China

Cultural Information

Answers to your intercultural questions from a Canadian and a local point of view.

Cultural Information - Conversations

Question:

I am meeting someone for the first time and I want to make a good impression. What would be good discussion topics?

Local Perspective:

It all depends on the context of the contact. If it is a business meeting, focus on business; if it is a social meeting, focus on family. Similar to what is done here in Canada, one can always start with comments about the weather, then listen and go from there. E.g., In a business meeting, start with the weather or the drive, and the road condition, then asks how is work. It is a good way for you to start doing your assessment.

When discussing the family, you will make your Chinese partners feel very special when you make a point to ask about their children, (e.g., how old they are, what do they do, etc.). They are very proud of their children. If suitable, also ask about the health of their parents. Taking care of one’s parents is a priority in the Chinese culture.

Although you may have heard that Chinese people are very shy, they do not maintain eye contact, they do not have firm handshake, and they do not show their emotion, etc., you may have different findings in your experiences. The Chinese society is changing, especially with the newer generation. Be flexible in your approach, ... listen and respond according. One thing that never changes is to the need to show your RESPECT when you communicate with your Chinese partners (especially the elders)—I do not mean traditional bowing and kneeling, etc. If you are not sure, always ask your questions before you act on any assumptions.

Subjects to avoid would be sex, family planning, female reproductive health issues, and mental health problems. These are considered as taboos and very personal and are not for discussion in public.

Use humour wisely and appropriately. Your Chinese partners do appreciate humour and jokes if they understand them.

Canadian Perspective:

China is the third largest country in the world (Canada being the second-largest), and it is often the case that people working in a particular city aren’t born and raised in that city. So a good topic of conversation for a first meeting would be "What part of China are you from?" The "hometown" is often a topic of pride and it’s also an important way for a non-local to understand the diversity and interests of people from China.

Depending on the non-local’s work relation to the person being asked, work is a good discussion topic. If the non-local is working in a position of authority (i.e., a foreign manager or colleague) don’t expect direct answers about the organization under discussion. On the other hand, China has undergone incredible social and economic changes in the past two decades, changes that elicit much general discussion and interest.

The family is a very important social unit in China. However, it’s better not to ask a question like "Are you married?" since marital status can be somewhat sensitive for the person being asked (although there is a good chance you will be asked such a question, and in that case asking such a question would be no problem). A general question like "Do you have family in this city?" might be more appropriate for a first meeting.

Food is a good topic of discussion.. Like the topic "hometown," China has very varied and rich culinary traditions including hometown and regional variations.

Politics should be avoided on a first meeting. There are many sensitive political issues in China best avoided on a first meeting. Political, like cultural perspectives, take some time to get used to.

Humour is important and much appreciated in China. For a non-local in China, misunderstandings abound, and there is plenty of cause for self-effacing anecdotes that highlight the sometimes awkward position of a newly arrived foreigner.

Cultural Information - Communication Styles

Question:

What do I need to know about verbal and non-verbal communications?

Local Perspective:

Maintain the same distance as you would in western society. In general, people tend to move away if the personal space is too threatening for them. However, if you are very intimate with strangers, (i.e, less than 2 feet away that one could feel your breath), you need to keep a farther distance from your Chinese partner.

Handshaking is a common practice for both men and women in China unless you are meeting people from the ethnic minority groups in China (e.g., tribes in remote areas). Once you are considered as a "friend", you will find that men will hold hands with men and women would hold hands with women and walk on the street. This may be "weird" in the west, but it is a common, friendly practice for young people/adults in China.

The key is to observe, watch what others do, and then you can decide if you are comfortable to do it. Once your Chinese partners understand where you are coming from, they would not be offended. So communication and respect from both sides are the key for a good relationship.

In a business contact, there is usually no touching involved. Hugging to say goodbye like what Canadians do here is also not a practice. Using handshakes for greetings and to bid farewell is the safest way as a start.

Definitely eye contact should be maintained (not staring) when you speak to your Chinese Partners. Not maintaining eye contact is a very old Chinese practice—when low class citizens met the Royal families—in those days, citizens were not even allowed to have their houses higher than those built in the palace! So time has changed.

If you are conducting a group discussion/teaching, etc, being a "leader/expert" in a formal setting (i.e., if the leaders are there), you must maintain yourself as a leader, and speak in a very direct manner and be in command of the group (though they like group interaction/discussion). Never sit on the table or slouch when you are in a discussion or meeting. How you as a "leader" present yourself when working in the Chinese environment is very important.

