Since I’m here working, I thought I’d share some impressions – in no particular order of importance – of doing business in China.
1. Make sure when you get materials translated that you have them reviewed for professional writing standards. There are several times that I have relied on translators to convert my wonderful prose – whether it was website copy or an article – to find out days (sometimes weeks!) later that there are problems with it.
The problems range from missing whole phrases or sentences I wrote, to a grammatically poor translation, to just badly executed meaning. Thus, for something really important, it wouldn’t be overdoing it to get two different parties to review materials, after the translator has done their work.
At a minimum, this means translating your PowerPoint or Keynote content into Chinese to go along with your native English.
If you don’t, then you may want to consider having someone verbally translate your presentation while you are giving it.
3. The need for ‘brown face’ in your business relationship building is important. This phrase comes from my Chinese colleagues – it’s not mine. Not unlike any other culture or country, the fact is that one needs to have Chinese members on your team to build credibility with Chinese customers and business partners.
4. Taiwan and Hong Kong are and aren’t China. The mainland of China is the People’s Republic of China (or PRC, in English). As far as the PRC authorities are concerned, Taiwan and HK are part of the same nation. So, if you are presenting a map, for example, of your offices in Asia, be sure to use the one that shows Taiwan and HK as part of the PRC.
However, while geopolitically, both regions are part of the Mainland, they aren’t governed in the same way. Instead, they operate under their own special sets of rules, based on their unique histories.
Likewise, Taiwan enjoys a more liberal, free society, with its own overlay of elected politicians. The relationship between the PRC and Taiwan is principally governed via a construct and collection of governance called the Cross Straits Agreements. But make no mistake: at the end of the day, the PRC firmly believes Taiwan to be part of its sovereign territory every bit as much as the USA believes Puerto Rico to be part of its.
5. When someone in China says ‘no problem’ or ‘I understand’ the chances are that there is a problem or they don’t understand, but they are just trying to get rid of you.
6. Americans use a lot – and I mean A LOT – of idioms in their business-speak. This especially becomes clear when you are consciously trying to avoid them with a Chinese audience that is modestly English speaking. It’s also painfully obvious if you actively listen when there is an American who isn’t as attuned to the literal nature of their speech.
I very clearly remember sitting in a conference call with a team of Austin busdev people on a conference call talking to a Chinese team on the other end of the line. At one point, one of the main Austin speakers used seven sports metaphors in consecutive sentences: ‘ball over the goal line’ ‘quarterback the project’ ‘try an end run’ etc.
It was borderline comical! I could only imagine to myself what it would have been like if our Chinese colleague had used as rich a set of sports metaphors in reply that were all based on the art of Sumo wrestling!