Category Archives: China

China and New Zealand Work Together to Promote Mandarin Study

I found this article about a an ambitious program captained by the Confucius Institute at the University of Auckland to quintuple the number of students learning Mandarin in New Zealand.

From the article:

“Last year, the institute placed eight assistants in New Zealand schools to promote the language – this year, that number will be 18.

Under the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement, up to 150 Mandarin assistants can work in New Zealand at any one time.

“We are very encouraged by a near 40 per cent increase in Kiwis learning Mandarin last year and will be doing much more to generate interest in the language this year,” said institute director Nora Yao.

“I will expect a more significant growth, and even if we do not reach our target, I am confident we will get near there.”

This year, 18 schools will be hosting the Chinese language assistants, whose jobs will be to fuel interest in Mandarin among students and train local teachers to teach the language.”

First, kudos to the governments of China and New Zealand for undertaking this effort. It won’t succeed (a huge percentage of those who start studying Mandarin drop out before they learn more than a few phrases), but it is an admirable effort.

Question for the reporter: How do you train local teachers to teach Mandarin when they don’t speak it in the first place? Or, are there already certified teachers in place who are Mandarin speakers and readers?

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Filed under China, Greater Asia, Language, The Learning Chinese Craze

Chinese Drywall and Working with Chinese Suppliers

Stories like this one are popping up all over the media. People move into a lovely new tract home, bought at a good price, and a year or two later…toxic drywall starts poisoning the occupants and affecting the structure of the building.

I’m not a legal expert, so I’m not going to offer a legal opinion. What I will say is this: Somewhere along the supply chain, someone bought drywall that wasn’t made according to code. Whether the manufacture of toxic drywall on the Chinese side was a purposeful violation of standards for building materials, an unfortunate oversight, or just plain incompetence, somebody in the US, probably several people, sourced and approved the purchase of that drywall.

My guess is that these people had absolutely no idea what they were getting into. They may have hesitated at first and then caved to the pressure to provide materials at lower costs. They may have seen $$ signs in their eyes and gone for it with glee. Who knows what the motivation was? What they probably didn’t realize is that when you source overseas, you have got to be very, very careful about your QC process. You might order one shipment that looks perfect but, six months later, turns out to be defective. You might order a shipment that arrives in perfect order, but the next shipment might be bad. You may think you have the leverage you need to prevent you from getting cheated, only to find out that your definition of leverage is very different from your Chinese partner’s definition.

There are tremendous cost advantages to sourcing overseas, and there are many fine, ethical Chinese suppliers. But in the end, you’re buying something from a country that you probably don’t understand, and from people that you don’t understand. You CANNOT take it for granted that everything will be in order. You have got to put airtight QC/QA procedures in place for every shipment. If that means you have to send a consultant, or hire one in China, to inspect the factory, the materials used, and the finished product for every single shipment, then that’s what you do.

If you don’t do that, then you get to face a bunch of angry homeowners whose lives your poor purchasing practices have destroyed.

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Filed under Business, China, Sourcing in China

Cultural Awareness and Doing Business in China

An excellent article on cultural awareness and doing business in China recently appeared in the Miami Herald.

A very insightful read for those who are doing business with or planning to do business with Chinese people.

A some point I’ll open a Chinese language and culture acclimation boot camp for American and Canadian businesspeople who are heading to China for an assignment. Do you think it would be better to hold it in greater China, or in North America? There are advantages and downsides to both.

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Filed under Business, China, Culture

More on Chinese Food Safety

I’ve already written about Chinese food safety, explaining that Chinese manufacturing as a whole is going through growing pains that have a devastating effect on its victims.

Corporate China will eventually come around and do things right, but not before killing more people and losing much of its market for food products around the world.

This article gets it right. China’s business ethics environment needs to grow up, and fast. What many of those who are so keen to do business in China don’t realize is that, in many ways and in many parts of its vast territory, China is still the wild West.

There are many, many advantages to doing business with the Chinese, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, please get competent advice from someone you trust who does know what he/she is doing in greater China.

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Filed under Business, China

Doing Business with the Chinese: Communication Breakdown

Many people ask me what it’s like to do business in greater China. One of my favorite songs from the classic rock era, “Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin, comes immediately to mind.

I speak, read, and write fluent Mandarin Chinese. I conduct the daily business of life, as I have done for the past twenty years, largely surrounded by Chinese people.

And still, I often have to probe, prod, and read between thousands of lines in order to figure out what the hell is going on. You see, in greater China, speaking directly is NOT a virtue as it is back home.

