More

Understanding the structure of Chinese words as the key to intuitive learning

Are you learning or planning to learn Chinese? Did you [...]

Are you learning or planning to learn Chinese? Did you know that by understanding how a Chinese word is constructed and what parts (called “morphemes” in linguistics) it is made up of, you’ll find it much easier to memorise new characters and to remember the meaning of the ones that you’ve seen before?

The most basic part from which we can start analysing the structure of Chinese words is the morpheme. A morpheme is the smallest significant unit in a language and the science that studies the functioning of morphemes is called morphology. In Classic Chinese, most morphemes were found on their own, isolated from each other, called “monosyllabic words” in linguistics – that is short words that cannot be broken down in smaller parts. On the contrary, in Modern Chinese different parts of words combine with one another to create longer words, which linguists call “bi-“ or “polysyllabic” words. Let’s look at the comparison below:

In Chinese, small parts of words combine together to form longer words. Like logo blocks, each word has a ‘root’ meaning, and when words are put together, they form new words! Take the example of the word ‘apple pie’ in English, Apple is a word, Pie is a word, and when you put them together, they form a new word. This is how most words are structured in Chinese: they are logical, meaningful and descriptive. To illustrate this, let’s see how the word classmate (tongxue) is formed. Part #1 Tong, means the same, together, part #2 Xue, means to study. Therefore a classmate is someone who studies with you. What this means is that learning new Chinese words will become easier as you progress, as you learn more and more of the basic ‘lego blocks’.

These small units can be classified into two types. Lexical units are the nucleus of the word, they’re the lexical basis and they convey the meaning of the word. Grammar units define the grammar category that a word belongs to (for example, whether it is a noun, and adjective, and adverb or a verb), the gender (masculine or feminine) and the number (singular or plural).

Chinese words are created through a linguistic process that is called derivation, meaning the addition of a unit (called “affix” in linguistics) to a root (the main part of a word, its core), which triggers a change in the grammar category and/or in the meaning of the derived word. Derivation can happen either by adding a unit before the root, at the beginning of the root (prefix) or by adding a unit after the root, at the end of the root (suffix). To understand the concept of derivation at work, let’s check out the examples below. Note that some of these additional units have fixed meanings so by learning them you’ll find it easier to guess the meaning of a word, even though you have never seen it before!

A word which is made up of two or more units is called compound word. The criteria according to which two units can be combined together to create a compound word are plenty.

Stay tuned to learn more about compounds!

Read More

How do the Chinese use communication channels differently?

Chinese businesses and consumers have on their hands similar channels [...]

Chinese businesses and consumers have on their hands similar channels of communication as we do in the UK. However, did you know they are often used in slightly different ways than in the UK? Here are some of the subtle but important differences:

  1. Face to face is still the best way to establish new and nurture existing relationships. Nothing builds a relationship more than seeing each other face to face, having a meal, or even singing some drunken Karaoke together (yes, the socialising bit is important when doing business with the Chinese people and we will cover more in our course). The key thing is to remember that it takes time to build relationships and it’s more the case when doing business with Chinese people. Invest time in building the relationships before you expect the return (read more in my blog Lessons learnt expanding to China’s Tier 1 cities).
  2. Mobiles – One thing different about Chinese businessmen is that many of them answer their mobiles wherever they are, whatever they are doing – in a meeting, at the dinner table, on holiday or at a family gathering. I was once told by a recruiter friend that a Chinese HR manager picked up the phone during an interview with a candidate and was on it for over 20 minutes. Not great if you were the candidate, but the point is, if you are trying to reach your Chinese clients/partners/agents urgently, you have a better chance in reaching them on mobile than you do in the UK.
  3. Emails – you may see even in some larger, well established companies, employees still use their own private email account for business use. As a result, email addresses can often change due to excessive spams and you may not be notified about it.
  4. Social Media – the Chinese are constantly on Social Media, especially through mobile devices (you are probably aware that Chinese Mobile Internet users have already over taken desktop users back in 2012). They use it more and they are also influenced by it more (as they are deemed a more reliable source having come from friends and family). In our recent China Online Marketing talk, our speaker Arnold Ma from Qumin showed us a really interesting app which Durex developed to engage Chinese consumers on WeChat. The app is an art gallery where visitors can walk around and view different artworks. Each artwork is tied to a Durex product. Visitors can go to the store within the app and purchase products directly from their phones. There are also gamification elements in it (and it’s a big thing for the Chinese), for example, visitors can collect keys and open doors which will then take them to other parts of the art gallery.

In short, Chinese social media are a dominant platform to reach Chinese businesses and consumers, so make sure it’s part of your marketing strategy!

Read More

Quick Tips on Strengthening your Chinese Business Relationships

With 5,000 years of history, Chinese culture exerts an enormous [...]