Chinese leaders tend not use a lot of hand gestures or facial expressions when they speak. They are accustomed to reading from their speeches, and most of the time, their audience would not pay full attention to these speeches. My Chinese audience told me that they like Canadian presentations, as they tend to be more interactive. My view is that use your body language effectively to help deliver what you intend to do.

When you are working with Chinese leaders, always let the leader lead you: re-where you should sit, when to speak and what to speak. You may discuss your agenda with the Chinese leader before hand. But once the leader is in the group, you let the leader lead.

Canadian Perspective:

People in China tend to keep a distance when speaking to someone for the first time, but the distance may become closer as a relationship progresses. Eye contact is important, but touching is not expected, especially on a first meeting. In formal social situations, a handshake is sufficient.

A non-local may be surprised by the way in which his or her responses elicit laughter. This is sometimes the case at first meetings. In this case, the laughter may simply be the result of nervousness or excitement at first contact.

Cultural Information - Display of Emotion

Question:

Are public displays of affection, anger or other emotions acceptable?

Local Perspective:

It is very common for the Chinese to display their happiness and keep the anger, criticism, and sadness within and share only with their families and close friends. Men also have a more difficult time to express their negative emotions to females. The Chinese leaders could display their emotion more at ease than their workers. Even when discontent, the Chinese workers tend to obey. Canadian representatives need to present themselves as professionally as possible. There may just be situations that you will have to let your Chinese partners know that you your feelings.

On the streets of China, especially in the markets or various neighbourhoods, you may encounter loud outbursts and even fighting. This is fairly common and may frequently involve women.

Canadian Perspective:

Public displays of emotion aren’t acceptable but nor are they uncommon in China. In more formal situations like banquets and meetings, public displays of affection aren’t acceptable, unless one is offering a toast, for example. However, expressions of emotion are very important in China, especially within the context of well-established relationships (business or personal).

Cultural Information - Dress, Punctuality & Formality

Question:

What should I know about the workplace environment (deadlines, dress, formality, etc.)?

Local Perspective:

Dress professionally as you would here. In China, females tend to dress up for work (like going to church) more so than the males. Female workers love to wear heels even when they have to walk on mud or gravel roads (but you really do not have to—you have an excuse being a Canadian!). For myself, if I were in a business meeting, I dressed up. If I were working in the field, I dressed down a little because of the long travel and work environment. But be prepared that the local leaders who receive you will be all dressed up, and they would welcome you as a leader and show you off to their people. It all depends on how you would like to present yourself as a Canadian representative. (Note: the designation of volunteer is not likely to garner very much respect).

You may address the female as "Madam [Last name]"(e.g., Mme. Lucia) regardless of their position. For the male, you may address the person as "Mr. (Last name)" (e.g., Mr. Hu), or "[Last name] [Position title]" (e.g,. Hu Deputy Manager). The Chinese will address you as "Madam [First name], or "Mr. [Last name], or "Dr. [First name]" (e.g, Dr. Nancy).

Chinese people have high respect for foreigners and especially the experts. They do not feel comfortable to call you by your first name. When they are willing to do that, you know you have broken the barrier, and they consider you as one of them.

Productivity is important and that’s how they judge if you are a suitable expert for them. The Chinese are often extremely efficient and produce high quality work. They value hard work, and you will find a lot of this in the leaders, and that’s why they are leaders. You may have to really work on how to motivate the staff. The staff is used to having their leaders to tell them what to do, when to do what, etc. They have a very different learning style and work approach. When the leaders are not around, you will have a lot of staff management problems from tardiness, absenteeism, etc. So try to incorporate all these in your project management work.

When the Chinese leaders or staff consistently do not give you the work that you have asked for by the deadline, you can safely assume that they are not willing to do that task. So go back to find out what the barriers are, and encourage the needed level of communication to get the work done.

Depending on where you work, some (hot) places in China have a 1.5-2.5 hour lunch break. Workers will eat quickly and nap then go back to work. They may find it very strange if you do not take a nap, but will not be offended if you don’t.

