T, 38, Shanghai 上海 – On China’s urban density

By Olivia Halsall (郝文婕), 66hands.com “If you can find something significant […]

By Olivia Halsall (郝文婕), 66hands.com

“If you can find something significant to write about then sure, you can do a story about me!” T chuckles to herself, fiddling with her fork over a plate of smoked salmon salad. It’s the eve before her 39th birthday and we’re having dinner in JingAn – one of the most upmarket districts in Shanghai (and thereby China).

For most, Shanghai is an enticing pitstop; spend all night in the booming clubs drinking fake champagne, meet incredible strangers from all pockets of the globe, and enjoy the fleeting convenience of a fast-paced, digitized and futuristic lifestyle.

Although I do feel incredibly lucky to experience life in this city at 23 writing about what I love, babbling in Chinese and  experiencing a new side of China, I’ve found that on building a life in megacities, now and again it’s all too easy to succumb to feelings of utter frustration, loneliness and worst of all – insignificance.

T and I became friends before I’d arrived in Shanghai – the Chinese agent responsible for settling me into my previous job, she has given me nothing but support, encouragement and friendship. A friendship that has bloomed over copious amounts of coffee and a shared love of filthy WeChat emojis.

T grew up in Beijing where she met her husband of 11 years. The couple is characteristic of China’s growing number of DINK丁克家庭 (Double Income, No Kids) households, which are on the rise. Research sampling data from the 1982–2010 censuses published in the Journal of Chinese Sociology, found that from 1982 to 2010, only-couple-households (1-generation nuclear) increased from 4.69% to 18.49%.

我觉得不要孩子会越来越多,一是因为结婚率在下降,二是因为,养孩子很贵,三是有点父母很难怀上孩子。像我们这样的丁克家庭也越来越多,原因各有不同,不过我们是因为不喜欢孩子。I think there will be more and more unwanted children: the marriage rate is falling, raising children is expensive, and it is difficult for some parents to conceive. More and more DINK families like us have different reasons. My husband and I don’t like children, so (we) haven’t had any.

Aside from personal reasons, the practicality of raising a child (and even oneself) in China’s megacities can be financially, physically and emotionally overwhelming. A megacity is one in which the population exceeds 10 million – Shanghai is merely one of the world’s 37 megacities.

To put the sheer size of Shanghai’s population into context, the latest official data released in 2015 estimated the population of Shanghai to be just over 24 million – almost the same as that of Australia. By 2035, and with an estimated growth rate of 0.88%, the population of Shanghai is predicted to reach just over 34 million – this is roughly the population of Saudi Arabia. You can squeeze 332 cities the size of Shanghai into the land mass of Saudi Arabia.

Created by yours truly on Paint using screenshots from Googly – imagine the entire population of Australia crammed into this little red bubble (the size of Shanghai).

China’s megacities are facing rapid urbanization and modernization, floods of rural-urban migration, severe income and educational inequality, over crowdedness and, like many other global megacities, a slump in the mental health of its residents.

在大城市,我个人觉得每个人都有自己的压力,苦恼,精神上或多或少都是亚健康的。而且,在大城市交朋友是非常不容易,大家都过着快节奏的生活,因为利益而建立的朋友关系很表面。孤独是必然的,而且这个趋势也许会越来越严重。In big cities, I personally feel that everyone has their own stress, anguish, and more or less a lack in spirit. In addition, its not easy to make friends. We all live a fast-paced life, and friendships established for the sake of profit is superficial. Loneliness is inevitable, and the trend may be getting worse.

Mental health and neutral social stress processing are negatively affected in megacities, where anxiety and mood disorders are found to be more prevalent among those living in urban areas. Due to rapid social change, China is said to be undergoing a “mental health crisis” – notably among rural-urban migrants who often face prejudice by city dwellers, housing affordability difficulties as well as poor working conditions.

Some recent attacks at schools by mentally unstable individuals, one of which occurred in June 2018 at Shanghai World Foreign Language Primary School by a 29-year-old, unemployed man who allegedly started “randomly stabling people with a knife” – ultimately murdering two students, are pinpointed by netizens as a negative repercussion of megacity pressures.

