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David said on August 18th, 2009 at 12:21 am    

Jason, I couldn’t agree more.

My personal experience in China is that that Westerners get lost in China by assuming that China as a “socialist” country means that everyone is a) communist and b) collectivist minded. I don’t think that either is true. Yes, Chinese are more often described in group terms–but with the physical restrictions on space and the huge population and the historical scarcity of money/resources how could they be otherwise?! Chinese are individually aggressive–meaning they understand the rational limitations of supply and demand (much better than most “western capitalists,” I would argue) and know how to purse individual needs within a larger social environment.

China is, in my experience, actually the most capitalistic and individualist place I have ever worked. Much more so than the US. There does not seem to be the sense of social responsibility (outside of feelings of nationalism) in China that you have in the West. There is a very conscious attitude of scarcity and temporary opportunity in China that is much more tempered in the “fruited plains,” over-abundance and underpopulated US. You have to be individualistic here just to be able to stay alive with all the competition.

While in the US it may be selfish individualism there is much more independence/opportunity in the US culture than China has historically experienced. Thus American’s can afford to go it alone–because there are opportunities and resources to be had. The Chinese version of selfish individualism is, as you point out, real but limited to the immediate family–at most another 4-6 people today in China. Not very “socialist” or “collectivist” in the sense that most westerners think.

In business this translates into a number of things that define Chinese marketplaces. First, the use of personal connections to gain advantage. Politics, business, school. You name it. It’s about who you know. Second, get it while the getting is good–you never know when the govt policy will change or the market/supply will dry up. If you have a chance you’d better take full advantage because you may never see it again. Both of these practices drive westerners crazy–there seems to be no logic other than immediate greed. And yet it’s not greed as much as it’s a rational way to act in an incredibly inefficient system with limited resources.

Jason Patent said on August 18th, 2009 at 3:29 pm    

Right on, David. Thank you for fleshing things out like this. Brings the whole thing to life.

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