Posts Tagged ‘General Info’

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China’s Sticky Floor

May 13, 2009

A friend of mine (thanks Matt) sent over this article about the concept of a sticky floor in china’s work places.

If you are confused about the concept of a sticky floor, it has nothing to do with spittle and cigarette butts, rather it is a similar concept to a glass ceiling but for workers much lower down the food chain.

The authors claim that sexual discrimination is rife amongst China’s factories and women are unable to rise from the factory floor. Worker’s rights being a concept left for wealthy western employees.

I’m not sure that this is true though. In my experience of China, particularly of working with senior party officials, I have met many extremely powerful women. I have dealt with many companies with female CEOs and even negotiated against a fearsome female opponent who was the head of a state owned steel mill.

I am sure that the authors are not incorrect, it is just that one needs to take a step back.

I would like to see more of the study to really understand wage levels for men and women doing the same job. Perhaps they differ greatly.

However, when you look at the numbers of men and women employed in foreign invested companies at managerial level I believe that you would find a far greater number of women employed. It is a simple fact that foreign companies tend to favour women over men.

As with all surveys if you look hard enough you will always find the answer you were expecting but I do think that if we look at the economy as a whole then China is doing pretty well on sexual equality.

There is no doubt that China still has a long way to go on sexual equality but the same might be said for most western countries as well.

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Interesting Article on the China’s Copper Strategy

April 22, 2009

My friend Matt sent me this article yesterday, which I thought I would share with everyone.

Seemingly a dry look at what China is doing regarding copper, it contains one or two interesting bits of information and style.

I have seen the question of whether or not China looking to use the current economic situation to further its interests quite a lot lately.

I often find it interesting with western journalists that they see such a move from the US as ‘prudent financial policy’ (although i suspect when it comes to the US that term is oxymoronic) but when China does it they are ‘trying to take over the world.’

The stand out part of this article is that it does not take such a tone.

So China’s longer-term view is that now is the time to secure a substantial foothold in copper to ensure the country will not be exploited in the same way it was with oil, iron ore and other materials in the last boom. ”

As someone who was on the western side of negotiations on iron ore deals 6 years ago I witnessed first hand just what that exploitation was.

At the top end of the scale were the major mills who had to purchase in a sellers market. It wasn’t so bad for them but they were definitely the weaker party during talks.

At the bottom end were thousands of massively uninformed small Chinese buyers scrabbling around for any bit of iron ore they could lay their hands on ripe for exploitation by anyone claiming to have ore. Right in the middle of this unholy mess were the mines in India and Brazil just putting up prices until it all collapsed.

No wonder the Chinese have decided to change their strategy- I would say that is a very smart move.

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What is going on in China’s luxury goods sector?

April 13, 2009

I have heard from a good friend who is also in the luxury goods sector in China that even companies like Ermenegildo Zegna are having trouble paying their bills?

Is this just a case of pushing the smaller companies to keep reserves up or are they being squeezed hard by head office?

Personally I find it hard to believe that the luxury goods sector should be anything but booming in China. Given the enormous resources of the wealthy in China, anyone with money to put down 5k on a handbag probably hasn’t been greatly affected by the credit crunch.

I realise that the casual visitor to China will see a plethora of LV nags in the hands of the myriad golden sparrows on the streets of Shanghai, but most of the bags are fake.

Perhaps the companies are cannibalising profits from China to feed into other areas. Certainly, in this climate I don’t much feel like buying myself a new watch. Although just as like, that is fatherhood speaking too.

Watch this space, I will be interested to hear of any reports on how the market is actually doing.

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China’s Net Crackdown and the International Economy

January 12, 2009

I thought I might start a new thread mixed in with the language posts for those not so bothered about learning Chinese but still interested in China news.

China has started yet another internet crackdown, the usual suspects are up for ‘not being tolerated’ these being porn/ lewd pictures and political dissent.

Different blogs and news groups have tackled the issue from various angles- “Nervous China Tightens Grip on the Internet” in the Sydney Morning Herald/ China widens “vulgar” online crackdown- Reuters/ Cracking down on internet lewdness- China Rises Blog and quite a few others have reported on this.

So what does this mean?

Firstly, Zhang Ziyi has been seen topless on a beach with an enormous Israeli financier (her fiancee). Pictures have surfaced and there are few things the Chinese government likes seeing less than a national beauty ‘disgracing herself’ with a foreigner!

This has lead to a general crackdown on lewd sites and the Chinese pornography industry, which thrives on the net despite the best efforts of the government.

However, the government is, at the same time, cracking down on political sites. This is less well publicised as it makes less interesting headlines than stories about Zhang Ziyi but the major discussion site Bullog.org has been taken down and it seems that the government is putting pressure on academics to remove signatures from petitions potentially embarrassing to the government.