A grant recently given to King’s College London and Fudan University will fund the first ever research project on “Mental Health, Migration and the Megacity”, looking at the relationship between rural-urban migration and mental health in Shanghai, combining social, biological and geographical scientific analysis and tools.

More research of this nature is fundamental if we want to secure the future of megacities that support and sustain the earth’s increasing population – the UN predicts that by 2030, one in every three people around the world will live in a city of at least half a million people. The ability to produce low-stress environments is in fact, therefore, a fundamental public good – (a service or commodity that is provided without profit to each member of society).

A futuristic portrait of what Shanghai may look like in 100 years

Looking to the future, and whilst T and I didn’t discuss environmental, governmental nor economic implications of China’s megacities overpopulating to excess, these factors are of equal importance to the social consequences I see on a day-to-day basis living here in Shanghai.

肯定会比现在更繁华,只是不会像过去50年发展的这么快,变化这么大了。(Shanghai) is bound to be more prosperous than it is now, but its not going to change as much as it has in the last 50 years.

China’s projected population growth is expected to reach 1.5 billion by 2025. Bodies such as the SFPC (Population and Information Research Center) among others have been established specifically to gather data, advising the government on how best to implement effective policies on urbanization. Time will tell whether these bodies are truly enough to cooperate fast enough in sustaining the expansion of these megacities.

On being significant, which I’ve left until last (and cut, re-added and cut many times as I wasn’t sure about writing something so personal in a project that I intended to be solely China-focused), seeing hundreds of black heads file down into the underground every morning, standing in a queue 20 people deep just to get a plate of noodles, and educating children to study abroad because their parents would rather pay through the nose than face the competition in China – I do wonder how anyone living in a Chinese megacity can feel remotely significant.

做自己,追求自己的目标,过有意义的生活,不需要刻意追求与众不同。Be yourself, pursue your own goals, live a meaningful life, and dont need to go out of your way to make a difference.

Everyone has their own personal strategy, thought processes and habits to handle the convulsion of emotions that seem to be an integral part of city life. If you ever feel insignificant – watch this wisdom on “The Butterfly Effect”. Because even though you may feel like one little person in a sea of millions and millions of people – it’s important to keep your head above the water, gradually dissolve that cloud of self-doubt, and swim on through. We may feel  insignificant, but everyone is in fact, significant.


**This 66hands story is dedicated to the Chinese man that sneezed into my face during the Shanghai morning rush hour. Thank you for blasting your nose juice on me – I stared at you in disbelief and you laughed unashamedly. Trapped in a mental rage, I pushed my way out at the next stop, wiped my face and wrote this.

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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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.

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An Insider’s view on Engaging Chinese consumers

How do we successfully engage Chinese consumers? I spoke to [...]

How do we successfully engage Chinese consumers? I spoke to a good friend and China veteran Ben McMillan for some tips. Ben spent 10 years in China, photographing China’s explosive growth story and set up his own media production company, Beijing Photospace. BPS went on to become one of the leading production houses in China, supporting clients such as American Vogue, Sony Pictures and Mercedes.

1) Tell us about your fascinating business, journalist and photography background! How do they help you understand how to engage with Chinese consumers?

Well those are different disciplines and experiences, and they’ve given me a very rounded exposure to China. On photography first, a picture speaks a thousand words and to take one for a Chinese advertiser, or commercial client, by definition requires successfully meeting their expectations. But the thing with photography is you don’t get things like a scale drawing, or a precise model for the product you deliver. Instead you have to connect with your client’s vision and understanding of their whole brand and customer base. So it’s a super direct exposure to the world and aesthetic view of the culture from which your client is from. And in my case that helped me learn a great deal about China.

Journalism also had great relevance to photography and business in China because so much of the standard support you get in London – access to locations like a roof top, processes in place to get permits to shoot – just don’t exist there. So you have to draw on other skills. Finding out processes and passing tests and making connections. As for setting up a business in China, again it teaches you an awful lot about a culture and community. And that’s what consumers are! Many expats live in China but most inhabit exclusive, gated compound homes and their office and a bunch of plane and hotel interiors. That’s really different from drawing the story of a culture out of people, from all levels of society, and in all kinds of locations. In their comfort zone not yours … eye to eye.

