The Chinese perspective

People especially in western countries enjoy many political and religious freedoms. Human rights have always been an important topic. All persons are equal before the law. Nobody can be discriminated against. Nobody may be arrested or punished without a legitimate court procedure. The media are allowed to report on every topic without censorship.

As a result these people say directly and unmistakably what they think. They can express their opinion forcefully without having to fear reprisals. It is usual to utter criticism of the government or other institutions if it is believed that something bad has been done. A staff member can freely present arguments to a superior and try to convince him.

Chinese concepts

The Chinese come from a cultural area in which harmony, tolerance, and hierarchy form the essential cultural values. From the Chinese point of view the yin-yang principle constitutes the foundation of equilibrium in the Universe and the basis of many Chinese philosophies. The forces of yin and yang, opposed to each other and yet related to each other, are inseparably linked to each other. They influence and complete each other reciprocally.

Besides that, the core teaching of Daoism lays down that man should not interfere with natural processes and should let things take their course. This results in Chinese values such as submission to fate and contentment.

Confucian hierarchical thinking

In Confucianism the all-embracing hierarchical thinking is an essential element. According to the Chinese concept humans can in their core never be equal. There is always a hidden hierarchy based on education, origins, social status and reciprocal relationships. People higher in the hierarchy or elder persons must be given high respect. Their decisions are accepted without opposition. Chinese enterprises are structured strictly hierarchical according to Confucianism. Titles and seniority are of great importance. Everybody is in some way or another higher or lower placed than everybody else.

Culture of collectivism

On top of that, Chinese have grown up in a culture of collectivism, in which group thinking was promoted not only by Confucian education but also by the communist system. Non-conforming conduct was punished.

Loyalty based on personal relationships

So Chinese are not used to working responsibly on their own; because the superior is always responsible for decisions – in the eyes of the staff this is what he is paid for after all – staff members therefore feel less responsibility towards the group, but primarily to the boss. Thanks to this loyalty based on personal relationships Chinese staff members will carry out the instructions of a hierarchically higher person without objection or questions in unclear circumstances.

In Chinese business circles, heavily orientated to Confucianism, there are two basic styles of management, the authoritarian and the paternalistic style. You will meet both of them in various regions and forms of enterprise, each with its individual character. However, in modern concentrated centers a tendency towards a cooperative style of management can already be felt.

Loss of face

Losing face means that a person loses prestige and honor in the eyes of others or in public in the short term. The general striving for harmony results in indirect communication and an enormous need to always save face in public and to treat others with tolerance. According to Chinese understanding a ›noble‹ person always has a big heart that can tolerate a lot.

With a certain tolerance you often reach your goal more quickly in China than with matter-of- fact behavior. Criticism, even when it is justified, is packed in friendly words so as not to wound the other person unnecessarily.

Using Chinese rhetoric you can clearly indicate what you really think, but it is mostly formulated indirectly. The following proverb applies: “If you take away the bark of a tree, it dies. The bark of a person is his face.”

Networks of relationships (guanxi)

Traditionally the Chinese live and work to increase the wealth and the honor of their family. In that, relationships with other people play an important role. As a foreign manager you should be aware that every Chinese strives throughout his life to set up a high number of resilient relationships with other people and enterprises which can be used in the course of life in both the area of work and in the private sphere when necessary.

The Chinese regard their relationships as social capital. In any case it is important to return every favor at some time. You should try to understand the principle of guanxi, particularly in light of the fact that a Chinese recommendation does not necessarily apply to the person recommended or his product. It shows only that there is a relationship, in which by the way family members occupy the first place.

Contact with westerners

How the Chinese population has been able to keep up with the enormous economic and social changes of the last thirty years is impressive. The traditional and the modern values and behavior seem for the moment to have united seamlessly. The Chinese have developed the ability to accept and merge opposing characteristics. They are enormously adaptable.

An example: when two Chinese people communicate with each other, typical Chinese rules of conduct govern the course of the conversation. As described above, they always pay careful attention to how they express themselves to avoid loss of face for the other person. Annoyance or rage, despite the surge of feelings, are suppressed and kept behind euphonious words.

But when Chinese come in contact with people from western countries they sometimes outdo them in directness. Many Chinese have had to suffer harsh experiences with westerns. They have felt communication to be very direct and from their point of view aggressive – they have quickly adapted to that reputedly coarse mentality without being aware of the nuances of a western style of communication. Those Chinese can therefore seem particularly harsh and very direct in association with western business partners.

Gerd Schneider
Jufang Comberg

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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