Arnaud Wenger: Dealing with China

“Dealing with a country far from western culture might be difficult. To avoid any blunder, it is key to understand the history and the customs of this country”, says Arnaud Wenger. Interview.

Introduction and Brief Summary of the Chinese history

From its beginnings as an ancient civilization to the present day, China (中国 Zhōngguó, the Middle Kingdom - exactly since 1949, the People’s Republic of China  (中华人民共和国 Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó))  has been an exemplary  excellence to the Asian continent in its provision of technologies and legacies, such as the first mechanical clock (机械钟 jīxièzhōng) dated 723 CE; banknotes (纸币 zhǐbì) and gunpowder (火药 huǒyào - Tang Dynasty 618–908 CE); or the Traditional Chinese Medicine (中药 zhōngyào - Zhou Dynasty 475-221 BCE). The Chinese also developed a strong commercial route between China and Europe known as the Silk Road (丝绸之路 Sīchóuzhī Lù), beginning with the Han dynasty. The legacy of this ongoing Eurasian network is the interconnection that the populations were able to develop through their cultures, languages, customs, and commercial exchange.

"Negotiation is the start of a new relationship; it is used to evaluate the credibility of the counterparty and create a trust between the parties."

Integration of the Chinese culture

Respecting the politics and the regional cultural difference will help you build an amicable relationship with Chinese people. China is rich with diverse culture and customs. As a result, each city and each region or province has its own customs and practices alongside the national habits.

Throughout the centuries China has kept some key principles. Three of them are the following: 

  • Trust, which can be granted only after you have proven yourself worthy of it, this is also called as inner circle.

  • Honor, which is a form of prestige that adheres to a person within his personal and professional circle. This principle has two results: Chinese might refrain to do something if they think they are not good enough (like speaking in English in front of a foreigner). This is also known as losing face (丢脸diū liǎn).  In turn, if you can help a Chinese person to keep his face (面子miànzi) by rescuing him/her in a socially awkward situation, he/she will be very grateful and may recognize you as a great friend; and always keeping its promises.

  • Private Network (關係 guānxi): Chinese people always prefer to deal with friends and people within their network rather than with an unknown person. As a result, work time and private time can merge to nurture this guānxi.

Beside these principles, each company also respects the following fundamentals: hierarchy, golden mean, flexibility, entrepreneurial mindset, and teamwork (the group prevails on the individual). Any misunderstandings of these aspects can critically affect the relationship.

Tips and Tricks

Negotiation: Negotiation is the start of a new relationship; it is used to evaluate the credibility of the counterparty and create a trust between the parties.

“Golden Week” (黃金週 Huángjīn Zhōu): It refers to the three main public holidays in China: Chinese New Year (春节 chūnjié, also known as the Spring Festival), the National Day of the People’s Republic of China (国庆节 guóqìng jié), and Labor Day (劳动节Láodòngjié). These holidays are important in China for meeting family and friends; therefore, during the Golden Week, everything is closed. As an example, from my own experience, the service provider for my payroll in Luxembourg didn’t take this point into consideration; as a result, my salary was not paid in time as all banks in China are closed during these holidays.

Communication: Chinese people express themselves in a moderate way in order not to embarrass their interlocutor and respect the authority. To keep the harmony of the group they will follow the order instead of challenging it. As a result, they will take less initiative, and do not express their feeling to other.

Gifts: Giving gifts in Chinese culture is a sign of showing respect and trust. You normally give a red envelope with cash in it in a wedding or a funeral (white envelope in funeral). It is common to receive a red envelope with a small amount of cash for different festivals from one’s employer but also from one’s business partners. Therefore, it is common for Chinese companies to offer gifts to all their partners (this sending cash in envelope now typically is done by sending money via Wechat wallet). When meeting clients in China, you should not be surprised that your client has bought you a gift or even pay for restaurant bill. While such gift-giving can unfortunately be seen as bribery in Europe, in China, it is only a sign of recognition.