Chinese Mentality

The Chinese mentality, which is somewhere between communism and capitalism, is difficult to understand. In this socialist market economy, Chinese think in the long term.

While Central Europeans know freedom, human rights and freedom of expression as a matter of course, the Chinese are shaped completely differently. It is true that harmony and tolerance are important Chinese values, but so is the unconditional acceptance of hierarchy founded in Confucianism. Chinese honor older people and people in higher positions. Chinese companies are organized in a strict hierarchy. Titles and seniority are very important to the Chinese. Employees carry out instructions from their superiors without reservation. Due to the collectivist culture, most Chinese employees are not used to thinking critically and questioning things, nor would it be tolerated. In the metropolises, however, a cooperative management style is gradually gaining acceptance.

Opposites belong inseparably together in Chinese culture (ying-yang). Therefore, authoritarian communism and the market economy can certainly coexist in China. Traditional and modern values can be cultivated simultaneously. Taoism teaches the Chinese not to interfere with “nature” and to derive satisfaction from the situation as it is. This is a prerequisite for keeping the population loyal in the state-controlled country.

The economic and social differences between urban and rural regions are great, but there are a number of common features of the Chinese mentality.

Chinese people are very industrious and enterprising. This is expressed in the term “xinku,” one of the important Chinese values. They want to be successful. They want to improve their prosperity and show their success openly. While Europeans are happy to get a Louis Vuitton fake for little money, middle class Chinese want to carry a real Louis Vuitton. Showing success through lifestyle and luxury brands is also part of the culture in China. Chinese move between government multi-year planning and the ability to consume immediately. They see the opportunity not only to produce cheaply, but also to develop innovative products themselves and to lead world markets as independently as possible from communist-oriented politics. This is a tightrope walk for the Chinese. Trading platforms like Alibaba and cell phone manufacturers like Huawei can only develop in China because they cooperate closely with the communist government.

Chinese companies are even subsidized when they help to expand China’s control, such as through foreign acquisitions. In addition to technology companies and capital goods manufacturers such as Kuka, infrastructure companies, energy suppliers and telecommunications companies, i.e. security-related companies, are now also attractive takeover candidates for the Chinese as components of China’s long-term “New Silk Road” project. On the surface, China promises stimulated global trade, but on China’s political agenda is global influence. This shows the long-term orientation of the Chinese.

For the Chinese, two effects come together to drive them: Chinese economic growth provides many Chinese with a path to personal prosperity and, at the same time, a sense of being part of something big.

Building trust and sustainable relationships with the Chinese is a prerequisite for business (“guan xi”). Quick cold calling does not work in China. You have to invest in the relationship first, even if it takes longer (“ren qing”). Chinese business partners also expect gifts, specially labelled “made in Germany”. You need “staying power”, even for negotiations with Chinese people. “Guan xi” is the art of carefully building a network of relationships in which all the effects of every activity on everyone in the finely spun network is well thought out. The Chinese are always aware that everything is connected to everything else.

For the Chinese, politeness includes being punctual, appearing well-groomed, dressing formally, addressing each other by their first names, and using the family name, which often still comes first in China. The highest-ranking of the Chinese interlocutors always enters the room first and introduces himself to the highest-ranking of your delegation with his name and rank. Also openly highlight your status and show your Chinese counterparts the important connections you have. Pictures of you together with important personalities can help. Physical touch is unusual in China.

Relationship building also involves initiating conversations with small talk before carefully moving on to the actual topic. A good topic of conversation is progress in China. The Chinese like to communicate indirectly by paraphrasing what they mean. However, their true intentions often go unrecognized for a long time. They always smile, even in situations that are unpleasant for them. The Chinese hide their feelings behind nice-sounding words. They remain controlled in speech, facial expressions and gestures even in emotionally charged situations. In practical matters, however, it is not uncommon for a Chinese person to surprisingly ask you directly how much you earn or how big your office is. In our view, the Chinese lack sensitivity in this respect.

Prepare yourself well for conversations and negotiations with the Chinese. Find out who you need to talk to in order to achieve your goals, and find out their hierarchical level so that you can send someone from your organization at the same hierarchical level into the conversation. Otherwise, it may be construed as disrespect and you won’t accomplish anything. Take enough time to talk and negotiate with Chinese people concentrating on a goal, not directly. The Chinese also skillfully use the device of silence to influence negotiations.

Chinese people like to present problems from different perspectives and not only name them, but also describe their distortion and put them into a temporal context. The Chinese view problems in their entirety and integrated into their environment.

Chinese people do not expose their interlocutors and do not want to be exposed themselves.  Therefore, the Chinese do not ask questions to which their interlocutors are unlikely to be able to give an answer; to save face (“mian zi”), they like to offer them several answers instead. Asking concrete questions to which a clear “yes” or “no” answer must be given is disliked by the Chinese. They will always look for alternatives to avoid a “no.” The culturally anchored value of harmony is more important to the Chinese than superficial assertiveness. Tolerance is more likely to lead to the goal than objective bossiness. The Chinese act according to the proverb: “If you take the bark off a tree, it dies.” Chinese people regard relationships as their social capital and the essential resource with which they increase their wealth and prestige. That’s why they will always nurture relationships, not break them.

Many things in China are complicated. Foreigners often get to hear “mei you” (“don’t go”). This can be explained by the fact that Chinese do not want to make mistakes. If you make mistakes, you are considered a failure; therefore, Chinese often prefer to do nothing at all. If you let yourself be fobbed off with this, you will achieve little in China. The Chinese often only act when they realize that you are persistent.

One cliché is that the Chinese brazenly copy everything. Whereas in Central European culture, someone who copies others tends to be rejected, in China someone receives the highest recognition if he or she achieves good things by copying as closely as possible. For this, one must understand that in Buddhism, the person who comes as close as possible to the Buddha’s ideals receives the highest social recognition.

The long-term way of thinking of the Chinese is also culturally based. The strategic thinking of Chinese people is grounded in the stratagems that were used for warfare 3,000 years ago. Today, the stratagems, translated into modern times, are taught in Chinese management schools. In the stratagems, wisdom is combined with cunning to achieve goals indirectly. Among other things, it is first a matter of gaining the interest of one’s negotiating partner and getting him to take certain actions, thereby creating facts that will bring long-term profit to the Chinese.

Look also to the British mentality, the Swiss mentality, the Austrian mentality, the Spanish mentality, the Dutch mentality, the Scandinavian mentality, the French mentality, the Turkish mentality, the US-American mentality, the Italian mentality, the Latin American mentality, the Indian mentality, the Japanese mentality, the Russian mentality, and the Arab mentality.


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