2) You said it’s important to understand how the UK is perceived in order to engage Chinese consumers successfully, why is that?

National identity really matters in marketing into any community. Think of the Marlboro Man back in the eighties and nineties. The rugged cowboy who smoked Marlboro cigarettes. In one image the product was entirely wrapped up in a range of positive brand messages about the USA that people could immediately understand. Space, bravery, freedom, manliness … conquering the American West and so on. It was aspirational and worked because the audience in the west had grown up watching cowboy movies. So we could connect all those dots ourselves, in a heartbeat.

So with UK, the question is … what dots do Chinese consumers connect about the UK in a heartbeat?

Is there an entry point of cultural understanding you can link your product to that will resonate? And if there isn’t, or if there’s a less desirable association about the culture from which you come, how can you rebalance that? How can you reinvent?

I’ll address this further in the talk but I appreciate a response to that might be, ‘why try to link a product to a national identity at all’? A washing machine is a washing machine, and paint is a paint. Why should it matter to the consumer where products come from? But in many ways I don’t think that’s the case with China.

In China, every interaction with everyone and everything is defined by national identity.

Every taxi driver wants to know where you’re from, and they process that information against how you act, appear and past cases they’ve known. And if they can, every market seller will try and sell a product on the back of where it’s made. And usually … not China!

And up to a macro level, China as a state commissions foreign expertise in every major industrial field in order to learn from them, and nations have been partnered, or not, due to very specific historic frameworks and modes of perception. In the case of the UK, the Chinese business world associates us with good management, law, finance, education and personal investment, especially property.

But Chinese consumers have a hard time putting their finger on what the UK is good at.

They like the premiership football league, for example, but know it’s full of foreign players. Whereas by comparison, Germany is clearly identified with strong leadership and good manufacturing, especially cars. And their football team knows how to win! So it adds up. Equally with the USA … movies communicate so much about technology and a fast-paced, can-do society…buildings are shiny and modern. Whereas Britain, with the royal parades, neo-gothic houses of parliament and movies about butlers and Duchesses … we make the UK look so conservative, while in reality, with pop music, fashion, art, F1, defence, computer gaming … the UK is anything but!

We have so much to offer so it’s worth understanding those domestic perceptions before you spend money trying to tackle them, or in other cases, leverage them.

3) What are the 3 common perceptions, or misconceptions about the China market as you see it from your own experience?

China is much larger than the whole EU and just as diverse, so the first common perception, or misconception, is that China is one market. On the surface it is, in regulatory terms … but even that’s a stretch.

The reality of China is that the provinces are far more autonomous and independent than outsiders appreciate.

The big show meetings of the ruling party in Beijing are a by-product of that. It’s not just a post-Soviet presentational paradigm … but part of a constant effort by the centre to remind the wider country that they’re still there, and ultimately in charge. But in reality deals are done on such a scale across China, Beijing can’t possibly know what’s going on everywhere. Outsiders think China is run with a rod of iron from an all-knowing Beijing centre and it’s just not the case.

So if you want to partner with a company in Guangzhou, it’s the culture and regulations of Guangzhou you need to know about. Not just those of the central Government in Beijing.

And that follows through to the second and the third perception. That China’s economic success in the past 20-30 years is down to inspired central Government leadership when in my view, it was actually more the centre lifting restrictions and just getting out of the way. Which is where a lot of issues come from now. Today the centre is trying to manage a slowing down when it had nothing much to do with the growth that occurred in the first place, and doesn’t understand how it works as a consequence. Not to the extent that we would imagine a Bank of England of US Treasury department would. It was organic in many ways, once the ‘reform and opening up’ program was begun under Deng Xiaoping in the late seventies.

And finally modernisation.

It’s so easy to see sky scrapers and modern buildings in China as proof of a modernised society, in depth.

