Business, China, Just saying
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Explaining parts of Chinese culture to a Finnish person :D


Haha, just now I was talking to The Boyfriend about the genius of how wechat/ 微信 discriminates foreign companies from the Chinese mass market. And he got a culture shock LOL.

I found that super interesting! So this post will attempt to illuminate 3 observable cultural differences between the average Finnish and Chinese person.

Am I qualified to write this? I think I am…! I studied Chinese history, philosophy and literature for close to 6 years during my high school and junior college–even burning the midnight oil to memorise old Chinese text (we call them “文言文”). I can play some Chinese instrument relatively well, such as the 榴月琴,扬琴+古筝. And I attended a “Chinese” high-school in Singapore, visited Shanghai on student exchange…so I know intuitively what Chinese folks are after, even though I’m not a China-Chinese person myself.

To be perfectly honest, I would classify myself as “Japanese” in style of communication, “Chinese” in business-thinking but “American” in speech. If that even makes sense LOLOLOL.

“Japanese” in style of communication implies that I don’t communicate in a straightforward manner, even though my words are straightforward (thereby “American”). There’s this term in Japanese called “微妙・意味不明” which roughly translates as vagueness in communication style. I’d been studying Japanese since I was 13, so somehow that communication style became prevalent.

For example, I will never do a show-hand when I am playing poker. I will also never reveal my complete set of domain knowledge, or contacts, or network to anyone, except immediate family and really close friends. I don’t even fully declare language fluency unless I am explicitly asked. I believe in keeping non-verbal actions sincere but vague.

Anyway I deviate.

So here are 3 differences that I spotted so far:

No. 1: Chinese people will seek to go round the problem; Finns will think hard about how to solve the problem.

For example, imagine that there is a hole in the road in front of you. Chinese people will simply walk around the hole to get to the other side. Finns will work hard to fix the hole so that nobody will fall into it.

Why is this so? I attribute this actually to Chinese philosophy, in particular, to the book of change i-ching. If you accept that the hole in the road is part of nature, you will simply accept the situation instead of thinking hard about what it should be.

The average Finnish person however, is motivated by how to make the world a better place. Most Finns I’d met are rather idealistic. So they will think of ways to fix the hole and fix it well so that nobody will hurt themselves by falling inside.

So this implies great opportunity for business. *wink*

No. 2: Chinese people seldom communicate in absolute terms. We call this “中庸” (moderate). Finns can sometimes be rather absolute in speech.

If you talk to a typical Chinese person, you’d realise that the Chinese person is rather zen-like and peaceful. He or she will rarely go to the extremes of doing something. This implies space to negotiate or navigate through vagueness. The key here is balance.

Chinese people know that white is rarely always white, and black is rarely always black. They view things in liquid form: yin interacts with yang, and there is an emergence, giving rise to growth. Yin can have yang within, and Yang can have yin within–it’s really not a problem.

The typical Finn however, will say what he thinks in a straightforward manner. The average Finnish person can feel strongly about a certain area. For the typical Finn, yes means yes and no means no. You either support Perussuomalaiset or you hate their ideologies to the core. There is no vague nonsense.

Of course I AM talking about stereotypes and averages. There are crooked Finns who often use vague words as well, especially in the business world. These are Finns who do not sign contracts and vague their way through. But typically Finns are OK and rather direct, and mean what they say in clear terms. Chinese folks are less direct with their words, and you got to keep in mind the concept of “face” when dealing with groups of Chinese people. Therefore, it is important to read the social context in terms of hierarchy, seniority and power structure.

No. 3: Therefore, if you want to learn how Chinese people really think, you cannot trust the Western media. You simply have to learn to read Chinese, AND even then, you cannot even fully trust the Chinese official press too. 

It actually is very simple. Chinese culture observed through the eyes of any Western person is likely to be extremely biased. Because the West don’t know what they don’t know in terms of Chinese culture and philosophy.

Let us revisit the Wechat example again. The context is this: Nobody in China can access “wechat official accounts”. However, Chinese people can access “微信” official accounts.

“微信” is the Chinese word for “wechat”. So the situation is this: If you are a foreign company wanting an official account on wechat, you can have the account, but you cannot access the Chinese market, because the Chinese masses are on 微信. This is because all wechat official accounts on 微信 are invisible.

Is this not some genius concoction? This implies that all foreign businesses are forced in one way or another to do business with a person based in China, just to get the 微信 official account to access the huge Chinese market.

The average smart Chinese person will never say “No” to you. They will instead smile widely, highlight the limitations of a wechat account and gently recommend that you get a 微信 account. AND THEN point out how you can get the 微信 account only by having a business contact in China.

The Western press, according to my boyfriend, tends to assert that the barrier to entry on the internet is largely due to political reasons, such as crazy activists protesting against the authoritarian regime of the Chinese government. He was thinking that China banned foreign firms from accessing the Chinese masses using 微信 out of fear of foreign influences.

This is obviously not true, because in this wechat case, it is clearly a business-driven reason. China will always put Chinese innovation and businesses first, or force foreigners to eventually contribute to the Chinese economy in some ways. Alibaba and wechat can grow so fast because of this protectionistic measure. Which is great for China!

Actually, if you want to do business in China, you have to have good relationships with the government (but not get too close), and you have to understand what “drinking alcohol/tea” means. Drinking alcohol or tea with your boss is not “for fun” or “to relax”, but “to build trust”. If a Chinese boss even invites you to tea in his office or pours tea for you, most of the time the deal is sealed. (If you even get to that stage).

Having said the above three points, how can a typical Chinese person and a typical Finnish person communicate on a deeper level?

My answer is: I DON”T KNOW HAHAHAHAHA. For a deep relationship to happen on a personal note, the Chinese or Finnish person probably cannot be “typical” Chinese or Finnish.

I get along well with my boyfriend (5+ years already hehe) because I’m rather “Japanese” in my style of communication I think. Like I can appreciate silence very well, I can do vague non-verbal expressions, I tend to do very sweet things for people I like and ignore people I don’t care about. My strengths are in being “lively” and “sincere”. I think Finnish people tend to appreciate these traits about me as well.

But if you think closely about it, it probably is difficult for the typical Finnish and Chinese folks to build really deep personal relationships. This is simply due to culture, philosophy and indoctrination. But for business relationships it should be OK due to point 1.

Again I am talking about the average person in the masses. I won’t even say this is a stereotype because there are philosophical roots to my argument.

Then society comes into play. I feel that Taiwanese/Korean folks can work well with Finnish folks because they tend to prioritize innovation in their societies. Japanese folks can appreciate the same stuffs as Finns because culturally, there are similarities.

But I really don’t see how the typical Chinese folk can understand the typical Finn in a personal capacity, or vice versa, because of certain fundamental clashes in philosophy haha. Furthermore, the China-Chinese person thinks in native Chinese (which implies vagueness already), and the Finnish person thinks in Finnish which is relatively more straightforward and direct.

Anyway these are my thoughts, and they are something for you to chew on. Gg to sleep, good night!

This entry was posted in: Business, China, Just saying
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Wan Wei is a PR practitioner with a heart for pretty things. Formally trained in public relations and quantitative economics, she is also a contributor to various ecosystems in Europe and Asia. Drop her a PM or visit her blog! :)

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