Normally I do not comment on politics too much but I do think that this has serious ramifications for business.

The Chinese government sees the economic slowdown as a major threat to China’s stability and its control on power. People are losing jobs, factories are closing and demand in the economy is dropping- now is not really the time to relax the grip on power.

I doubt that the tightening of regulations on lewd internet pictures is just a ‘pretext’ for other crackdowns but it is likely to be the start of a much less tolerant attitude during the coming months.

Some foreigners will make much out of this- any headline featuring China and the internet usually grabs attention, however, as business people we should be glad of the government’s actions.

A stronger control on power and an obvious acknowledgement of the challenges facing China during the economic problems show that the government means to keep stability.

Stability means a better environment in which to do business for both Chinese and western firms, which means people keep their jobs, money keeps flowing and people are more content, which leads, in turn, to more stability.

It’s a shame that we don’t get to see pictures of Ms. Zhang’s bottom* but when you get past the attention grabbing, anti-China headlines it actually all makes sense. A political and economic meltdown makes no sense for anyone, least of all the average working Chinese just trying to feed their family.

*Actually I have never thought Zhang Ziyi that attractive- something I have in common with many Chinese men. Just goes to show that western and Chinese concepts of beauty can be quite different.

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This is what happens when you don’t get the concept of a slow news day…

December 20, 2008

Picking up on other news just briefly, I am really in two minds about this article about a Chinese man in Kunming holding his girlfriend out of the window.

Reported in both the Times and the Telegraph in the UK almost word for word the same.

The Times allows 300 character comments on all articles and so the hatred started, accusing them of anti-China bias. The article then droped from front page of the website with pictures to second from bottom of the global news section.

Then the comments started disappearing. Hmm this all smells a bit fishy to me.

I can’t work this one out in my head- perhaps anyone else out there can throw in their opinion?

  • The argument is that the reporting is anti-China because it shows a negative. The Chinese don’t like this as you have probably guessed by now from my other posts.
  • The paper is then accused of bias because people claim that this would not be reported if it were New York or elsewhere in the world. But is that true? Taking a hostage is a relatively common thing but holding her our of a window- that is more like the stuff of films. This is actually worth reporting from a sensationalist human interest story point of view.
  • The guy was talked down by negotiators, this is remarkable because China clearly now has effective hostage negotiators. A clear sign of increased police training and the desire to solve problems without just shooting people.
  • One might want to consider this against the hugely negative reporting of police in the UK following the Stockwell shooting and the shooting of a 15 year old in a Melbourne park by Australian police recently.
  • Some Chinese cry foul for reporting this story but it could have been a lot worse. It seems that the police did rather well, solved a situation and all over. Thus painting them in a pretty good light.
  • Amazingly, even the biased British press decided not to turn this into anything more than a human interest story. Progress, one might say.

At the end of the day though, this only got on the front page because there was absolutely nothing else to report. That is what happens when you have a free press, who are trying to make money and they run out of things to say about the credit crunch.

It then got demoted from the front page, I guess due to the comments. Chinese censorship at work in the UK? The Times is a business and they walk a fine line between doing their job and keeping potential consumers happy. This applies to all of us, no matter which industry we may be in.

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Should You Even Bother to Learn Chinese?

December 17, 2008

Before I get go on with thoughts on actually learning Chinese I wanted to address this topic.

Chinese, perhaps quite rightly, has a reputation for being one of the hardest languages on earth to learn. Certainly, it is not an easy language but since when has something being difficult meant that you shouldn’t do it?

I’ll get onto the difficulties of learning Chinese in another post and suggest ways to make life easier but for now it may be worth considering if it is even worth doing in the first place.

Firstly you have to consider your interest and involvement in China.

If you plan to actually live in China then I’d say being able to order a meal, buy a bottle of milk or pay your electricity bill is going to be a useful thing to be able to do.

I find, for the most part, people who live in China and still maintain learning Chinese is not worthwhile are just kidding themselves. There are, however, some convincing arguments against learning Chinese, particularly if your main focus on China is going there, doing the business and leaving with the minimum of fuss and bother:-

