Understanding China

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Thetallestmanonearth's picture
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Joined: Feb 28 2013
Posts: 324
Understanding China

Hi Everyone,

I have been working in import/export for most of the last 8 years and I have done a fair bit of business with China.  Despite that I have to admit my almost complete ignorance of how their society differs from ours and how their state-run-semi-free-market-economy functions.  I've become curious to learn more about them as it's clear that they are a major player in global power dynamics.  I see a lot of international (non-US) commentators on PP, but I don't know if we hear much from Asia. Seems to be mostly Europe and Australia who have joined the conversation.  So to China: What issues are they facing?  How does their political survival strategy intersect with ours? What are the risks and opportunities?

If anyone can suggest books on the subject I'd be grateful!



LynnFogwell's picture
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Joined: Apr 15 2013
Posts: 7
Recommended Book

I might have something to contribute here. I am from North Carolina and have been living in China for a year and a half. My wife works with a Chinese telecom company where she is (I think) the only westerner in her building. I have a good bit of contact with Chinese people and am learning Manadrin (I just passed my level II HSK test). Learning the language helps you understand the subtlies of their culture.

I have lived abroad before but this is the only place that gets stranger the longer I live here. The more I learn about the Chinese, the more surprised I become. These folks are very different from me.

The book I would recommend you read is Poorly Made In China, by Paul Midler. He has lived in China for decades and speaks fluent Chinese. He began working with Western importers when the boom began and he has dozens of stories that are all fascinating. His book is a collection of these stories. The book is convincing because you see common traits and themes across all of these disparate businesses. Instead of just stating that the Chinese don't care about written contracts, you see it repeated through completely different products and situations. 

Everything in this book rings true in my dealings with the Chinese people. The book is good in not judging, but some of the Chinese assumptions and values shocked me. Mr. Midler was once asked why he wrote this book. He said he had never really thought about it but finally told the reporter that 'it needed to be written'. I will agree. If you have dealings in China, this book needs to be read.

Poet's picture
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 21 2009
Posts: 1892
Don't Paint With Just One Brush

Don't forget... There are large differences between the cultural/social attitudes of the Singaporean Chinese, Taiwanese Chinese, Hong Kong Chinese, and the Chinese in China.

Personally, I would rather do business with the Taiwanese and Singaporean and Hong Kong Chinese than those from China. Several generations of brutal totalitarian rule, arbitrary punishments, and bureaucratic corruption has changed a lot of them  - and not for the better. People for generations were rewarded not for virtue or honesty, but for informing on or denouncing their neighbors without evidence and for knowing the right officials to curry favor with and bribe. Not just at the highest levels, but even at the low levels, creating an atmosphere of distrust and selfishness.

Whereas the Taiwanese, Singaporeans, and even Hong Kongese have had relatively strong and uncorrupt regulatory bodies (except at the highest levels) and a longer history of it.

It is not entirely unlike what has changed the Russians and Eastern Europeans under their totalitarian rule. Or even how the mafia has complicated doing business in Italy, or general corruption has complicated attempts to do business in Latin America, or even how our own banks and many corporations operate with impunity, though our regulatory bodies tend to do a relatively decent job on smaller operators and we have more independent judges and a lot more transparency in judicial affairs (NSA excepted). We can thank the independent-minded and armed Anglo-Saxons, powerful barons who were able to reign in a king and make him sign a Magna Carta, and our own founding fathers.


Thetallestmanonearth's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 28 2013
Posts: 324
Poorly Made in China

Thanks Lynn and Poet for the insights.  I will be picking up the book Poorly Made in China this week!


kennyq's picture
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jul 30 2008
Posts: 82
I am a Chinese from main land

I am a Chinese from main land .

Yes, Poet is basically correct.. After 60 year of Communist rule, the moral is very low in China. That is why we feel very different.

Currently I work as a volunteer for the Shen Yun performing art which it try to reinstate the lost Chinese tradition .This show may give you another  perspective about China and its tradition.

Since there is a media control,the information about China is all filtered.(people in China can't go on youtube and many other web sites). The only statistics is only from the gov.. Therefore, most Westerners did not see the real problems in China since there is hardly any true information.

From my point of view, Chinese gov. collapes like former USSR is imminent. Will it be a soft or volatile transition, I don't know. I suggested my family in China that keep updating their visa (frequently) beside stock up rice.

Thetallestmanonearth's picture
Status: Gold Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 28 2013
Posts: 324
Shen Yun

Thank you Kenny,

I missed Shen Yun last time it was in Seattle. Looks like it will be here again in April. I might try to take my wife.

Your statement about China going the way of the USSR is fascinating. Very few people are talking about the problems with China....can you elaborate on what leads you to those conclusions or sources of info for someone interested in learning more?  If China were to fall that would be an amazing catalyst for change world wide. We are so dependent on them for manufacturing and trade.  I wonder how that would all play out.  Here at PP we seem to focus mostly on western central bank misbehavior as a catalyst or tipping point ushering us into the future of scarcity. What a surprise it would be to see the winds coming from the east when we're all looking west.

Do Chinese expats living in the west still feel pressure to tow the party line?  I have friends from China and at times it feels like they are afraid - even in private her in the west - to speak out against the government. 

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