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A Guide To Working In China: Top 5 Customs
Tim Neesham, who has lived and worked in Shanghai for the past 2 years, reveals his top five customs to learn before relocating to the next global superpower.
As more and more Western-educated Chinese return to the homeland, the opportunities for those considering a move to the Far East are changing. Rumor has it that so-called ‘expat packages’ are on the way out as newly developed China focuses more on hiring from within.
So what might this mean for Westerners looking to immigrate to the world’s most populous nation? Could the influx of Chinese workers into Western firms lead to more Western workers into Chinese firms? If so, here are some practices to become familiar with:
Perhaps the most difficult Chinese practice for Westerners to understand, guanxi, literally translated, refers to one’s relationships, both personal and professional. However, guanxi as a concept can be translated as ‘saving face’. It is determined by things like age and rank, and the idea is to maintain the way others see and judge you; It plays an important part in many aspects of Chinese culture.
The Chinese workplace has a very strict chain of command, and any attempt to circumvent this chain and speak directly to a boss or senior staff member, thus disregarding guanxi, is not only viewed as gross misconduct, but also disrespectful. Punishment may include termination of contract and your superiors.
It can be especially frustrating when, as a subordinate, you are made to take the fall for something that is not your fault in order to avoid losing face with senior staff.
Communication in a Chinese company is an entirely different animal from that in the West, and is often linked to guanxi, as both are concerned with how colleagues communicate with each other.
For example, the Western cliché of chat by the water cooler doesn’t really apply; In fact, office fun in general is more or less non-existent, and any attempt to introduce it is often met with a frown. It’s also not uncommon for colleagues sitting next to each other to communicate with each other over a computer – usually via an IM service – rather than speaking in person.
In terms of communication, being a foreigner has its advantages because we are more or less alone in doing what our colleagues think we do. However, this lack of direction, constructive criticism, praise or advice can sometimes make you feel a little different.
Most of us find the idea of doing a medical before starting an office job to be trivial, but in China you don’t have a choice. Essentially the employer is just looking for any communicable diseases and the like, which I think is enough.
But this medical reminded me more of something between an Easter egg hunt and one of those kid’s adventure puzzle books, except this chapter all the explorers were confused-looking aliens wandering around trying to figure out what was going on. solve the puzzle, go to room 205; Don’t solve the puzzle, go back to Room 201 – but instead of Easter eggs, there are needles, weird-looking X-rays and ultrasounds!
The Chinese often claim to have invented things long before Western nations. For us, the X-ray machine was pioneered by Wilhelm Roentgen in the late 19th century; However, from the looks of the medical center’s radiology department, the Chinese may actually have a point.
A Chinese travel guide will say that Chinese people have many strange habits. These habits also play out in Chinese office situations, such as everyone eating lunch at their desks or being fined for not closing the office door properly. However, my personal favorite is bedtime. As soon as the allotted lunch period is over – for the record, what time you eat lunch is not debatable – someone comes in, turns off the office lights and everyone goes to bed for an hour. It’s like going back to nursery school.
It may be a tradition not to wear outside shoes at work, i.e. take them off at the door and replace them with ‘slippers’. It was particularly interesting on the day of my interview as I was unaware of the rule and thus arrived at the office, suited and booted, only to have to take off my shoes. I asked them what I wanted to wear, they looked confused and finally found the only spare pair of ‘slippers’ they were knocking around, which were a pair of pink flip flop size four. Together with a gray suit he looked really rather attractive.
5. Hidden extras
In June 2012, the Chinese government enacted a new law aimed at stemming the flow of foreigners coming to work in China. It states that any foreigner seeking employment in the country must first return to their home country to obtain a working visa at their own expense.
This can add up to some expensive start-up costs when combined with visa costs (£66), medical (£58) and the residence permit (£40) required to legally live and work in China.
On the bright side, it is rumored that the new Chinese government, which took power in mid-November, will take countermeasures to further open the country to foreign investment and therefore relax newly tightened immigration employment laws.
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