It’s been another busy week here in the Middle Kingdom…
Swine flu has hit here, too, and you just know that after SARS and avian flu, officialdom must relieved that this outbreak started somewhere else – and eager to ensure there’s no finger pointing back here. (Are your emergency response plans up to date?)
But the big event this last week was International Workers’ Day or Labor Day which has given everyone a long weekend to celebrate and relax. Labor Day is one of fun holidays here because the weather is neither cold nor oppressively hot or humid. Chinese families are out to promenade and the parks are packed. And the kite flying is incredible here in Shenzhen. Kites in all shapes and sizes – bumble bees, butterflies, airplanes, beetles, unidentifiable blobs, tigers, you name it, and all operated by folks ranging from toddlers being instructed on the basics on up to some pretty fancy aerobatics executed by elderly gentlemen. My personal favorite was a snake kite that looked to be five or six car lengths in length and would take 15 seconds for an undulation at the front of the kite to reach the tail. Given the traffic jam on the freeway beneath it, I suspect lots of folks shared my appreciation.
In thinking about the nature of work in China, you can’t help but realize there’s a major cultural difference between West and East. Foreigners moving to China are often not prepared for the lowered barrier between work and home life and what that means for the workplace – the interest and discussion of family issues, the after-hours socializing, and the bevy of social activities expected to be provided for employees. Although changing, particularly in major cities, it’s still quite common for sizeable workplaces to have a special location on company premises for karaoke, dancing, table tennis, or other commonly appreciated activities. To westerners, who often have a very segmented view of life and work, this more holistic blend of work and life can come as something of a surprise.
For visiting foreigners who can escape the clutches of their five-star hotels, a stroll down a typical Chinese business street is instructive. You’ll see commerce, babysitting, chatting with neighbors, kids doing homework in front of their parents’ shops, shopkeepers negotiating over tea with longtime customers, families cooking dinner in rooms behind the store, and a myriad of other daily personal and commercial activities all within inches of each other. Work and earning money provides the forum for pre-Facebook contact with actual faces.
Professor Joseph Vining from the University of Michigan posits a fascinating theory: that, as a result of China’s accession to the WTO and continues to grow in economic clout, certain aspects of Chinese culture will have a positive effect on western business practices. Very briefly – and apologies to the professor if I oversimplify his thesis – he sees a “general tendency in Western thought, to make business and corporate decision-making entirely manipulative and calculating, and to eliminate the force of human value from it.” And he goes on to note that China approaches business from a very different perspective that will inevitably have more influence as China’s economic clout increases.
Anyway, you can go read the professor’s paper. Labor Day is rapidly fading out and I haven’t flown a kite yet.