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Chinese Culture Essay

Cultural Elements Americans Working in China Can Learn

Introduction

Living in China requires one to literally understand the elements making up Chinese culture. It is a rich culture, from which many countries can derive social, economic and political lessons. To effectively conduct business in China, it is imperative for a business person to understand how traditions and individual personalities affect business deals. Culture refers to customs, arts, institutions, beliefs and a number of products of human activity and array of ideas generated by a group of individuals. China is full of these characteristics; thus it is considered to have a rich culture. Dating back to more than 2000 years ago, Chinese culture is regarded as one of the oldest cultures in the world up to date. The culture is more dominant in larger region of eastern Asia with traditions and customs varying greatly between cities, towns and provinces. Vital components of this culture are religion, ceramics, cuisine, music, visual arts, architecture, martial arts and literature. China has fifty six officially recognized ethnic groups with Han Chinese being the largest so far. Throughout history, several groups have merged with the surrounding ethnic groups while some disappeared. Many have maintained the Han identity characterized by distinct regional, linguistic and cultural traditions. A lot about the traditional identification inside the community is more related to distinct family name.

Cultural differences are increasingly becoming less distinct as the world becomes smaller with advent of global business firms, transportation and modern telecommunication. Societies are becoming more transparent and interconnected than in any other time in the history of the world. Consequently, people originating from different cultures can easily learn from another culture quicker than as it happened in the past. This implies that differences in customs, attitudes, norms and values are less significant than in the past. Over the years, China has emerged to become a real global super power close to America. As a result, the two nations have been a subject of comparison in some media outlets worldwide. Even though these countries have ambitions of dominating the economy of the world, they both have distinct mindsets. As China opened up for the rest of the world, many Americans got attracted to reside and work in China. Mainland China is known as a place where influence from the West has remained minimal compared to Hong-Kong, Singapore and Taiwan date. The differences in normal rhythms of life in China may come as a big surprise to many Americans hence it is quintessential to discuss mindsets and components of Chinese culture that they can learn while in China.

American Culture

America is the 3rd largest country in the world with a total population of more than three hundred million people. America is a melting pot of cultures with the source of influence originating from the cultures of Native Americans, Africans, Asians, Polynesians and Latin Americans. A strand of American culture can be traced to more than10, 000 years ago when many Paleo-Indians migrated from Europe, Asia and Oceania into the region which is currently considered continental US. The country is known for its distinct social and cultural features such as folklore, dialect, cuisine, arts, music and social habits. Due to the wide-scale migration, the US has become a racially and ethnically diverse country throughout its history.

American culture incorporates both liberal and conservative elements, religious and scientific competitiveness, risk taking and freedom expression, materialistic and moral elements and political structures. Despite being made up of specific consistent ideological principles such as egalitarianism, democracy, individualism and faith in freedom, American culture continues to maintain different expressions as a result of its demographic diversity and geographical scale. It is characterized as highly symbolic and flexible in nature thus making researchers to categorize it in terms of mythical identity while others view it as American exemptionalism. The culture combines cultural elements that were developed by indigenous Americans as well as other ethnic groups, most prominently African Americans, Asian Americans and Latin Americans. Most elements of American cultures have spread throughout the world through modern channels of media such as music, architecture, dressing and democracy among others.

Traditionally, the country has always been a melting pot of cultures. However, since the 1960s till present days, it tends to lean towards cultural diversity and pluralism. In regard to the extent of cultural diversity in the US, the unique but integrated subcultures need to be mentioned. Cultural affiliations have always depended on political orientation, social class and a multitude of demographic features such as belonging to an ethnic group, religious background and occupation.

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Learning Potentials

Management Culture

Chinese culture affects Chinese perception of business. Differences in the culture of management have a massive impact on employees and overall performance of a company. Knowledge of the specifics of the cultural differences and their influence on work can help one overcome numerous obstacles that impede individual’s overall performance. The two countries have so far become close partners in trade making it common for individuals from these countries to work together regularly across borders.

