Whether you intend to or realize it or not, most of you going on this trip will one day do business in/with Asia, whether you live there or even if you stay in California.
Rarely will anyone say this openly, but there is a perception among a number of Western businesspeople (not all, of course), including the purported more open minded and “progressive” ones from California, that the Chinese “lie, cheat and steal.”
It is not my role or place tell anyone what to feel or believe. That is up to them to decide, and we all have to deal with those consequences of our beliefs (and the missed opportunities that may go with it), particularly if we are silly enough to make such a statement in public.
Before I open this can of worms, let me make clear from that outset that I am not the “source” of this perception. Nor do I believe it. I merely report what the perception by some is as I have heard it over and over from a number of people. So don’t shoot the messenger. At first blush it seems to me that such a statement or belief, is off-base, it shows a lack of life and business experience, a lack of critical thinking skills, the inability to determine good data from bad, is an over-generalization, etc. I hope we can all agree on that. Moreover, God knows that we have each certainly seen our fair share of Americans who “lie, cheat, and steal”. No country or ethnic group in the world has the monopoly on this, in my view.
Having said the above, one of the things that surprised me with respect to one MBA trip to China is that I think a few students (not all) appear to have returned from China with “some” impression that “you can’t trust the Chinese; they lie, cheat and steal”. When I saw this, I realized that as a professor and college we had missed the mark in some of the pre-trip planning and even during the trip itself by not giving students several “lenses” from which they might analyze and think about this issue before they jumped to such a conclusion. (I am also not sure how one can reach such a conclusion after spending only 10 days or so in any country.)
So, to that end, check out the following recent posts on this very topic: one from the Useless Tree blog (here) and one from the China Hearsay blog (here). I enjoyed reading these posts and in particular their discussion threads. I learned something new, and I have thought a lot about this issue the past few years.
Any conversation about culture often gets heated (nothing wrong with that), and these posts are no different but the comments do show how complex this issue is to look at and analyze. This information and input from these various people will help better prepare you for what you will see in China.
And after you read these posts, come back here and discuss what these posts and their discussion threads teach you about Asia, China, culture and how it is shaped and perceived, our upcoming trip, and yourself?
And what, in a society, shapes “culture” and business conduct? For example, does the standard of living in a country lead to its culture, or does culture lead to a countries standard of living? (Economic scholars have some interesting things to say about this question; e.g., here is a recent SSRN paper of possible interest you can download for free (â€Does Culture Affect Economic Outcomes?â€), which relates to this discussion). See also the March 27, 2006 related discussion thread on this blog called “The Role of Women in Chinese Economic Activity“ — students had some interesting things to say on this sub-issue.
Which is more important for you and your future — to understand a culture and look at what forms the behavior at issue, or, to understand how a culture is expressed by those who practice it? Discuss and defend your position.
My experience is that the Chinese have their own sterotypes of Americans — what/how do you think they see us and our culture (in general)? How, in a business transaction, might you take advantage of their stereotypes about you, and is your doing so “lying, cheating, stealing”, just in a different form?
For example, once you see how cheaply a pair of women’s high end brand name dress shoes cost to make in China and how much they are in turn sold for by US retailers to the US consumer, let’s go for a cup of coffee and you can try to convince me that such price gouging by the US retailer … err, I mean what retailers euphemistically call their “markup”, is not “stealing” from the consumers. And yes, blah, blah, blah, I know and appreciate that we all go like sheep to slaughter and pay it, but does that make such business conduct the right thing to do? It may very well be acceptable to do, but I want you/us to at least ask that question.
(I appreciate that you will likely better be able to answer this latter question after we visit English Corner).