Understanding China is vital for today's graduates

With China set to economically dominate the coming decades, it is more important than ever for today's new graduates to learn how business is done there. It's simple, says Mark Pettitt, just remember 'face' and 'connections'

Walking down West Nanjing Road, one of Shanghai’s busiest shopping streets, you may not immediately look at the shops and buildings around you and feel as though you are in the beating heart of one of China’s key cities. Sitting on the steps outside West Nanjing Road underground station, in the shade of trees lining the European inspired streets, surrounded by the comforting stores of Marks and Spencer, Zara and H&M, you may almost feel at home.

The urban centres of China, and in particular Shanghai, have rapidly developed an all too recognisable ‘Western’ façade. This façade is at first comforting – home comforts, or at least many of them, are readily available. Despite being just as likely to see a local Shanghainese eating a KFC, Starbucks or MacDonald’s as much as you are jiaozi, dumplings, or fèngzhǎo chicken feet, lying underneath this façade is a distinctly strong and traditional cultural Chinese identity. Knowledge and understanding of this underlying current is absolutely necessary for any aspiring young person seeking a successful career or work experience in China.

Doing business in China is not for the faint hearted. An excellent introduction and insight into just how complicated business affairs can get can be read in Tim Clissold’s ‘Mr China’. Failure to understand the complexities of Chinese business culture can place a ‘Western’ business person in a potentially stressful situation.

The old adage of ‘do as the Romans do’ could not be more appropriate in doing business with the Chinese. Recognising, accepting and understanding the key cultural concepts that naturally course through the veins of the Chinese, Mianzi and Guanxi, (“face” and “connections”) are vital as a prelude to success.

It is for this reason that CRCC Asia, which works in Chinese consultancy and recruitment, insists all participants attend an intensive and educational induction day. On their first full day in China, they explore these cultural concepts, and in doing so how – at an introductory level - to successfully navigate the choppy waters of Chinese business etiquette. Learning about Mianzi or ‘face’ might not be paramount in western business circles, but in a Chinese business environment, giving face is serious business.

The concept of Mianzi can catch out the most experienced of expats in China. It is necessary for an expat to adapt to China’s cultural landscape, learning how to read interactions with locals and respond as necessary. At a simple level for example, a newly recruited ‘Western’ intern at a Chinese company could be expected to be introduced to a client to show the company’s international credentials. The western intern should show humility in such a situation, to give face to his/her employer.

Luise Schafer, awarded an OBE in 2012 for her services to British businesses in China, believes that 'it is vital that those who expect to do business successfully and build relationships in China make an effort to understand something of China’s history and culture'.

"Being gracious and tactful are good attributes in any culture or context, but in China these qualities are highly prized. One’s behaviour can have a huge impact on one’s success. An appreciation and understanding of China’s business etiquette and culture should not be underestimated."

Mianzi goes hand-in-hand with another key concept, Guanxi, that of building relationships and networks. A lot of business in China is done through who you know and, due to a legal structure which developed differently from western legal frameworks, much negotiation works on trust as much as on contracts. It is not uncommon to find yourself building your networks late into the evening in a bar, swapping business cards, making new contacts through old friendships.

Business deals are traditionally negotiated based on trust, sometimes after a good banquet with flowing Baiju (Chinese liquor). Maintaining and building trust is a necessity, and to keep your levels of Guanxi high you must regularly keep in touch with contacts and return a favour if asked. It’s not unusual for business deals to be renegotiated after the contract has been signed by both parties - that’s when Chinese business culture gets interesting.

It is no surprise therefore that employers are rapidly seeking well rounded students and graduates who have first-hand experience of navigating China’s developing business environment. This rising interest in the Chinese market, coupled with the realisation that the Chinese operate on a different business platform, has led to a surge of young people seeking internship opportunities in China.

CRCC Asia is the leading provider of professional internship programs in China for university students and graduates. Mark Pettitt is CRCC's Government and Public Relations Manager.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Guru Careers: Junior Web Developer

£18 - 22k (DOE) + Benefits & Stock Options: Guru Careers: Junior Developer / J...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Sales Executive

£18 - 24k OTE + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Executive ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?