Final Thoughts on China

Posted on 15. Nov, 2010 by in beyond LatAm

Driving and Walking in China

Living in SoCal for a year I was surprised at local attitudes toward Asian drivers, the stereotype being that they suck. Imagine what it’s like in China! I’d watch somebody doing something stupid and hope for an accident. I wanted closure. A car slowing down to a stop at a green light with traffic whizzing past, changing lanes without looking, pedestrians crossing the street in the face of oncoming traffic with a green light, etc. Please wreck, please!

Driving aside, a lot of them don’t know how to walk. I was walking in a busy subway station when a Chinese fella came toward me. He was hauling ass past other people with HIS HEAD TURNED COMPLETELY OVER HIS SHOULDER. I would’ve had to move to avoid him. In a split second I decided I wasn’t moving. This dude needs to learn how to walk. So this 140 pound local’s walking fast with his attention at his 5 o’clock and I’m walking fast as I always do and of course nobody changes paths and I didn’t even lower my shoulder and I plowed his ass over. He dropped his books and caught the ground with his hand. A few steps later I casually looked over my shoulder and saw him staring after me shocked and dumbfounded. I raised my hand as if to say, “Excuse me.”

Chinese Sheep Mentality

Chinese are proud of their 5000 year history. What struck me weird is their strange, obsessive worship of Mao. His image is everywhere, watching over Tiananmen at the entrance to Forbidden City and on all the RMB notes. I’m American and we barely have 200 years of history, yet we have several historic figures on our money. You could field a football team with them all playing both ways and including Sacajawea. The Chinese are so damn proud of their 5000 years of history yet they only have one guy on all their damn bills?

Then you ask the average Chinese person what Mao did that was so great and THEY HAVE NO IDEA! I asked many Chinese and nobody mentioned The Great Leap Forward (a misnomer given its being a colossal failure, maybe Great Leap Nowhere would be a better name), the Cultural Revolution (another disaster no intelligent being would be proud of, better name would be Cultural Devolution), or any specific legacy at all. One guy noted he held the country together after the war with the Japs. Is that worth idol deity status? Most Chinese simply said, “Because he’s Mao!” Don’t you get it?

Reader Bart writes:

I would imagine that the reason for their ignorance is the fact that they are not allowed to think for themselves. That country is so tightly controlled, it’s not funny. But it is the reason for their success …

Here are excerpts of an email from a friend who got his Master’s in Economics at a top Chinese university:

Group projects with mainlanders have been driving me crazy. They constantly want to have meetings and nit-pick over trivial mathematical details. They have to arrive at a consensus before proceeding with anything, and they present their ideas with a level of depth one could expect of a Congressional investigation. It’s not the language barrier either.

The current investments group project involves creating a financial plan for someone given various scenarios and investment opportunities. In one scenario the hypothetical client takes a year off for school which increases income by 20%. The instructions explicitly state that when she comes back to work her income increases “twenty percent to what it otherwise would have been”. A group member wanted to multiply the last annualized paycheck by 20%. It took me an hour to explain that, although that makes sense, that is not what is in our instructions. “Well, this other group did it like this.” “The other group is wrong.” They’d rather be wrong with the others than take a chance alone.

For last semester’s econometrics paper I was in a shit group with members that didn’t know anything. They copied all their homework assignments and on the final (and received higher final grades in the course than I did). After a meeting one group member looked at me and asked, “So, for the paper you want us to write all new words?” “Yes, all new words.” I put this same person in charge of writing the literature review portion. What was produced was what seemed like a children’s guide to GDP. There wasn’t a single reference to any previous papers. I guess I had to explain that a literature review is a fucking review of literature.

The other group member complained that the model I produced only produced a correlation of about 0.4. “I think we should have a correlation of 0.8 or 0.9.” “If you can come up with something that can determine GDP growth fluctuations with that kind of accuracy you should hand your paper in to a publisher, not Dr. Wing.” It turns out that ours was pretty good compared to the class. More: “We should forecast. What is the point of our model if we don’t use it to forecast?” “The point is that we are fulfilling the requirements of the paper.” It would have taken at least another day to program for a forecast. I sat down with her and started the forecasting process. “Do you still want to forecast?” “No.” “Good. Me neither.”

I think some of these mainlanders live in a world of math equations detached from practical application. Maybe I am just in the wrong groups.

I’m often critical of Americans for being insular, close-minded, and generally having a sheep mentality. But the gringos got nothing on the Chinese. It’s a very Western idea to question authority. Don’t believe everything you hear. Have a skeptical press. These values don’t exist in China.

Cultural Disconnect in China

A career mentor who represented Anheuser-Busch all over the world told me Asia was the most difficult place to do business. He cited that Europe, North America, and South America share a Judeo-Christian background and, whether you’re religious or not, that background has a huge influence on our culture and psyche. He noted that, in our society, lying to your wife, a friend, a customer, a stranger, or anybody is a lie. A lie is a lie is a lie. In China, everything’s relative. How they think stems from a completely different philosophy. Not only do I not understand it, I don’t even know what that philosophy is.

In Peru a part of my job was sourcing raw materials in China. I once emailed a friend with work experience in China about my problems dealing with one Chinese supplier in particular. Excerpts from his reply:

Colin,

In dealing with the Chinese, a few things to remember:

  • English is not their native tongue so avoid abbreviations (use kilos, not kg)
  • List things out (like I’m doing here).  Putting things in paragraph form makes it hard for them to pull out the important information.  I know you put it in bold, and that was smart, but listing is better.
  • Write in excessive detail. Reiterate things.  When I write instructions, I take pictures of everything and then describe what is in the picture.  I would have written “1000 kg (kilograms ) of …”
  • They do not make decisions.  If there is any hesitation at all, they will not do it.  They do not have the drive to be a leader or even get noticed.  Their entire goal is to have no responsibility.  They want you to spell it out.  It is almost like a drug transaction in the movies.  You have to say the right words before they do anything.

Good luck in dealing with the Chinese.  It is a pain-staking process.

I don’t understand China. I’ll never fit in.

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One Response to “Final Thoughts on China”

  1. matt

    18. Nov, 2010

    took a class with a chinese prof. it was economic geology. it was for my major. tests were over the computer could be taken twice given a day waiting period. they were worth 60% of the grade. the lab being worth 40 %.I half assed most my labs because literally non of the lab equipment worked. it basically was us polishing two rock samples within a plastic resin and identifying the minerals in the sample under microsope and using other methods. problem one the rock wouldnt polish. problem 2 the other lab equipment gave incorrect results cuz it didnt function correct (so why bother), 3 the prof thought it was all fault. his way or highway. I took an incomplete which was stupid because i wasnt wating more time on it. so it turned into an F. I could have argued with with the dean about it but the prof had seniority or whatever and so everyone loses. fun stuff. avoid chinese profesors at all cost!

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