UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Working effectively with China


Doing business with ChinaJoy Huang (MBA ’99), president of Connect East LLC, shared an introduction to China as a country, its people and its cultural values in the webinar “Working Effectively with China” offered by the Global Business Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

A Snapshot of China

To help explain the Chinese market to Westerners, Huang characterizes these key groups. 

  • Local Chinese grew up in China and have not studied overseas. They make up the majority of the labor force, and they have a vast understanding of local knowledge, culture and business practices.
  • Returnee Chinese were born in China but worked overseas. They have an advantage over others in the labor force because of their bicultural understanding, but they fall behind in the fast moving Chinese market when they leave to go abroad.
  • Foreigners are Western-born citizens who face many challenges since they are less familiar with the Chinese culture and have difficulty becoming part of an “in group.” Increasingly, the trend of many Chinese companies is to hire Western expatriates who speak Chinese. These expats have a deep understanding of Chinese corporate companies and culture.
  • Local foreign hires have a good understanding of the Chinese culture and often work for multinational companies.

The “In Group”

Huang identifies the “in group” as people who share similarities in culture or business. They can be created by language, family or business similarities. Once someone is “in” they gain trust with others in the same group, which is important because China is a relationship driven society in both social and business dimensions. “It’s all about who you know and what you can do for each other.” Relationships in China take longer to develop compared to those in corporate America. In addition, Chinese consider whether someone is China for the short term or for the long term when developing relationships.

Hierarchy and seniority

Huang introduced Confucius’ “Five Virtues” to describe the importance of hierarchy in Chinese culture. Comparing the “ruled” to the “ruler” and the “child” to the “parent,” Huang illustrates hierarchy, which leads to order, stability and prosperity. There is a respect for hierarchy and seniority, which in most cases gives the views and decisions of senior employees more weight and respect. 

Giving and saving face

Face helps the Chinese maintain harmony and avoid conflicts, and business people can save and give face in. Publicly pointing out mistakes causes a person to lose face, so address errors in a roundabout way, not directly. When one gives face, it makes others look good, such as giving praise in group settings. Acting in ways that makes others look good gives them good face and then helps relationship building, which open doors in the business world of China.

View the free and public webinarTo learn more about Huang, click here.