Canadian Perspective:

Many changes have taken in China with regards to workplace protocol. In general, people in China like to dress formally, the men in suit and tie, and the women in dress suits as well. With the number of foreign owned enterprises and personnel who may have experience working abroad, it wouldn’t be unusual to walk into an office that looks like an office in Canada, with co-workers dressed for business during the week with a "casual Friday" for jeans and open collars.

Forms of address vary quite a bit in China. In Chinese the surname comes first followed by the given name or names, so an English name like "John Williams Smith" would be "Smith John Williams." In Chinese, the form of address for a man is typically "Mr." (xiansheng) as in "Mr. Wang" (Wang Xiansheng). More often than not, for women, terms of "Mrs. Peng" (Peng Taitai) for a married woman, and "Miss Tang" (Tang xiaojie) for an unmarried woman, are common. However, a man or a woman may be addressed as "Director Long" (Long Jingli) or "Manager Ting" (Ting laoban). At a first meeting in English, it would probably be safer to go with "Mr. Song" for a man and "Miss Ling" for a woman. Over all, it might be better to go with the flow and find out just how your colleagues and employees wish to be addressed.

Approaches to time cannot be considered as standard in every workplace and it will be up to you to determine what particular work practices are in your office. Work habits vary in China. Some organizations and institutions are more strict or fluid with regard to productivity depending on the management style of the particular office.

Cultural Information - Preferred Managerial Qualities

Question:

What qualities are most highly regarded in a local superior/manager? How will I know how my staff view me?

Local Perspective:

The reason that you are a Canadian representative is because the Chinese partners want to learn something from you (from Canada) that they cannot get from their own people/resources. So your knowledge, education, experience, leaderships, hard work, creativity, personable etc. are all important. If you do not have these to offer, the Chinese can dismiss you very quickly. They expect a lot from the foreign experts.

I would encourage that the Canadian representatives work closely with a Chinese counterpart. This will avoid the Chinese leader saying that the Canadians did not understand their system, and therefore could not integrate/implement the project etc.

Build a strong rapport with your staff, and maintain on-going communication with them and assess what feedback the recipients (consumers) will give you re: your work performance. Check the validity and reliability of the feedback you get (verbal and written). Written evaluations are frequently misleading if not untrue. The Chinese partners are accustomed to writing very flowery reports, and they also believe that they should only say positive things to the "strangers".

In my last two years in China, (1997-1999), I noted that the new-thinking leaders in China are adopting more and more the western management styles.

Canadian Perspective:

Education, experience, and hard work are important qualities for local superior/managers. The opening-up and reforms that have occurred in China over the past two decades also mean that being open to new ideas from abroad is also highly valued (although sometimes such a quality is also sometimes dependent on the age of the person, i.e., younger or foreign educated locals may be expected to be more innovative).

Leadership is very important in China. The "personable" qualities of a superior/manager, while they may be valued, are less important than leadership abilities themselves.

Expats will be highly regarded for the same reasons as local managers and superiors. At the same time, because an Expat is a foreigner, from the outset his or her ideas will be considered as "new," and even a little bit intimidating. It is worthwhile taking the time to get to know the workings of an office before jumping in.

A certain amount of time and patience is needed to appreciate different communication and working styles. Foreigners are often shown a certain amount of deference in social situations. However, this should not be mistaken for an indication of the actual work relationship, because a certain amount of deference and respect is also expected in return.

Social relations tend to be rather hierarchical in China. If the Expat is a superior/manager, it may be difficult to gauge how staff view you. You may have to ask for it, so to speak. If a colleague is closer to you in the pecking order, you may be surprised at how direct people can be in China.

Cultural Information - Hierarchy and Decision-making

Question:

In the workplace, how are decisions taken and by whom? Is it acceptable to go to my immediate supervisor for answers or feedback?

Local Perspective:

Often, the leaders will ask for feedback and input from their immediate workers (middle management people), then they will finalize the plan and give directives to the staff as an order. The middle management people do all the groundwork.

In doing a project, it is important for the Canadian representative to know who are the power people - the decision makers and who has influence on the leaders and works with these people. If there is a conflict situation, talk to the middle management people casually, convince them, help them understand your approach/difficulties, and they can do a lot of talking for you with their own leaders, more powerful than what you could do for yourself. Of course, you will still meet with the leaders to finalize the resolutions.