Responsibility and accountability

Chinese approach to organizational management requires the employees to be given far less personal responsibilities in the workplace. This implies that accountability for a project is applicable to the whole team. An individual is treated as part of the team. Americans can learn this because in practice they have a totally different approach in the U.S. Those employed in America are assigned tasks individually with clearly stipulated responsibilities. Each employee then accounts for his/her individual performance of the task. From the managerial point of view, the ways, in which responsibilities are assigned in any organization, normally affect the behaviour of employees as well as the overall performance of the organization. Those who have previously worked in the U.S but moved to China have to learn to adapt to this kind of approach. It is the one that calls for team work. The team gets credit for the well-done job rather than individuals. In fact, American culture in business management encourages individualism and diminishes team effort and collective performance of tasks. Collective performance is an approach that Americans get to learn from Chinese: the character of not focusing on individual gain and reward but acting selflessly for the greater good of an organization. It goes without saying that each of these approaches has pros and cons but it is beyond reasonable doubt that encouraging team performance in an organization is the best way to go.

Relationships

In business negotiations, self-interests are always a priority in both parties involved. Self interest of a negotiator from China is often less individualistically oriented compared to that of an American. For them, success may not be necessarily measured in terms of profit but a number of concerns, for example, management skills and access to technology, not just for the benefit of individual enterprise but for the sake of the whole country.

Americans would have to learn to become axiomatic like Chinese. Chinese people put personal relationships at the forefront, and in situations where trust prevails especially between old friends, the process of obtaining contracts becomes more flexible with more favourable conditions. Chinese give benefits and favours on the basis of previous friendships rather than regulations or merits. Consequentially, availability of required resources, obstacles of laws and delivery problems becomes much easier with the use of these channels or connections depending on the relationship.

Emphasis on the formation of relationships also delineates Chinese historical approach to contract negotiations to be shorter than what Americans might expect. Occasionally, details are left waiting for future resolution depending on the friendship and understanding. Whereas this ambiguity may be beneficial for either party, it is important to note that in different legal forms like joint ventures, critical decisions are often left for the board of directors to be made, as they have a larger command.

Negotiation styles

Cultural differences related to negotiations include the fact that Americans have a high tendency of being impatient, thereby demanding immediate approvals, deals and responses, eventually memorialized in a certain written form. Indisputably, time delays are costly, but most importantly, Americans have to learn to be patient as part of Chinese culture since impatience can cause mistakes in making deals or even result in the loss of a deal. Whenever a person is in hurry, little attention is given to details. It is like having too much zeal without knowledge. It is important to recognize the fact that nowadays China uses different technological means in negotiations concerning the treatment of people, the authority to conduct negotiations and the use of language among others. Lack of patience is a major obstacle Americans face originating from cultural peculiarities where the key emphasis is laid on self drive for prosperity. Therefore, Americans can learn virtues that are peculiar for good negotiators from China such as patience, attention to details and composure.

Perception of time

In doing business, Chinese prefer being on time and also building relationships with the business associates. In the United States, people conclude business deals quickly and up to the point. If such a person lives in China, he/she must adapt to the Chinese way of spending more time for discussion before making final decision. For an American, this can be frustrating. In China, the focus is put on making long-term commitments rather than short-terms engagement for which they always expect to yield long-term rewards. Americans normally expect short-term gains after work. Moreover, when doing business, Chinese pay more attention to not losing a ‘face’ in front of a group. In fact, never at any point will Chinese make a person in their company appear ignorant or stupid. Consequently, their conversational style becomes more direct and it is not easy to pre-empt their thoughts thus making business discussions last longer than Americans can endure. Americans are hardly concerned about their behaviour in relation to making a person lose face rather, they are more interested in closing a deal. Another aspect of the Chinese culture that an American living in China must learn is punctuality. For a Chinese person, lateness is a sign of extreme rudeness signalling lack of respect. Although Americans attach value to punctuality, their attitude towards it is more flexible and relaxed.

