Understanding Chinese Culture

Everything started out perfect. I was not doing business in China. I was just traveling in Taiwan. I was pleasantly surprised at how well I was treated. Everyone was very helpful. Some gave me rides. Others bought me lunch. Yet others helped me find an apartment. I soon found work and lots of new friends. People were far more polite than those I’d left behind in Colorado. Any China vet will tell you that the people I am talking about were all trying to build a relationship/develop Guanxi with me.

But then things changed. I noticed that while some people were incredibly nice, it almost seemed like I did not exist to others. I was bumped into with no comment, nearly run off the road on my scooter and had people cut directly in front of me in line. It left me feeling baffled.

In Chinese culture, Rules are Made to be Broken. The article to the left has been a little popular in social media. It describes how an elderly gentleman died because it took an ambulance 40 minutes to drive three kilometers. I have read several explanations. Someone said that it is the same everywhere. Someone else attributed the problem to the lack of rule of law (really the lack of enforcement) in China. I don’t really think it is the same everywhere. It is hard to argue that people in Beijing are just as polite as those in a cozy little town in the US. (Of course in certain circumstances, they simply are not.) The truth is that how someone is polite and how much people value being polite differs throughout the world.

So what does this have to do with doing business in China? Everything. If you want to be successful at doing business in China, you have to build relationships. If you want to do that, you need to understand the people. One key piece of understanding China is how they treat people they know (in group) and how they treat people they don’t know (out group.) If you are in the “in group,” you are to be trusted and you can place a little more trust in those around you. Just be sure that you have genuine positive relationships with your potential business partners and that any deals make good business sense for both sides both short and long term. If you are in the out group, you just are not important. Beware of working towards business deals in this situation. You are asking to be taken advantage of.

As a foreigner, doing business in China, you are in both groups. You are a guest so you are to be treated as if you were in the “in group,” but you are also a potential business partner to be evaluated to see if you are a good person to do business with. That places you distinctly in the out group. How you are treated here depends in large part on who needs the business deal more. It’s also worth noting that even though you are just having tea or drinking bai jiu, you are already negotiating that business deal.

Judging Character in China

Success at business in China depends in part on your ability to judge your business partner’s character. This is far easier said than done. Chinese are generally more conservative and reveal less through facial expressions. They are watching you and judging your character starting the second you meet.

Negotiation starts with understanding the character of the person you are doing business with. Landing a deal may (or may not) be easy. Business in China (and everywhere) can be very complex. As many companies find out, making deals work in China requires making accurate decisions about the right person/company to do business with.

How Chinese Business People Judge Character

Bai Jiu

Everyone who goes to China on business is aware of the rule about drinking Bai Jiu, a rice wine that is very powerful. The rule is drink or don’t make deals. 10 years ago that rule was very true. Recently, a friend told me that they avoid it by saying that it is against their religion (which is true in his case.)  What you need to remember is that this ritual is about building trust by getting people to show their true character. So if you decide to drink, you need to consider how you will manage the questions that will come up. If you decide not to drink, then you need to consider alternative ways to build trust.

Please don’t forget that you can use this opportunity to evaluate the character of the person across the table.  If you drink, do they push you too far or are they understanding of your situation? How does your potential business partner react when you don’t drink? Either of these provides insight into how the person will be in a business deal. If they are rigid around Chinese business etiquette, then they will be rigid about doing business the Chinese way. You have to decide if that is a good fit for you.

How You React to Problems

If you are going to do business in China, you have to develop relationships. Chinese people tend to be a little more patient about developing relationships. They want to get to know you and see if you are the right business partner. They will consider potential business deals after getting to know you. This can be disconcerting as an American because we typically make a deal and then get to know people after signing the contract.

As a part of this, they will be watching to see how you manage problems or struggles. Do you lose your temper? Could you cause them to lose face? Can you communicate problems without being rude or too direct?

Thanks to Everyone Who Attended our Chinese New Year Celebration

Chinese New Year Dinner in Denver

In this photo: Ted, Mike Black, Steve Barru, Bruce, Thom, Nicole and Chang Ching Yen

The dinner was a huge success with over 35 people attending. Ching Yen and I had a fantastic time and we hope you did too. We’re still waiting for a few pictures. We hope you enjoyed yourself as much as we did. It was fantastic to see everyone again.

鴻圖大展 – Hóng Tú Dà Zhǎn

The theme of our meal was 鴻圖大展, which means to carry out great undertakings. We chose this theme because growing a small business in this business climate is a great undertaking and we know that we could not have done it without a lot of support from everyone we work with. We feel so lucky to have your support. We are so excited that the dinner was such a success.  Please see some specific thank you notes below!

The menu was wonderful. The lamb was so tender, but the fish was fantastic! (and my personal favorite.) As I walked around the room each table was talking, laughing and joking. I hope that everyone had as much fun as it sounded like. Tell us about your favorite part of the dinner in the comments! 

