China… embarrassed, exploited, and overpowered by imperial powers in its “Century of Humiliation”
However, during the final decades of China’s last empire, the weakened Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the tables sharply turned and the country was defeated in a number of military conflicts with Western imperialist forces, resulting in national humiliation and loss of territory and rights with devastating, profound repercussions that remain deeply felt today. Chinese nationalism, rejection of foreign intervention in domestic issues, and
modernization initiatives, in general, can all trace their roots back to this tragic period in recent Chinese history.
In dealing with the Chinese, it is important to acknowledge and respect such sentiments likely brewing beneath the surface in interactions with business partners, competitors, and government officials, among others, and overcome the typically heightened sense of suspicion of the intentions of foreign businesses as merely seeking financial gain at the expense of local customers and companies.
On a more practical level, there are many fundamental differences in Eastern and Western approaches to problem solving, negotiating styles, and general ways of thinking that, if ignored, can, at best, hinder a company’s potential growth opportunities and, at worst, completely derail a company’s business in China. For example, Western culture prides itself on the importance of individualism, informal relationships, egalitarianism, and the Rule of Law whereas Eastern culture and, more specifically, the Chinese hold in higher regard a strong belief in collectivism, formal relationships, hierarchies, and the Rule of Man – although the last point is more a facet of the Party-State dynamic in Modern China than the actual will of the people.
In addition, Western-minded and trained executives value the need to manage expectations well and seek a win-win outcome in business dealings whereas Chinese executives operate in an environment that appreciates the importance of guan xi (guān xi, 关系), meaning connections or relationships, and mian zi (miàn zi, 面子), meaning face, as in saving face. Those companies conducting “business as usual” in China – at least as they might in a more developed Western market – who ignore or undervalue these fundamental, long-standing cultural sensitivities, do so at their own peril.