Canadian Perspective:

Although it may vary according to the age and background of individuals in a particular workplace, decisions are usually taken by superiors. "Having a meeting" (kaihui) is a fairly well-developed practice in modern China, especially in organizations affiliated to the government. Meetings are tacitly an opportunity for exchanging ideas, however, they are often actually opportunities of informing management and staff alike of their particular duties and responsibilities over a short-term period. And it’s often the case that management has already received feedback from employees and colleagues before such a meeting takes place.

It is acceptable, and even advisable to go to immediate supervisors for answers and feedback. Communications is always important in China, as well as an opportunity to show deference to your superiors and colleagues. At the same time, a certain amount of individual initiative is expected and respected in China.

Cultural Information - Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender

Question:

Briefly describe the local culture’s attitudes regarding the following: Gender, Class, Religion and Ethnicity. What impact would the above attitudes have on the workplace?

Local Perspective:


Gender:
The Chinese government pushes for gender equity and it even gives more holidays to women, but in practice, there is still the traditional thinking that males are more valuable than females (more so in poor villages).

Religion:
Religion was not practised during the communist movement. With the open door policy, many young adults are searching the meaning of religions. For the non-government workers, many join various churches. Whereas the government workers, if they join any religion, they do this in secrecy.

Class:
Distinct differences more so than what one would see in the west.

Ethnicity:
The Hans continue to be seen as the dominant group. Ethnic minority groups have lower social class standing in the society.

The impact of ethnicity depends on the nature of the work involved. If the project involves working with the minority group, the ethnic minority person would hold a key/important position in that organization. My experience is that it all depends on the openness of the leader. Leaders are very much work oriented and outcome oriented. In my work in China, class, ethnicity, religion and gender were never an issue.

Canadian Perspective:


Gender:
In many ways, in the post-1949 period in China, gender relations changed quite a bit under the Chinese Communist Party that recognised the importance of women in society. However, more "traditional" aspects of the position of women have returned since the opening-up and reforms in the 1980s. Women have equal status in name, but China is still primarily a male-dominated society.

Religion:
In China, there is no official religion and religion is still viewed by the state as a type of superstition that goes against scientific progress. However, religion is quite a complex topic, since people from different backgrounds do hold many different "religious" beliefs.

Class:
Despite official statements, class hierarchies in China are very pronounced and dependent on factors such as education, occupation and most importantly, financial status.

There is a good chance that these attitudes will not affect a non-local directly. However, "class" is something to pay attention to as it directly relates to the hierarchy at the workplace. Note: it is not always clear who is "above" and "below".

Ethnicity:
Although over 90% of the population in China is Chinese (Hanzu), there are at least 55 ethnic minorities (shaoshu minzu) in China. Ethnic homogeneity is an aspect of pride in China but sometimes overlooks the incredible regional and cultural diversity of the country as a whole. Ethnic difference is sometimes a politically sensitive issue, especially as it pertains to provinces like Tibet and Xinjiang.

An Expat should realise that he or she automatically represents a kind of ethnic category. An expat is first of all a "foreigner" (waiguoren, or, somewhat disparagingly, a laowai). This category immediately places you as "outside" or "from away," so to speak. In addition, you will be designated according to your own national and "ethnic" characteristics. This can put the expat in the awkward position of having to rebut national and "ethnic" generalisations.

Cultural Information - Relationship-building

Question:

How important is it to establish a personal relationship with a colleague or client before getting to business?

Local Perspective:

Usually the relationship is first established in a formal meeting. If there is an opportunity to do that, I think it is a good idea. I would do this by sending a card or a brief letter of introduction—something in writing, and your message can be translated if language is a problem. I would do this with the key contact/colleague only.

Depending on the nature of the work, if the Canadian representative is to work with the leaders, he/she should maintain their personal level with the leaders. The class (position) difference can be very distinct. Leaders socialize with the leaders, and staff with staff.

Once in the field, and the social network is established, the socialization usually takes in the form of eating out in restaurants or local trips for sight seeing or shopping. Meals in restaurants (rather than home cooked meals) are common among the Chinese when they meet with their guests. The reasons are that they have very small living quarters, their homes are usually open to close friends and family members, and restaurants are considered as a treat for their guests.

Chinese love Karioke, it is a main form of their entertainment. If you love to sing, you will have a good time. If not, just tell them that you have a lot of project work to do, and you could not join them.

There will also be a lot of banquets where you both check each other out, and do a lot of politicking. Learn the mealtime manners. Your local host will always serve you and put food in your bowl. When you feel comfortable enough, you may do the same, but not right away.

