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What makes work different in China?

May 2, 2008 – 8:44 am

My last post was about if learning Chinese is worth the effort, especially with a look on the recent visa changes. I also listed my main reasons why I am in China, one of them is WORK. Justrecently who is a fellow German and has a blog about the political implications of the Olympic games, wrote a comment and I’d like to answer his question. Here is what he wrote:

I can understand four out of your five reasons for wanting to stay in China. But what makes WORK different from work elsewhere?

Answer in short: You can have a lot of responsibility early in Your career. You can find a fulfilling job here without to much effort.

Basically the question is answered, however if You want to know why, read on. In the following paragraphs You will also get an idea which skills to strengthen to get a good career in China.

Depending on what You want, this might be for You or not. I prefer to have a position with responsibility. In China it is by far easier to get such kind of position as Your competition is far less than in Europe. Someone might argue I don’t want to fight my way in a Europe, but I understand that some people prefer the self-sabotage approach on this. Apart from that, there are other things in China You need to fight. Fight may be the wrong word, but that depends on Your own position. Say, You are on a business trip to China and now You have to attend a dinner with Your business partners. Exclusive, exotic Chinese specialities are on the menu. For some Westerners the word “fight with the culture” is appropriate. For some this dinner is great fun. If it’s fun for You, You just played Your cards correctly. What I want to say is: Know Your strengths and use them. Studying biology and then seeking an electrical engineering career is as stupid as is having great interest in Asian culture and then pursuing a career in the West.

Therefore, if You have interest in Asia, by all means go there and have Your career there. You have a lot of skills most Chinese people do not have. This makes You a desired person in China and You can achieve a nice career in this place. Know and play out Your cards and receive a good position that makes You happy and rewards You with a good salary. Here are some key points, why You are wanted in China:

  1. You can analyse things.
  2. You make decisions.
  3. You have social intelligence.
  4. You understand both cultures, West and East.

You can analyse things

It probably has to do with their education system. As has been stated several thousand times on different blogs, websites and newspapers, the Chinese education is 99% learning facts. Individual thinking is unwanted in their schools. While the Chinese can make good decisions in situations where they are familiar with the facts, once they run into an unknown situation they are basically lost. They are not used to analyse unknown constrains. Instead they will just wait for someone else to help them out.

Westeners education however is a lot about thinking about unknown things. In the West students are often given something and the work is to analyse it and draw conclusions. A key factor for people who take responsibility is just that, analyse and decide. More Chinese than ever stay for short time in the West, some even do their Bachelors or Masters in the West. They have the required traits, however there are still to few of them compared with the demand.

Speaking about deciding things, this brings us to my next point why Westerners are a good asset for a responsible position.

You make decisions

Many Chinese are still concerned about saving their face. When some constrains concerning a decision are unknown they hesitate to decide. They are afraid of loosing their face in case the result is not the desired one. Westeners however have the ability to just decide. The following story happened to me, when I was in a restaurant with a Chinese person.

A Chinese friend and I were in a restaurant without an English menu. So I said to her, “just order something tasty with meat for me”. But instead of just ordering something, she asked me what kind of meat, she discussed with the waitress some things I couldn’t understand really. We were just wasting time. Her undecidedness just resulted in waiting and discussing. At some point I just took the menu and pointed at a meal that included the Chinese character for meat. After all it even was a pretty good dish.

In this case deciding without knowing all facts holds the risk of a wrong decision. Not deciding at all holds the risk of dying of hunger in a restaurant. Of course You have to distinguish, when it is to early to make a decision and when the risk is acceptable. But deferring the decision forever will lead nowhere.

You as a Westener often have the ability to decide and therefore are wanted and paid.

Your social intelligence is required

The life of young Chinese persons is often very formal. Females and Males live in separated dormitories. Social interactions between females and males are sometimes even discouraged. In the West man and woman normally live in the same dormitory in their student life. Also Westerners have travelled al lot and know about different places and their customs. In short, Westerners are used to social interaction. Further Westerners often have a good sense, when there is a social problem between coworkers and are able to solve it, as Chinese often tend not to talk about their problems. However these problems should be resolved as soon as they occur to have a positive atmosphere at a workplace.

You understand both cultures, West and East

Another straight forward point. You know the West, because You are a Westerner. If You have been in China for a while, then You also know how this place works. You are a key person when contracts between Western and Eastern companies are negotiated. When products are imported and exported. When someone wishes to push into the market of the other world. China still has to few people who know both, the West and the East. Another card You can play.


There might be more reasons why You are highly sought here in China. But I don’t want to expand this to far. If You are interested in China, You can have a good career here. Play Your cards and reap in the rewards. Get a good salary and enjoy life here. To be happy with Your work is essential for a fulfilling worklife. Here You can find this opportunity. You have a good reason to work right here.

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  1. 4 Responses to “What makes work different in China?”

  2. Hey,
    good point of view. Are you german yourself?

    I expereinced a lot of times that it seems to be hard for chinese to make flexible plans or analyze things myself – but I guess when u’re good at analyzing things and familiar with eastern (chinese) culture, you can make a good carrier in west as well as in east.
    I’m going to look for some independent chinese students when I study in Chengdu to employ them as free workers for my family’s company. But it’s not easy to find such people, even thou they’re often very ambitious.

    By Aremonus on Jun 13, 2008

  3. Hello Aremonus

    Yep, I’m a German.

    Chengdu is a nice city, I have been in Chengdu before and I really like this relaxed, yet quite modern place. See my entries:
    Some university in Chengdu
    Chengdu nightlife

    If You start a business in Chengdu, You should consider some High Tech industry. Chengdu has lots of universities and the students there are well very educated. China is not paradise when looking for highly educated workers, however in Chengdu Your chances are very good.

    Have a good time in Chengdu.

    By Hendrik on Jun 14, 2008

  4. Well I guess I won’t have problems to find workers who are able to draw CAD – what I am worried about is, that they will have to work on themself. I actually wanna pay them according to their work straightly – if finish one model, they will be payed for one model. But I don’t know whether it’s going to work.
    I think, jiaotong university will be the right uni to find some CAD emplyees, maybe even engineers. My girlfriend’s uncle is a prof there, so I am going to study there and look for employees there – u studied there too, didnt u?

    By Aremonus on Jun 14, 2008

  5. I did a Chinese course at Jiatong Daxue. Here is an idea on how to find some student who fit Your requirements:

    Ask some professor there if there are students who take CAD classes. If yes, ask if You can give a talk. The talk would be about what a CAD company does, what the typical CAD company does in the real world. What Your company does. And how a typical project in the CAD looks like. (it’s probably very different from the university classes) At the end give out the contact information of Your company.

    Your talk should be professional, yet convey a relaxed atmosphere to not scare anyone.

    Students who like the whole thing might and who believe they can keep up with Your standards will probably contact You after a while.

    Another thing is to maintain a good connection to professors who are involved in CAD teachings. They might recommend You some students.

    By Hendrik on Jun 15, 2008

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