  • Devote your time to what you are good at- you only have so many hours in a day and you may want to devote them to your product. You can always hire a translator but you may not be able to hire someone to do your job as well as you can.
  • Speaking Chinese well may actually be giving yourself a demotion- it doesn’t look good to end up translating for everyone when you are the CEO. Using a translator also gives you thinking time, being the translator means you never get time to stop and think.
  • For some reason, the Chinese believe that foreigners can’t learn their language and are shocked if you speak Chinese. The first 20 minutes of every conversation are about you and your ability to speak Chinese. This is annoying, boring and wastes time when you’d rather be getting on with the job in hand.
  • Unless you are an exceptional linguist and speak lots of languages then it can make you look too China focussed. This may be a good thing but if you are trading on your international pedigree having taken 5 years out to learn Chinese can make people suspicious of you.
  • Some Chinese will not trust you and assume you have picked up some of the negative aspects of their culture. Remember, it is not just foreigners who think Chinese can be untrustworthy- many Chinese think that too!
  • Some people claim that they can in fact speak perfect Chinese but choose not to so that they can gain an advantage in meetings etc. These people are all, without exception, liars. Starting off a business relationship by lying to someone is madness and bound to end in failure. In addition, unless you are a champion poker player with nerves of steel and 100% concentration, at some point you will react to something said and give the game away. This would not look good at all.
  • Last, and most importantly you will be compared by every Chinese person you meet to Dashan. This makes you hate him and possibly wish him harm, which is unfair as I am sure he is a nice guy just using a talent to make money in this world.

My next post will be on the reasons why you should learn Chinese.

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The Amazing Chinese Language. Part 1.

December 15, 2008

I have decided to get away from politics and culture for a while. As interesting as a little analysis is, it is a key aim of this blog to help people actually do business in China as well as understand China.

I plan to write a few posts about language- hopefully not too divisive a topic!

Looking at the last few posts we might surmise the following:

  • Watch what you say and do- insults can be perceived even when you don’t mean one.
  • If you are going to use Chinese as the front cover of your magazine (or marketing document/ website/ enormous tattoo on your back)* then you’d probably best get some help with the language and make sure the person who is helping you is a) not an idiot and b) doesn’t have a sick sense of humour.
  • Always get an expert to help you choose a Chinese name for your business and make sure you have a Chinese name for your business to at least look like you mean to stay in China longer than just to extract a quick profit.

Over the next couple of posts I will be talking in more depth about the issues surrounding learning Chinese, whether or not you should even bother and how to go about it.

Firstly, in this post we’ll look at Chinese as a concept and some of the things to consider before learning Chinese. Chinese is an absolutely amazing language- some people believe that all languages are created equal and to say that one language is better than other is wrong.

I profoundly disagree.

  • Chinese, as a written language, is ideographic, the characters are not all pictures but many came into being originally as pictures. Only about 5% still bear any relation to their original picture. I will not go into detail now about how the characters are made up and formed but there is at least some method to it- you do not literally have to learn thousands of pictures and it does all start to make sense after a while.
  • This means that when you read Chinese you have a very different experience to reading English and it is rather enjoyable.
  • Contrary to popular belief you absolutely cannot separate the sounds from the writing. When you read the characters, they still trigger a sound in your head like that of a language with an alphabet- you do not scan them soundlessly.
  • You can learn to speak Chinese without learning to read and write. But you shouldn’t. I have never started anything with the intention of never being any good at it- you simply cannot ever grasp Mandarin without having some understanding of characters. The sounds are too similar- you have to be able to distinguish homophones by being able to write them. Trust me, it may be painful at the start but you will never regret gaining at least a basic knowledge of the written language.
  • Chinese, fortunately has a really simple grammar. No cases, declensions, tenses, voices moods and all that yucky stuff to learn. Conceptually Chinese is actually pretty simple, the bad news is that as there is little grammar you do have to wrote learn sentence patterns and that can take a bit of work. You don’t have to be smart to learn Chinese but it does take a lot of work.
  • If you don’t learn your tones from day one, and I mean actually learn them and get them right then all Chinese will think you are retarded and not be able to understand a word you say. Get your tones right or you have wasted your entire effort learning thousands of words.
  • Do not get overly hung up on Simplified (Mainland) and Traditional (Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao) writing forms, personally I do not care much for simplified Chinese and prefer the full form but really, you only need learn simplified to start with. Much of the simplified language is based upon forms of the same character that have been in use for hundreds of years and it is the only form used in Mainland China. If you can, learn both forms for each character but if time is an issue, simplified will do just fine. You can always go back and learn the traditional forms later when your brain is more used to learning characters.
  • There are many dialects of Chinese but all you need learn is Mandarin. You will find wherever you are in China they will have a different dialect and will switch into that one to stop you understanding but that happens to Chinese people too. Learn to speak Mandarin well and you will get by pretty much everywhere.

So we have a few basic ideas down. In the next posts I will talk about where to start learning, good courses, how much time you are going to have to devote to it and maybe even put a few exercises down to help you.

* If you are considering any of the above please do contact me at chris@sino-cass.com.au and I will gladly proof things or translate them properly for you.