They will invite you to drink (stronger spirits) almost every other bite of food! It is their custom, and they do this when they are happy. Leaders (males or females) are expected to be able to drink. Drinking somehow is perceived to be associated with the strength of leadership in China! If you cannot drink, ask for non-alcoholic drink, and learn how to toast and make all kinds of good wishes to praise the organization, the project, the staff, and the leaders. The Chinese will/may insist that you drink the alcohol (their gesture of hospitality), I found that among all the excuses I tried to use, the one that works best is when I told them that "my health cannot tolerate alcohol".

Canadian Perspective:

Personal relationships in China are extremely important. But it’s also important to note that personal relationships take time to cultivate. One of the first rules of any personal relationship from the outset is the mutual interest of both parties.

Gift-giving (songli) is an important practice in China. A gift may consist of small, inexpensive gestures for colleagues (such as music or mementoes from Canada for example) to elaborate dinners and banquets (what would probably be called a "business" lunch or dinner in Canada, but usually much more lavish).

Sometimes small requests for favours may arise during a relationship. Which means that "negotiation" also sometimes entails negotiating personal relationships as well.

Cultural Information - Privileges and Favouritism

Question:

Would a colleague or employee expect special privileges or considerations given our personal relationship or friendship

Local Perspective:

Definitely. When Canadian projects do not have these built in and expect the Chinese staff to work on an overseas project with the usual, poor Chinese conditions, even the best workers will not stay to work in the project for too long.

Canadian Perspective:

A colleague may ask for preferred treatment that includes raises or help for family and friends. An employee may not be so forward because of his or her position. But don’t be surprised if such requests for favours arise as a result of relationships and friendships at the workplace.

Cultural Information - Conflicts in the Workplace

Question:

I have a work-related problem with a colleague. Do I confront him or her directly? Privately or publicly?

Local Perspective:

Confront it directly with your colleague then go to his/her leader if needed. The Chinese leaders keep a very tight control of their staff. They like to know what’s going on with their staff. By discussing your concerns with the leaders in a constructive way, you may also find out more information from the leader re-how best to work with the colleague and vice-versa.

If you have done something wrong or not acceptable to the Chinese colleague, the chance is that this person will go to his/her leader first and you will hear that from that higher level. This is how the Chinese display their loyalty to their leaders—often they feel that they have the obligation to report to their leader on what the "foreigner" does. Of course the situation may change if your colleague considers you as his/her friend, and he/she will give you the needed guidance.

If there is a serious problem, the Chinese leader will call you to a meeting! Often the misunderstanding is stemmed from language barrier and communication styles.

Canadian Perspective:

Problems are better dealt with indirectly and in private. Confronting a colleague in public about a problem should be avoided altogether unless you feel it is absolutely necessary and you have exhausted all other recourses.

There are a number of ways in which you may find you have offended your colleague. He or she may go through others at the workplace, or they may let you know indirectly in conversation. Or they may simply ask to speak to you in private.

But it’s also important to know that communication in China can be as direct or ambiguous as it is in Canada. In addition, many people in China have worked and lived abroad and may be more comfortable and knowledgeable about your culture than you are with theirs.

Cultural Information - Motivating Local Colleagues

Question:

What motivates my local colleagues to perform well on the job?

Local Perspective:

Job satisfaction, commitment, money, loyalty, good working conditions, fear of failure are all motivators; money is the most important factor. Recognition (for future promotion within their work unit) comes next.

Canadian Perspective:

Job satisfaction and commitment are very important. Money is a very important factor, and it could be considered as an aspect of working conditions. In a competitive market like China, loyalty takes time and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In the private sector, younger workers tend to change jobs often if they find a better paying one. Your colleagues probably also have other things on their mind like housing. "Fear of failure" may not be as important as fear of losing their job.

Cultural Information - Recommended Books, Films & Foods

Question:

To help me learn more about the local culture(s), please recommend: books, films, television shows, foods and web sites.

Local Perspective:

See responses to question 2 (Cultural Context).

Canadian Perspective:

A good place to start is the Lonely Planet Guide to China. Although these books were once the choice of backpackers going "off the beaten track," Lonely Planet Guides are actually filled with important information for travellers and expats working in China who want to get a start on the city they’re living in, as well as for those trips to different parts of the country.

