Little lesson on China from Master Wu

Easy to say, yes!

China, what is it? When you know little about the country, it is easy to make great generalizations that seem intelligent, but the more you get to know the country, the more you realize the complexity of a territory, rich in cultures dating back thousands of years, which has been enriched by many outside influences.

Professor Wu

At the beginning of a third stay in 2002, I met Xiao Wu, a salesman, who had come to try his luck in Shenzhen. Coming out of his Hunan countryside, he had to learn to speak Mandarin well without his Hunanese accent. He was a quick learner. The cunning Wu liked to explain his business to me. Some people warned me; with his smile he reminded the proverb “A dagger in a smile, 笑里藏刀”. I noticed it a few years later, but that’s another story… He was in charge of developing a software brand in the Canton region; the brand’s main markets were in Canton province, Shanghai and Beijing.

Poulet aux épices du Hunan

Hunan Spiced Chicken

The Cantonese do, the Shanghainese do in form, the Pekingese do in power. In front of a spicy chicken that raised my temperature, he told me about the great diversity of psychologies in the regions and the differences within the regions themselves. China is not made up of one block, it is multiple and complex. Then, he gave me a first lesson, on three main axes (Canton, Peking, Shanghai), summarized in one sentence by playing on homophones ( zuoshi): 广东人做事(事情的事),上海人做式(形式的式),北京人做势(实力的势,). The Cantonese do, the Shanghainese do with form, the Pekingese do with power.
According to him, the Cantonese are much more concrete and pragmatic, when we do business, concrete considerations prevail, we don’t waste time with reverence, we talk business and we are quick.
In Shanghai, you will be more polite, you will show more warmth in the reception, you will be more flattering about the qualities of your company and your product, but in the end, you will not know if you can take an order or take away a contract.
Beijing is the capital of power, Beijingers feel the power much more. The customer will want you to take him for the emperor, you will have to make much more effort in flattery and fine words than with the Cantonese. When you have a problem to solve, it’s much more complicated, the customer is always right, he doesn’t hear reason, whereas in Shenzhen or Canton, it’s much easier to rely on more concrete elements when your service or product is not perfect.

Of course, these big rules are not 100% right, there are exceptions. On the other hand, these regions have considerable population mixes, which modify the texture. Nevertheless, I was able to see the relevance of these considerations, which helped me to navigate in the psychology of these places. Afterwards, I had to understand the differences in other provinces and cities from Heilongjiang to Xinjiang, including Hubei and Fujian, but that’s another story.

28 may 2020


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: