E-mail Letters from Friends trying to teach me about China and how too get along.


Trying to figure out how to live in China for the individual!


Living in China: the conditions we face series/ learning how to communicate and live in China/ in Three Parts


Dear Greg:


I think the biggest problem we face is the communication problem and the different habits of my way of communicating. The language barrier and the laws we face here that we do not know anything about until we experience them.  The exploitation of the private businessperson who takes advantage of disadvantaged workers to make large profits from the peasants and others they can exploit. I have learned they do this with a smile.  I have been exploited and not told the real truth, or this is their clever way of doing business dealings I heard, over four times by professionals.  My Chinese friend kept telling me, “They smile at you and then stick a knife in your back.”  There are always people in all countries that make poor and dishonest business dealings.  Please be advised this is not an attack on China, but a way of avoiding problems.  I am trying to learn how to better deal with this situation. . When I saw the Chinese peasant talking on TV about how his team of workers did not get paid for a year’s work I really understood this to be a national problem not just a problem for me.


For me personally the laws are making my life here very difficult if not impossible. I come from a culture that allows all kinds and any kind of criticism.  Here in China criticism is not allowed, but the Chinese are allowed to criticise us.  I was told that the way of questioning is a habit from the revolutionary period in China. I call this one-sided communication.  However, I do not think they would admit that. How can we communicate so we can get things done?  I was told by a friend it is not important to get things done in China it is only important to have harmony.  I must admit I am lost in my own conversation!


Of course, this does not apply to HK as I see it.  My communication skills there are wonderful and this has been a divine light in the darkness.


Dear Greg:


Your newsletter is informative, short and snappy. I enjoyed reading it.
My personal opinion is that you should not let your cynicism show through so much. Most of my Chinese friends say they feel very sad and a hatred for foreigners develops when the foreigner makes fun of them: Chinese people or culture. They realize they or the culture may be bad and wrong, but they do not think you (living in
China) have the right to be critical of them. They are raised in a society where criticism of the culture or government is taken very seriously. When they go overseas to visit or live most Chinese would never criticize the country they are visiting. To them it is very bad manners. You may say they are wrong and in fact, you may be totally right, but it does not get you the results you seek. I do not think a person who criticizes them can live a harmonious, happy, financially secure life in China.

My boss has told me I am talking more and more about the differences between NA and Chinese business culture and less about the similarities. If I am to survive here in the end I have to start looking more at the positive aspects and keep my cynicism to myself, and I mean that even at home. I do not want to complain to my wife too much, because she is so proud of being Chinese even if she does condemns many aspects of their culture. When I first moved to
China, I did not locate in the expat. area of the city because I would end up around people who only talked about the horrible things that had happened to them in China. Soon I would be unable to see the positive aspects of life here. I do realize there are many, many bad things happening around me on a daily basis (according to my culture), but if I focus on them - even more come my way! I firmly believe I have to focus on the good if I am to stand a chance of living harmoniously between the Chinese. My alternatives are to leave, go live in HK, or totally immerse myself in an expat. community and job in China. Given my wife and family I choose China and focusing on the positive.

Dear Greg:

Your insights are correct at the level you are at right now (talking about development levels of perception as a function of time spent in
China and amount of experience gathered).

1. You are right stating that the locals are proud to be Chinese and do not like to be criticized. However, WHOSE problem is it after all? Theirs or ours? Simply based on objective grounds, a responsive, open, flexible, learning culture is better than a closed, inflexible one. The whole situation can be best depicted with a teacher standing in front of an ostrich, the ostrich ducking its head in a whole in the ground. I think this character of the contemporary Chinese we are dealing with on a daily basis is not a typical one. In Chinese history, there were ample examples of the opposite, when
China indeed learned from others. In my humble opinion, the current "stupidity" and lack of willingness to learn is rooted in a) the still looming heritage of the "Cultural Revolution" of the 70s, and b) the enormous burden overpopulation places on the societies (no money, no food: short-term preferred to long-term).

2. You are partly right that (foreigners) face daily problems criticizing
China and its citizens. However, I think one is indeed able to live here happily despite criticizing them daily. I am a good example: I am relentless in pointing out their stupidity everywhere, and still can get away with it; what's more, I am popular and successful. I think the key to understanding the effects of our discontent is not looking at the degree at which we disapprove illogical, stupid and bad habits/manners/mental models, rather at the attitude and communication skills to deliver these criticisms in the right way, via the right channel, to the right person, in the right circumstances. After years of stumbling myself and making "mistakes" (that is, experiencing the same resistance as you perceive now and reacting to it), my methods of delivering my criticisms in a more proactive way have been refined and now I have seldom any difficulty pointing out their shortcomings without any negative repercussions. It is a two-way process: while I retain my logical, "imperial" (Roman Empire), noble Weltanschauung and relentlessly advocate it everywhere, I myself am transformed by living here so long and communicating with them on a daily basis... I am far from "becoming Chinese", but it is true to say that in certain situations I feel I am more "one of them" than an external observer. Hence, it IS indeed possible to live a happy, harmonious life in China and yet retain one's right to advocate logical, fair, humane and noble principles (all four presently missing in the PRC).

3. I agree with your analysis about your options, and you probably may have already noticed that the expat. community's continuous ghettoing and distrustful attitude towards
China has in itself contributed greatly to the negative feelings among Chinese towards us... It makes two to tango :-)
I know this does not solve any problems and maybe even create some problems, but how can we move forward and create a better world if we do not talk about it in the open.