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Working With Chinese Manufacturers – Get More Out of China by Understanding Yourself and the Chinese

If history had been a little different then the most influential person in western history might have been Socrates. However, Socrates did not write anything down; it was only his student Plato who did. However, much of Plato’s writing was lost for some time. The one who is remembered most is Aristotle, the student of Plato. He was also the teacher of Alexander the great. While Aristotle was the biggest influence, it is easiest to understand his contribution by also looking at what Socrates and Plato did.   Socrates also lived around 2500 years ago. However, it seems he had no job. As best can be gauged, he thought most about ethics and logic. He did this by taking a problem and then asking a series of questions, each deeper than the previous, until the fundamental issue or cause or answer was found. These questions could be asked of anyone to help them resolve any problem. This implicitly meant that knowledge was not held in a divine individual or wise man, but that it was out there for the taking through proper thought by anyone. This method is still referred to as the Socratic Method. However, some suggest that Socrates had a reputation for taking this to extremes, and leaving people more confused than enlightened. He believed he was the wisest because he accepted his ignorance whereas wise men were not wise because they did not realize their own ignorance. In the end Socrates was executed for the crime of corrupting the minds of the youth. But he left is mark.  

Plato was the one who told us most about Socrates. It is Plato that contributed most to logic. He also contributed to metaphysics, where the material world is viewed as a shadow of the ‘real’ world. He argued that the world perceived by the senses is not the real world, and those who rely upon their senses cannot perceive reality. Plato also wrote about governance, the nature of knowledge and art, but his contribution to logic is probably most important in the best email to use in china context of what makes western culture ‘western’. It was probably ‘logic’ that you felt was missing from the confusion approach.   Aristotle is the most well known because his writings were not lost in the West. Aristotle introduced the concept ‘natural philosophy’. Today we call this science. While this is at odds with Plato’s notion that reality cannot be found in what we sense, Aristotle still took advantage of the logic that had been developed by those before him. It is this attitude of logic and the scientific principle that guides the thinking of most westerners.  

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As a westerner you probably think to yourself: There is one single, right and logical answer to any question or problem. It is logical, independent of humans and based on an underlying fundamental principle that cannot be questioned. That answer just needs to be found. This is a commonly held belief by most westerners. It can be hard to accept that some other cultures have not worried so much about such things. However, you need to realize that this conviction is a product of your Aristotelian heritage and not the source of ultimate truth that all should accept. Many others have managed to build very successful societies in the past with different ideas.   This is not to dismiss logic, it is very powerful. Just don’t expect it to always convince others or to be as highly regard as you might think it should be.

So are we similar or different? Before answering this question, consider this summary of what has been covered.  

  1. Chinese cultural heritage places an emphasis on being in a good relationship with good people who set a good moral example
  2. Westerners believe that to all questions there is a logical answer that is based on a fundamental principle that cannot be questioned by anyone.

Certainly this is not a complete description of western and Chinese cultures. However, the authors believe it is a summary of the most significant aspect of each culture that is most likely to cause issues in cross cultural interactions.  

Given that there are really only two differences you might think that there really shouldn’t be any troubles. On the whole there are more similarities than differences. Certainly the issues that we all face, raising children, trying to get a better job, getting along with our husband or wife and their family, and wanting to live a good life with plenty of friends are fairly universal. Also most people want to help others and most of people are friendly. Therefore, one can easily say that we are more similar than different.   However, there remains a question: just how big do the differences have to be before problems start?  

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First try this small exercise. Think back to a relationship that you had in past but broke down due to a difference. Chances are that difference was only a single difference. However, that difference was still enough to cause the kind of problems that can, and do, end a relationship.  

There it is: even when mostly the same, only a small difference can cause serious problems and end a relationship between people.  

Differences in action Now if it is clear that a single difference can cause such a large problem, then it would make sense to know how to deal with it.   But first an intuitive feel for these differences in action is required. Consider some typical scenarios that the authors have encountered while working in China that demonstrate some of these differences in action.  

Can you do it? This was a subtle but interesting case. One of the authors was trying to get only indicative pricing for an assembled plastic housing on behalf of a client. All that was had was some photos. This was not something that the Chinese suppliers wanted to quote on. They did not feel confident enough in there ability to quote a price that they could meet until they saw detailed drawings. This was making it hard to help the client.   Eventually, one of the suppliers, with whom was had a good relationship, quoted. We all (one of the authors, the supplier, and the client) met to discuss the job. We decided that it was a good time to talk up our supplier.  

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We pointed out that we had gone to a number of suppliers and that this supplier was the only one who was able to quote based on the limited information. By able we meant that the supplier was skillful and better than the rest. Logically, that is what one would want: a skillful and experienced supplier who has developed the ability to quote accurately on limited information so that commercial decisions on new product ideas can be made quickly. Surely the reader would agree that this is the kind of person they would want to work with? Well we thought so, but the supplier saw things differently.  

Our supplier noted the value in demonstrating that he was the best choice and that we had indeed found the best supplier for our client. Therefore, he proceeded to say that he was prepared to take the risk because he had a good relationship with us. In short he was doing us a favor by taking a risk on the quotation. ‘What was he thinking?’ the reader might well ask. He was thinking ‘Surely you want to work with people who will be faithful in their relationship with you. People who will take a risk for you. People who you will happily take a risk for’.   So which would you prefer? At first, if you are a Westerner, you would probably rather the explanation that relies on competence. However, when you give it some thought, you can see how a relationship where each party is prepared to help the other when things go wrong can work. It is this latter explanation for working with someone that the Chinese will often naturally tend toward. Keep this in mind while reading the other scenarios.  

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