So Chinese prefer to await the right moment instead of pushing through a certain request like we sometimes tend to do here. So when you don’t notice it might come across as if Chinese are extremely lazy, waiting until the very last moment to fix things. But that’s not the case. And if you bring your checklist and your deadlines to China and you think that’s going to work, you’ll have difficult times and believe me, I know.
So in 2000, I was travelling through the countryside of China. and back then, people were quite shocked seeing a tall red head passing by. At some point, I even had to help a cycler get back on his feet after hitting a tree while looking at me. So I arrived in Tai Shan, a relatively small town in the South of China and there I met a girl or actually first I walked and I couldn’t find a place to sleep so I was just wondering around and there I met a girl named Chen Wang and she asked me to be my friend and we just sat down the entire afternoon in a park learning each other’s language.
But as time passed by, I felt more and more uncomfortable by the fact that I still didn’t have a place to sleep. So I shared my worry with my new friend, but she just waved aside my question. I tended to ask again and again, but I managed not to and just wait and see what would happen.
So, after a while I just obediently followed her for a long walk and the two hour best drive over unpaved roads, sometimes stopped by 20 donkeys trying to cross the road. So, eventually, we arrived at a very out-dated school building. And on the third floor, there was a room, the size of my kitchen, filled with six bunk beds offering space for 12 girls to sleep, to live and to study.
So I spent a few days and nights with my Chinese peers learning about their student lives and their environment and I tell you it was so much more interesting than a boring hotel. So, I really believe if we’d manage to sometimes put our impatience aside and really see and wait what would come across and if you are open to the approach of Chinese then much more beautiful things come to you.
So, the last characteristic that is probably difficult for us to understand is the fact that for Chinese, for many Chinese, making a mistake in public is one of the most humiliating things in life. Face, reputation, “miànzi” in Chinese really determines your position in a social network. So face depends on how attractive you are, how many friends you have, the skills you have, the connections you have, how much money you have. Face can be earned but face can also be lost.
So, in the day-to-day lives of Chinese face plays a crucial role. To give you an example, a Dutch client of us signed a contract with their Chinese local partner, Mr Fan, who’s also a good friend of ours and every body was happy because of long negociations after a few days and then the Dutch client left to go back home. One day, after the Dutch client flew home, Mr Fan turned to us, his face in terror, “One of the investors has stepped out.” And, of course, it would have meant a show stopper for the cooperation. But to be honest we were really happy that Mr Fan turned to us instead of directly contacting the Dutch client, because naturally the Dutch client would have become very angry, causing Mr Fan to lose his face, ruining the long-term relationship.
Now we had the opportunity to together find a solution, close the gap by finding another investor and doing this, we saved Mr Fan’s face and the business of our client. So, also here, I feel that if we managed to look at a certain situation from different angles, I believe it would positively benefit our business accomplishments. So, I have a picture this picture, largely projected on my wall in our office in Amsterdam because this man reminds me of the first time I set foot on Chinese soil and he reminds me of all the lessons that I have learnt over the years. To have a long-term view, to be patient, to be open and to be a good listener. So, I hope tonight I inspired you to also consider your own approach and I welcome you to fly with me to China to learn from the Chinese.