Consider a recent discussion I had with a contract manufacturer (OEM factory) in Taiwan. I was there on behalf of a client, a food manufacturer. When I called the factory, on the recommendation of a distributor, they assured me up and down that they take all sorts of OEM work from companies both domestic and overseas.

Here’s a condensed version of the conversation I had with the boss (he had an assistant at his side the whole time), translated from Mandarin into English:

Boss: (Examining my client’s product). “We can make this.”

Me: “Good. So you already have the necessary equipment in your factory?”

Boss: “We’ll need to study this a while before we can start producing it.”

Me: “Of course. So, you have the equipment and can do it then?”

Boss: (Munching on one of the samples I brought) “This doesn’t taste very good. Too hard. Try one of ours.” (Hands me a few samples of his product.)

Me: (Politely trying a few of his samples). “Yes, it tastes very good. Of course, my client will want you to recreate his product from a formula. He’ll want you to develop a product that is very similar in look, texture, and taste to the product his produces at his home factory.”

Boss: “Your product doesn’t taste very good. Consumers in Taiwan and China won’t like it.”

Me: “Thank you for your kind advice. So, are you interested in producing this product? Will you work up a quotation for me on X kg?”

Boss:“It would take a long time to get this right before we could start producing it.”

Me: “I know. I have experience with making other food products. We’ll go for as close a match as we can get. If it takes a few weeks or even a few months, that’s okay. So, are you interested in producing this product?”

Boss: “Can you just put our products into your packaging? That would be easier.”

Me: “I’m afraid not. The client wants to sell his product, not someone else’s product. Mr. X, forgive me, I’m an American and we tend to speak directly. Will you tell me if you are interested in working with my client?”

Boss: “I don’t know. Making your product wouldn’t be very convenient.”

Me: “Thank you for your time.”

This really happened. It has happened many times in my years in greater China. Do you see the vast differences in the way a Westerner might communicate and the way a Chinese person communicates? In China, a boss won’t say “no,” even if his life depends on it. He trains his people to tell all prospects that his factory can make anything and everything, on the off chance that either he can make it, or his friend/brother/old high school classmate can make it and he gets his cut of the deal. He won’t answer questions directly unless pressed, and even then, he won’t like it. He also very often won’t understand that you want him to do some work for you in the way you want it done, not the way he wants it done. He’ll tell you “yes” at the beginning of the conversation and then, two hours later, you’ll learn that it’s actually a “no.” And here’s the kicker–behaving and communicating this way is not only acceptable, but proper, a virtue even. Chalk it up to cultural differences, my friends.

I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out the truth in a relatively short period of time, but I haven’t ever figured out a way to get a factory owner to speak plainly and directly. It just isn’t done here. So I continue to probe and read between the lines, and accept that this is the way it is done with 98% of the people I do business with in greater China.

Now, can you imagine dealing with a situation like this without knowing anything about Chinese culture?

The Bottom Line: You won’t get very far, operating in greater China, unless you are personally prepared to deal with communication challenges like these, or you are able to hire someone who knows local culture to deal with them for you. China and the West are a universe apart, culturally. That isn’t a gap that is easily bridged. (But it is an endless source of fascination for a few of us nutjobs!)

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Filed under Business, China, Culture, Taiwan

Culture Shock: American Managers in China

I found this well-written, concise article in the Salt Lake Tribune that highlights some of the cultural adaptation problems American managers who work in China encounter.

From the article:

The issue…is that the Chinese culture is so different from what Americans have experienced in life and in the workplace.

When people ask me if there are major cultural differences between Greater China and the United States, I usually reply with this: “They are two entirely different worlds. Humans need to eat, sleep, and work, but the similarities end there.” Managers heading for China would do well do keep a very open mind, and to avoid any major policy decisions until they get the lay of the land. They should also consider hiring a cross-cultural communications trainer with experience in Greater China to guide them through the mine fields.

This article is full of other gems that provide a brief overview of some of the major cultural differences between China and the West. I’d love to go through them but, as usual, I’m in the middle of 18 projects.

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Filed under Business, China, Culture, Culture Shock, Taiwan

Culture Shock For Chinese Tourists And Taiwanese Hosts

I’ll borrow the title of the article for this post.

Basically, mainland Chinese tourists have begun to visit Taiwan, and are expected to do so in greater numbers in the months and years to come. Predictably, there are some biases and prejudices on both sides and like most biases and prejudices, they are largely without logical foundation.

The article doesn’t go into any kind of depth on the political, cultural, and socio-economic differences between the Chinese-speaking peoples living on either side of the Taiwan Strait, but it makes for a light, fun read.

It will be fascinating to see how things play out. I’ll be watching with interest.

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Filed under China, Culture Shock, Taiwan