But that masks the fact that Chinese society is massively diverse in terms of internationalisation and awareness of global business practices. In China, you encounter people from all corners of a far wider economic, educational and cultural landscape than any Western nation.

So the mental world view of a person you are dealing from one meeting to the next can be very different. The fact you may be doing several such meetings in one day in an awe-inspiring 70 story tower has absolutely nothing to do with it. Many other important issues I’d like to talk about at the event on the 21st trickle down from these factors.

4) You lived in China for 10 years without speaking fluent Chinese, how easy is it to get by without speak Chinese?

I don’t speak fluent Mandarin, but of course I do have basic language skills that were essential. But while I was able to get around town and order food, pay bills and so on, yes I wasn’t able to have lengthy discussions. I was also travelling around China by myself, on jobs, like shooting Chongqing for a major feature for The Guardian in around 2006.

And really, looking back, the answer is confidence. Confidence, patience and anticipating where a communication problem might happen and proactively managing that, in advance. For example, printing your hotel address before you travel, so the taxi driver has that. Then from the car you can phone ahead and ask the hotel staff to tell the driver where you are going, to make sure. It’s a lot about logistics on a street level basis, and in terms of meetings and serious conversation, all my clients had English speaking staff.

Speaking Mandarin plays a much more important role in showing respect and commitment, and helps a great deal in relating to people and understanding their culture.

But you will find your clients don’t need to have long, complex conversations in Mandarin to establish that. Showing willingness to absorb Chinese culture at first is most important.

I never spoke perfect Mandarin, but I always did when meeting people for the first time. And I used key words and phrases, selectively, at the right moment to confirm I understood an agreement or a plan from both sides.

An appropriate use of a Mandarin phrase says so much more about what you know about China, than any amount of contractual commitments in written documents.

It shows you’ve taken time. You’ve understood and listened and had the respect to give that time and attention. If you’ve not taken that time, how trustworthy can you be, long-term? And always, always, end by saying thank you in Mandarin.

5) What is the one advice you most want to share with businesses looking to reach Chinese consumers?

Spend time in China. If you’re a decision maker, do a trip and make free time. Even a day if that’s all you can manage. Watch TV. Wander some shopping malls by yourself. Get a meal by yourself. The menu’s all have pictures! Look at advertising on the street. You don’t have to understand Mandarin to see a car ad is a car ad. Or a phone ad is a phone ad. Get a local SIM card and you’ll probably get adverts by SMS and some cold calls. Listen to the tone of delivery, the style of the voice. Is it male or female? Why?

Learn what you’re trying to participate in and break into.

As the oldest continuous history on earth, with the size of its territory, borders, population and history for isolationism … China is a different market from anywhere else.

There are lots of nuances about selling into China … how your product is perceived, if it’s perhaps associated with a country or part of the world.

At least 33.3% of the game is just getting personal affinity not just with reports and focus studies and whatever, but some practical experience.

You need to have some grasp, some reference point, for what you’re being told by staff or clients and partners. And you won’t get that simply by attending meetings and dinners.

You need to let China connect with yourself.

It will make a difference. The point is people in China do not differentiate business practice from the rest of life or their world view. When you get your head around that, it’s unusual, and it’s a big deal.

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What are the differences between UK and Chinese’s approach to leadership?

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 compare UK and Chinese’s approach to leadership and more importantly, how we can build more successful cross-cultural teams and fruitful collaborations. Here are highlights of the event if you missed it (part 1 of 4)!

1) What are the similarities between UK and Chinese’s approach to leadership? 

“SMEs in the UK and SMEs in China have a lot in common. They are goal driven and the leadership generally comes from the boss – a top down management structure. Developing loyalty with your staff is also important as it’s a smaller team.” Says Yintong Betser, MD, Active Anglo Chinese Communications. On the other hand, Betser points out that big corporates in the UK have a lot in common with State Owned Enterprises in China. People are more inclined to look after their own positions, relationship with people is more important and you need to play along with politics in the office more.