The Program

Chang Ching Yen and Mike Black during Chinese New Year Party

Chang Ching Yen and Mike Black during Chinese New Year Party

As a part of the program, I talked about my wife, Chang Ching Yen, (some of you know her as Sharon.) I told some of that story in a blog post earlier this week. One thing that we’re working on is a free class for adoptive parents. We hope to make it easier for parents going to China to pick up their child. We’d love to give them the tools to connect with their child and help their child transition to living here in the United States.

Celebrate Dragon Boat Festival with Us

We will be hosting a dinner to celebrate Dragon Boat Festival in the evening on June 8th. Please save the date!

We really want to thank: 

Bruce Van Slick: Bruce was one of our earliest students. He attends and brings character and fun to almost every event that we hold. He’s off to China for a month later this year. We hope to see pictures.

Thom Strimbu: Thom helped us do our first video for the language center. He’s been a supporter and helped us. Thom is an amazing videographer and good friend. Follow him here on Twitter.

Laura Jensen: Laura always brings fun and happiness to class. She’s helps us stay steady and keep moving forward when things get tough.

Becky Park DeStigter: Becky does international marketing. She is a strategic partner and has excellent ideas around how we can work together to help people succeed in China.

Chinese New Year Celebration

Katie, Laura, Barney, Patricia, Christopher and Bionca

Matt Narez: Matt comes to class prepared and makes teaching fun. He is inquisitive and sticks to it. He’s also volunteered to help us put together some study groups through our Facebook Page here.

Zack Tillotson, Yegor Piatnitski and Mark Moore: These three are all wonderful clients and they volunteered to help us put a video together early this year.

Chang Ching Yen: I want to thank Sharon for being such a wonderful business partner and wife. Owning a business is difficult for many marriages but because of her character and strength it has helped ours!

What was  your favorite part of the dinner?

How to say I love you in Chinese

Happy Valentines Day! 

Just a very fast post about Valentines Day in China. My wife likes to joke that Chinese get to celebrate Valentine’s Day twice. Historically, China has not celebrate Valentine’s Day the same way that we do in the West. The closest day is Qixi Festival which translates to night of the sevens. It is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th month on the lunar calendar. In recent years, this has changed and couples have started celebrating Qixi festival with flowers and dinner.

Chinese people are typically more conservative and don’t express love as openly especially in public.

To say I love you to your partner:

Wǒ ài nǐ

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Announcing Hong Tu – China Business Services

If you missed our dinner to celebrate Chinese New Year, you probably don’t know our new name, new services and our way of giving back to the community. You also missed out on some great stories (some embarrassing) about our lead instructor Ching Yen. Look for an article with more details soon. I promise to embarrass her as much as possible!

Our Story

Our story started in 1999, when I moved to Taiwan. I took a Chinese language class and Ching Yen was the instructor. Those of you who have taken classes or tried an introductory class already know one of the reasons I married her. She’s an amazing teacher. I didn’t really marry her because she’s a fantastic teacher, but she did earn my respect in the classroom. She never let me get away with not doing my best in each class. She inspired me to study for an hour or more every day. It didn’t hurt that she was and is really pretty. So naturally, when I saw her on the street a few weeks after our class ended, I asked her out for coffee. We were married a few years later in 2003 and had our daughter two years after that. My family needed help and in 2007 we moved back to the United States. At that point Sharon stopped teaching Chinese.

We met a parent who had adopted a child from China in a Target. That parent wanted lessons. We started out in libraries. Lance introduced a friend and then a few other students came along. We began to think that maybe we were onto something. We met in libraries and tea shops for quite some time. 2010 was a good year. We became the Colorado Chinese Language Center and rented our first office space. It seemed so big and our biggest class had 3 people. The rent was a good portion of our budget. Yet more students came. Soon the office was busy and we were growing. In January of 2012, we started subletting space in Denver. That August, we rented an office full time in Denver. This year we are changing our name.

We love the name Colorado Chinese Language Center. I’m a native of Colorado and the Chinese language is very dear to us. The name just doesn’t reflect where the company is taking us or where we’re taking the company. It hit me that we need to change our name when we started a new service: helping people find the right Chinese name. I realized that it felt odd to sell that service as a language center. I knew then that it had to change so we started the process of selecting a name. We finally decided that we wanted something that reflected our love for the Chinese language and our passion to help our students succeed.

Announcing Hong Tu – China Business Services

We’ve realized that we don’t just want to teach you Chinese. We want to help you communicate, connect and succeed in China. This certainly includes teaching you how to speak basic Chinese, but starting now we’re also going to teach you how to use that language to connect and build relationships with Chinese people. In addition, we’ve created a basic course on doing business in China: “What you need to Know Before You Go.” We will even help you find a Chinese name that is both influential and reflects your character.

Free Class for Adoptive Parents

We started with a parent who had adopted children from China. We’d like to recognize that and thank the adoptive parent community by offering a free online course to adoptive parents.   The class will be a series of four one hour webinars that cover basic Chinese pronunciation, important phrases and some cultural considerations for anyone traveling to China to adopt a child. Even better, we’re going to record the video, break it down into 15 minute segments and put it on YouTube for future adoptive parents. We want your help to fill this class. We will update you as things develop!