For historical perspectives on China, China: A New History by John K. Fairbank offers an important overview, as well as The Search For Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence. For up-to-date business and cultural information the Far Eastern Economic Review covers China extensively, and The Economist usually has articles pertaining to China as well.

A good place to start for an understanding of modern China in the writer Lu Xun, who has been and is still being translated and discussed. For a collection of contemporary Chinese literature China’s Avant-garde Fiction (Duke University Press, 1998) gives an overview of newer writers. There are many young Chinese researchers who publish in English in the United States. The book Chinese Modern, although geared towards an academic audience, is an important historical survey of Chinese culture from the late nineteenth century until the present.

China has an incredibly diverse music scene. One of the most well-known pop musicians is Cui Jian. From lilting ballads to rock to rap, Cui Jian does it all.

One of the most important film directors in China is Zhang Yimou. I highly recommend his movie To Live, which is at turns a funny, sad, tragic and comic story of modern China. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by the contemporary writer Yu Hua.

Useful internet links: http://deall.ohio-state.edu/denton.2/biblio.htm is up to date and contains, among other things, bibliographies of mostly English-language materials on modern Chinese literature, film, art, and culture.

Cultural Information - In-country Activities

Question:

When in this country, I want to learn more about the culture(s) and people. What activities can you recommend?

Local Perspective:

It all depends on where you live, if the Canadian representative does not have any Chinese friends, I would suggest that he/she start with a visit to the local Chinese community to familiarize him/herself with the Chinese culture, just by observing for as a start. Most movies and books on Chinese depict the old traditions that the modern society often does not practice anymore. I would suggest that it is best that you watch some modern Chinese movies (from libraries or videostores), and see how people live, what’s in their environment, and how they communicate within the families and with their friends.

The world has changed so much that even for the Chinese themselves, they say there is no need for them to return to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, or Taiwan to get their Chinese news (through satellite and internet), to eat their Chinese food, etc. Of course, this is only true for those Canadians who are going to Beijing, Shanghai, or larger cities. The situation would be very different if one were to go to remote areas in China. Since China has opened its doors to the world, the country is changing so quickly, that you can easily live a western lifestyle in the larger cities. So personally, I did not find a lot discrepancy in the two cultures that one had to make any big adjustment.

Once you are in the country, most foreigners go to the local English cafes to socialize and exchange news. They can also go to the local English corners (or parks) where the local Chinese (students from grade school to university) often would go there to mingle with the English-speaking people to learn and practice their English.

Contact the local NGO workers, they can show the newcomers where to go and what to see. They are your good social support if needed. Explore the city on your own also, and you will find how people do things differently and books/tapes would never tell you. E.g., people dance, act, and sing on the streets or in the park. They exercise as a group anywhere they can find space on the streets, whereas in Canada, people wear fancy outfit and join a club to exercise! The local people even help each one another to learn how to read in the park by doing group readings.

Food is so diverse and the choices are unlimited and can be very personal. It also depends on where you go. Yunnan people said that their bees, worms, and animal guts and penises are excellent, but I never wanted to try them. However, I like their fried milk curds, goat milk and cheese, they are superb. They also have the Cross-the-bridge noodles, a famous hot and spicy dish in Yunnan. All their Yunnan made noodles are famous (not starchy or sticky) because of the local water they use.

Canadian Perspective:

One of the best ways to learn about the city you’re living in, as well as learning about Chinese culture, is to ask your (Chinese) colleagues. They’ll probably be delighted to show you around and you may even get an insight into aspects of China that you wouldn’t get from other expats (and as for other expats, they’ll be glad to show you around, too).

Cultural Information - National Heroes

Question:

Who are this country's national heroes?

Local Perspective:

Besides their Chinese government leaders, Dr. Bethune is considered as their national hero. All students are required to read about him in their Chinese history in grade school. He was seen as a hero in the communist movement, a foreigner from Canada who served their country.

Canadian Perspective:

The question of "national heroes" is complicated in contemporary China. The days of the cult of personality for a leader like Mao Zedong are long gone. Also, the regional and cultural diversity of contemporary China make the idea of a national hero more than a little bit outdated. In some ways, the importance of financial success has supplanted the former importance attached to political leadership. Instead of heroic figures, it might be more appropriate to talk about new values such as the ability of individuals to rise above the competition and succeed in the marketplace.