Incorporate Confucian Values and Work Ethic into Everyday Lives of Americans

Americans are used to spending beyond their means, occasionally with a ‘me first’ orientation. This indicates the pursuit of immediate gratification. An American living in China would learn Confucian values that promote long-term orientation, mutual respect and reciprocity. Confucianism is identified as the foundation of the cultural tradition in China. The philosophy provides the basis on which the norms related to the Chinese interpersonal behaviour are grounded. Key tenets that an American in China can learn are; the principle of harmony, hierarchy, development of the individual’s moral potential and reliance on kinship affiliations. Harmony as the fist principle reflects the need to have a system of social relations free of conflicts. Hierarchy emphasizes the aspiration of every individual to be fully aware of his/her position within a social system. The third principle demands that each person within the legitimate group fulfils social obligations. The last principle is based on kinship affiliation with collective approach as its central component. The four tenets forming Confucian values normally have crucial implications on negotiation behaviours, for example, social obligations, basic patterns of communication and relationships within different domains. Chinese negotiate more harmoniously than Americans because they behave according to these principles. Therefore, learning Confucian values is one of the things that an American working or living in China should learn as a part of cultural exchange.

Social Orientation: Family

Society in China is highly contextual and status of a person in the society is directly related to others. The status has to be based on excitement and emotional connection with colleagues and members of family subcultures. This is different in America where social orientation is considered a unique factor and seems to be included in broader context that involves work relationships, family relationships and monetary status within the society. It is also important and fascinating to realize that for Chinese people, family orientation is clearly stipulated and defined. For them, family is the most important thing in life hence they like to spend a lot of time with kids and parents. From the Chinese perspective, family stands independently as a great component of cultural value. On the other hand, Americans are not moved by strong convictions of independence from family. They consider it part of the status of an individual within the precincts of the society. Its importance is related only to working relationships as well as a person’s power, wealth and fame subcultures. Americans’ love for their families can hardly be doubted. However, one thing they can learn is to incorporate such attitude to family into the system of the society so that even members of the society would be able to play a part in raising the child. Perhaps family values in China are not that attractive but an American living in China would have to learn to raise children within a community rather than individual based systems.

Humility

Chinese treat each other with uttermost respect and normally show humility whenever they discuss issues related to success. This is always done with intent of not to humiliate the other person hence they would give zero tolerance to such discussions. Americans living in China need to learn humility as a virtue. Self-promotion is repelled in China whereas Americans accept bragging and consider it a norm in their culture. Pride is not a virtue in life hence humility is a norm that Americans would have to learn in order to adapt to the life in China.

Economics and Relationships

In China, people highly uphold building social relations. This is known as “guanxi” in Chinese language. This is a part of business revealed in the form of allowing socialization and acquiring full knowledge of the customer before striking a deal. Relationship is a priority followed by trust and then eventually business. This makes the process last longer than in America as American society is more concerned about speed and efficiency. An American living in China has to adopt this feature of Chinese people in order to fit in their systems of doing business. The concept of relationship affects professional and personal lives in these two countries. Chinese expect to know their fellow colleagues at work in order to build genuine trust. Consequentially, an American working in China would be surprised to see his/her boss ask many questions concerning personal life. This is because they are used to keeping professional and personal lives separate so that they do not overlap in any way. Despite coming together during events, they lack solid relationships at work. Therefore, an American working for a Chinese firm would have to learn to blend in and build good relationships at work as well as with customers.

Conclusion

This discussion features various ways of life reflected in the national character of Chinese people that influences their mindsets so that any American living or working in China would have to learn to fit in. America is characterized by westernized culture hence they would have to learn different management cultures entailing more of collective performance and accountability rather than individualism, value of relationships, perception of time, Confucian values, humility, family orientation and negotiation styles. The two cultures are different in many ways; hence it is imperative for a common ground to exist when an American and Chinese meet to do business.

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