Chinese culture – Parots, Pornography and David Cameron.

November 10, 2010 in Export to China

I did a 4sight at 4networking Swindon today, which was a presentation about some of the cultural differences between China and the UK. Some are interesting or  amusing but awareness of others could make a real difference to your business.

There were a few useful questions raised at the end which I thought it might be of interest to others  so I have shared them here.

Q1. Why did China ask David Carmeron not to wear his poppy in China.

A: Poppies are a symbol of the opium wars, representing humiliation to the Chinese. The Opium War reminds China of the Treaty of Nanking—the first of what the Chinese called the unequal treaties which granted an indemnity to Britain, the opening of five treaty ports, and the cession of Hong Kong Island, ending the monopoly of trading in the Canton System. The war marked the end of China’s isolation and the beginning of modern Chinese history but at quite a cost. See this link for a recent British press article on the situation: David Cameron should not have worn that poppy in China

Q2. Andy Sawers: With David Cameron in China today negotiating business links, but under pressure to raise concerns about other sensitive issues, do you think he would succeed bearing in mind your comments about the Chinese culture to be subservient and not to criticise?

AThere is a difference between being subservient and being tactful. By being overly direct he is likely to come across as both rude and arrogant – traits that are deemed evidence of being uneducated and uncouth. The Chinese way of dealing with such a situation and one that would be far better received, is to build a relationship first and certainly make the focus of such talks on the mutual benefits of a strong relationship. Criticisms should be tactfully approached indirectly and discussed in a way which shows respect. David Cameron is walking a fine line if he generally wants to succeed in improving business relationships – the UK economy needs this far more than the Chinese one does. In summary, I understand his predicament, if he does not force the issues he will face criticism at home, if he does, he risks damaging the trade relations with China. Either way, being culturally aware and sensitive would surely have been the better bet.

Q3. Andy Holt: “When I was in HK airport, I got asked two questions: Do you have any pornography? Do you have a parrot? “

A: I really can’t think of an answer to your question. Perhaps the security guard was bored, and thought you looked like the kind of guy to have such unsavoury material that he could ‘confiscate’. As for the parrot, still being bored and failing the porn, maybe he thought you could re-enact the dead parrot sketch from Monty Python?!