With 5,000 years of history, Chinese culture exerts an enormous influence and explains a lot about how the Chinese do business today.   An understanding of China’s Business mentality and etiquette can help you avoid unnecessary misunderstandings, build relationships quicker,  and maximise business opportunities. What are the key differences in business environment, Chinese mentality and how do you navigate around them to deepen your Chinese business relationships? Here are some of the key points (and we will cover more in full detail in our upcoming Survival BUSINESS phrases – Mandarin taster on 25th September 2018 at 19.00):

  1. Guanxi – In the west, we say ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. This captures the essence of Guanxi in Chinese.  In English, the term means having a fantastic set of contacts. Without Guanxi, ie. with the right introductions, it will be especially hard to get to the top decision makers in China as the Chinese much prefer to do business with the people they know.  In the past, Guanxi is essential for getting a job, seeing a good doctor etc.  It is no longer as critical now but in general, it’s still an extremely important way to get things done in China, in personal life and in business.  To do business successfully in China, you need to build a strong Guanxi chain. Nurturing a good relationship/Guanxi via sharing a meal and thoughtful gift giving are basic practice in China.   We will cover this in detail plus other useful Chinese characteristics in our Survival BUSINESS phrases – Mandarin taster on 25th September 2018 at 19.00.
  2. Banqueting – Nurturing Guanxi is vital, so people need to socialise. The meal plays an important role in doing business in China.  Banquets are often hosted at lavish restaurants to welcome Western guests.  The head of each party is usually expected to give a speech and toasting with Chinese wine is a part of the occasion. In Chinese, we call a business dinner ‘fanju’ (饭局),which literally means a dinner plan or strategy – it’s something that’s planned to achieve the desired business results. There are Chinese books on how one can best plan a ‘fanju’– a testament to the importance of the dinner in doing business in China even for the Chinese themselves. A quick note on the dinner, if you are hosting, your Chinese guests are likely to interpret the price of the meal as how sincere you are about the business relationship – it’s also associated with the concept of ‘giving face’ (explained below), Where do you have to sit at a banquet? Do you have to finish everything on the plate as demonstrated in a HSBC advert?
  3. Gift Giving  Do you know that it’s a big taboo to give a clock, or a watch as a gift to the Chinese people? This is because in Chinese, the word ‘clock’ sounds like the word ‘funeral’ and when you give a clock to someone, it sounds like you are ‘attending to their funeral’ in Chinese! It’s considered very unlucky and we can get quite offended.  Sadly, these small (but quite unpleasant) misunderstandings are still happening,  for example, earlier this year the British Transport Minister presented the mayor of Taiwan a watch on her visit and unsurprisingly it was not very warmly received (you can read more about it here).  Things like this highlighted the importance of some fundamental knowledge of the Chinese culture when doing business with the Chinese people. What other gifts can be sensitive to your Chinese counterparts? We will explain in detail with real life case studies on the 9th.
  4. Face – The Chinese concept of ‘Face’ concerns the image or credibility of the person you are dealing with. For the Chinese, it’s important to maintain a good, external image. In business, ‘giving face’ to someone could mean to compliment a member of staff in front of his boss, arriving a meeting with an immaculate suit to show your respect, or hosting a very nice banquet dinner as mentioned before. Face is also linked with hierarchy, respecting someone’s rank or status. This is has implications on how you address your Chinese associates and where people sit during a banquet for example.

We will help you to compare and understand more differences in the Chinese way of doing things, pitfalls and ways to navigate around them in the Survival BUSINESS phrases – Mandarin taster on 25th September 2018 at 19.00.

Read More

Differences in Chinese private business compared to State-owned organisations

4 senior members from CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo […]

4 senior members from CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo Chinese Communications and Davica HR gathered at a recent China Unbound event to discuss how we can build more successful cross-cultural teams and collaborations. Here are highlights of the event!

Q: Is there a difference between privately owned organisation’s in China and State Owned Organisations in terms of the way people behave?

“Yes I feel UK SMEs generally behave more like privately owned organisations in China and UK large corporates are similar to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in China.” Yintong Bester, MD of Active Anglo Chinese Comumnications says.

“Having said that, it is important to try to empathise and understand each company’s background that you are working with, and work out what defines success for them.” Edward Pearce, Director of CRCC Asia adds.

Particularly with SOEs, they might have some targets that are not necessarily related to making more money. It may be about keeping people employed or sorting out some other potential future problems.”

“On the other hand, for many small Chinese companies that I met that could potentially list on AIM, it’s the listing process, the successful listing, that is their success. That means either they got a big pay out or they got fleet of cars, or they got their new factory etc. It is not necessarily successfully running this business for 10 years.”

Bester further observes, “It’s not consistent, some companies you find they take a very structured approach, develop their business step by step, and very focused. Then with other companies, they come up with an idea and off they go! Chinese companies I have dealt with can be so different, they are less consistent than the companies in the UK in my experience. I feel it’s a transitional stage in China now.

To see how we can help you build your China business: Survival BUSINESS phrases – Mandarin taster on 25th September 2018 at 19.00.

Read More