Learning about Chinese culture

Ni hao lao ban,

In our August piece, I talked about the Chinese emphasis upon strong hierarchies and cohesiveness, group before self, orientation towards seniority and good conduct, human relationships, personal connections (guanxi), risk aversion, trust and patience. These are traditional values and concepts, which we New Zealand business people would be smart to get our heads around. NZ Trade & Enterprise carries a cultural primer on its website, which is a good start. Visit http://www.nzte.govt.nz/explore-export-markets/North-Asia/Doing-business-inChina/culture-language/Pages/culture.aspx

Just picking one example of many, the idea of “mianzi” is important. Mianzi represents a person’s image, pride, reputation and social status – summarized as Face. Mianzi implies respect for status, evidenced by graciousness and proper rank order in such outward symbols as table seatings, photo positioning, speech sequencing, ranked gifts, thanks, toasts, and golf behaviours. The corollary is to avoid giving offence through such crassness as criticism in front of others, disrespect or jokes against the person. The Kiwi deprecating, jeering humour is especially bad.

Courage is also a key personal attribute, necessary throughout the Middle Kingdom’s harsh history, and fascinating to contemplate. The fortitude of Chinese workers on the Great Wall and the Xian tombs is legendary. Even New Zealand’s goldfields history chronicles this stoicism, which remains an admirable Chinese quality. While courage is seen by all major religions and philosophies as a virtue, it is perhaps less honored among Western cultures today. By contrast, Chinese philosophy greatly values fortitude in adversity. A Chinese person today is still prepared to struggle and suffer uncomplainingly for economic survival or generational progress, despite overwhelming barriers. In three visits to China, I have been hugely impressed at the collective purpose, stamina and sheer guts of Chinese business people, traders and workers – the Gong He [Gung Ho] which Rewi Alley made into an international “Can Do” phrase. Each time I have returned to New Zealand reinvigorated, and ready to persevere without excuses.

So, may I offer this toast for September …………

Gan bei”, or “More wine, less whine!