Edward Pearce, Director of CRCC Asia says, “For me, the similarity is the concept of it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Claire Martin, Director of Davica HR adds, “I find both Chinese and UK companies are quite law-compliant, compared with the American and Russians and other nationalities who tend to push it a bit more.”

Trevor Cessford, Financial Controller of Bank of China International adds, “A common thread across them all I think is employees across the world would like clear guidance from their leaders and also be treated with respect.”

Pearce further comments on that he feels Chinese is just as innovative as the British, but it’s very important to work on them to bring the level of innovation out, and once they come out, you can’t stop them up anymore!

2) How about the differences in Chinese and UK’s approach to leadership?

“One main difference is the attitude to personal time versus work time. The attitude to getting together in groups. I still find it tough.” Pearce explains.

“I’ve seen Chinese colleagues who would love to arrange a whole day of activity for Saturday, that may be badminton or something fun. A lovely team activity but, for our British colleagues, it’s a bit too structured, it might impose on their weekend, that kind of vibe.”

“People are not afraid to get on the phone and contact you during your evening or weekend for something which you consider really is a work matter. Whereas in the UK, even for a small, medium sized business, I feel those things are quite respected. In China, if you didn’t want to be disturbed, you should turn your phone off.”

Cessford adds “I found the Western style of leadership is much more open to suggestion and change, whereas the Chinese style of leadership is much more top down. So they don’t necessarily like the questions as much as the Western style. It’s much more efficient and decisions and things get done more quickly, though changes are more difficult especially if they carry some risk of failure!

3) This is really important – how do we work more effectively with Chinese companies as a result?

Martin says it’s to realise that often the decision isn’t actually made here in the UK. The Chinese companies are massive in China, but they are a smaller operation here, and they don’t necessarily have the autonomy. So helping the managers here to send the right messages back so the right answer comes back is important.

Another tip shared by the audience is that often there is a lack of tender documents coming from China. So it’s important to keep going back to the client, usually via WeChat (as more responsive) in the process of building a tender.

You must also make sure that you are talking to the right person. As often there are junior line managers involved in the process – build relationships with them to get things done, but make sure you are talking to the senior managers if you need decisions made!

To learn more about doing business with China, see our upcoming course: Survival BUSINESS phrases – Mandarin taster on 25th September 2018 at 19.00.

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How to motivate Chinese employees?

CRCC Asia, Bank of China, Active Anglo Chinese Communications and Davica HR gathered [...]

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

 1. When managing a team with Chinese employees, how do we motivate them?

Understanding Chinese business etiquette and ethics is key to successfully managing and motivating Chinese employees. Face is an important social concept in China. “So things like make people feel proud to work for a company so they are respected by their friends and families are important.” Yintong Betser, MD, Active Anglo Chinese Communications explains.

“Also when someone does something wrong, you don’t tell them at the staff meeting, you have a quiet word with them. 

Also try develop a sense of loyalty with your employees, as the Chinese value the personal relationship a lot.”

Claire Martin, Director of Davica HR adds “Very importantly, when you interview a Chinese person, very often the first thing is they say is I love to learn. So provide plenty of learning opportunities is useful.”

2. What motivates UK employees?

Pearce says, “For all of our workforce, whether it is UK or Chinese, we encourage them to make themselves as indispensable as possible for the organisation. Once they get that, they tend not to want to move on so quickly, and not just look for a pay rise.”

“Also try to understand what each individual is looking for – is it learning opportunities? Is it being able to move around? Is it actually that we can sponsor their visa to visit our Venice office once a year?”

Understanding what make each individual happy is the key.

3. We often get asked this, when is a yes really a yes by the Chinese – what are the signs?

Edward Pearce, Director of CRCC Asia says, “If they are really willing to commit what the next step is in a very firm way. Like setting the next dates for meetings or setting dates for contract that are coming to an end. They can still play along of course, but when the date comes and they haven’t been actioned, then you get on your plane, you don’t change your plan.”

A fallacy that a lot of UK companies have is they assume it’s a yes when it’s conducted in a formal business setting

but actually, a yes delivered in the restroom or KTV is more likely to be a yes. The contract signed often has less weight!

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

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