Monday, April 13, 2009

Power Struggle

The Chinese have an ambivalent relationship towards foreigners.

If they come to visit, Chinese people welcome foreigners with open arms, taking this golden opportunity to give them a tour of the "real China". A trip to Beijing includes visiting the usual sights like the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, The Great Wall at Badaling, oily Peking Duck at Quanjude and a cheesy acrobatics show.

Visitors leave the Middle Kingdom with memories of warm-hearted people, endless plates of food, the challenges of trying to master chopsticks and cute chubby babies. Luckily those seem to resonate more than the other images of spitting, squat toilets and jostling crowds.

But when it comes to the Chinese working with foreigners, it's another story.

After two years and now working in another state-run company, I can safely say that Chinese bosses have a love-hate relationship with foreigners.

They hire people from overseas mainly for their language or expertise in a certain area and hope to capitalize on their skills.

And at first the Chinese are polite, genial and encourage feedback or suggestions, to which the foreigners take as an opportunity to let 'er rip. Some may give constructive criticism, others good suggestions, but there are others who will just gripe and complain.

Chinese management may not expect such a barrage of comments, looking at it as a loss of face rather than an honest assessment or pathetic whinging.

And soon afterwards, Chinese bosses decide to close ranks and effectively shut out foreigners from any further discussions by conducting meetings completely in Mandarin.

Besides, foreigners are employees, not partners so they don't need to know everything that's going on.

From there, the chance to create something new that is better through a collaborative effort is lost.

In the end foreign employees just do what they're told to do -- just use their skills or expertise for their one function in the company and that's it, rather than being able to contribute further to create an even more competitive product or service that could have global potential rather than just have a domestic audience.

Part of it comes from Chinese management's lack of trust that foreigners have China's best interests in mind or that those foreign devils are actually undercover spies and have a subversive plan up their sleeves to thwart the country.

However many of us are genuinely interested in helping China improve itself. Living here we've gotten to know locals and the way the country works and we can see that if small and big changes were made, they could have profound effects on everything from efficiency to quality.

But now it looks like change will only come from within -- from the small percentage of people who study or work abroad and then come back and try to reform the system bit by bit.

Imagine if different ideas were more openly accepted and implemented -- China would be an even greater power than it is now.

1 comment:

ks said...

it is the same everywhere even in canada. there are cases that many immigrants working in civil service in ottawa can never get promoted. they can never get to the inner circle of the elite group.