In many cases, especially for younger people, local and foreign celebrities from film and music are considered as important in China as in Canada. The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, receives as much admiration in China as he does in the United States.

Cultural Information - Shared Historical Events with Canada

Question:

Are there shared historical events between this country and Canada that could affect work or social relations?

Local Perspective:

I am not aware of any.

Canadian Perspective:

For an older generation the name Doctor Norman Bethune (1890-1939) still has resonance in China. Bethune served and died as a doctor for the Communists during the Sino-Japanese war. However, for most people in China, a young Canadian known as Da Shan (Mark Rowswell) made a name for himself in the 1980s as a performer of a complex form of Chinese comic dialogue (xiangsheng). Da Shan still makes guest appearances on TV as a performer, and a spokesman in advertisements. Expat Canadians who can speak Mandarin Chinese with any amount of fluency will be compared positively to Da Shan.

Whether or not an historical figure like Bethune or a celebrity/corporate spokesman like Da Shan will directly affect work and social relations is difficult to say. However, Canada does have a rather benevolent image in China, and Canadians are very often viewed positively.

Cultural Information - Stereotypes

Question:

What stereotypes do Canadians have about the local culture that might be harmful to effective relations?

Local Perspective:

Canadians were labelled (by the tourist guides) as less generous in spending money than the Americans. The Chinese partners commented that Canadians follow the project rules too rigidly especially in reporting and documentation of financial expenditures.

Canadian Perspective:

There are many stereotypes about China and some are based on perceptions of Chinese politics. For example: "China has a one party system that doesn’t allow free expression." While people in China are governed by the Chinese Communist Party, people in contemporary China come from many different social, cultural, and professional backgrounds and this diversity is reflected in their different ways of seeing the world.

Another stereotype has arisen, amongst Canadians and other foreigners, probably as a result of the recent changes in the economy: "Chinese people care too much about money." The idea is slightly ironic, considering earlier stereotypes that linked people in the People’s Republic to communist ideology. Nowadays with the economy rolling ahead, people are indeed concerned about making enough money to live comfortably. At the same time, you may discover that many people in China are quite critical of the rampant economic and social changes occurring in their country.

Cultural Information - About the Cultural Interpreters

Local Interpreter:

Your Cultural Interpreter was born in Hong Kong, the second eldest of nine children. She was raised in Hong Kong until the age of 17 and then moved to Canada as a student to continue her studies graduating with a B.Sc. in Physiology from the University of Toronto. She later obtained her B.Sc.N from the University of Windsor and a M.Sc.N from the University of Western Ontario. Afterwards, she worked in public health and became a Professor (in Family and Community Health Nursing) at the University of Windsor in 1987. In 1997-1999, she moved to Yunnan, China, working as the Canadian Lead Trainer and Field Project Manager for CIDA's Canada-China Yunnan Maternal and Child Project. She later returned to Yunnan in 2001 as an Education consultant for the project. Your Cultural Interpreter is currently living in LaSalle, Ontario, and has resumed teaching and research work at the University. She has three children.

Canadian Interpreter:

Born in Prince Edward Island, your Cultural Interpreter was the oldest of three children. He was raised in Montreal, and studied literature, philosophy and Mandarin Chinese at various universities in Montreal. His travels sent him abroad for the first time in 1989 and he later went to China to work and study for five years. He is currently living in Montreal where he works as a researcher in modern Chinese literature and culture. He and his wife have one child.

Disclaimer

Country Insights - Intercultural Issues are intended to provide snapshots of the overall social and cultural norms as well as the workplace environment that a Canadian might face working in a specific country. For each country, two perspectives are provided: one by a Canadian and the other by a person born in the selected country. By comparing the "local point of view" with the "Canadian point of view", you will begin to form a picture of that country's culture. We encourage you to continue your research using a variety of other sources and to use Triangulation as an evaluation process. Although cultural informants were asked to draw on as broad a base of experience as possible in formulating their answers, these should be understood as one perspective that reflects the particular context and life experiences of that person; they are not intended to be a comment on any particular group or society.

You may disagree with or object to the content of some responses. This is to be expected given the complexity of the subject and the problems associated with speaking generally about an entire country and its people. We would encourage you to share your experiences; your contributions will help to make Country Insights a richer environment for learning.

The content of Country Insights in no way reflects official policy or opinions of the Government of Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada or the Centre for Intercultural Learning.