Rising nationalism – Will it effect the business climate in China?

Rising Chinese nationalism - Will it effect the business climate in China?

If I were worried about one single element of doing business in China today, it wouldn’t be inflation. Nor would it be the rising costs of exports due to the rapid appreciation of the yuan. Or rising fuel costs for that matter. Air pollution? Nope. The cost of labor going up would not be my main concern either. No, all of these issue seem unpleasant yet manageable, in one way or another, even if difficult. So what then pray tell would it be? Definitely it would be rising Chinese nationalism. Normally I bypass politics altogether, to focus on the furniture industry and china business – two things I think are interesting enough to keep me busy. But in many ways, I find todays topic be quite relevant since one will effect the other.

Chinese nationalism

Eleven years ago, when I stepped off the plane, I found people were surprisingly open-minded and curious. Interested in knowing about the world around them while not necessary accepting the viewpoints – but still extremely curious to know what they were. Sure, people would be quick to correct you if you didn’t understand that Taiwan was a part of China. But beyond this, the prevailing attitudes were mostly curiosity. Safety was not a concern either, other then falling through an open manhole, off your bike or more likely off the sides of some un-restored remote part of the great wall during a hike. But personal safety? I generally always felt as if I was a welcome guest in the country (albeit exploited for my expertise and spending power). This is probably one of many reasons why I continued to stay for so long, despite the challenges of living in a third world country. (And yes – in 1997 there was no Starbucks – no Ikea – no Tiffanys – no Walmart – no Vics, no Jenny Lou’s – no nothing, just lots of bikes).

But I never felt unsafe.

When NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 I watched the protests outside the US Embassy from within feet of the action on both the first and second days. Quite a show it was. A little unnerved yes but seriously concerned for my safety? No. Even on the third day and onward as it got nastier, the general line in talking with locals was “its a government to government problem – whats it got to do with us?” Even my Chinese student friends who were actually protesting would call in the evenings to make sure I was “ok and to remind me they were “supposed to participate.” This made cultural misunderstandings and business relationships a tad bit easier to manage. Problems were much easier to resolve since politics were really not an interest on either side. But these days, I find this definitely is no longer the case.

Something new is in the air.

There is an interesting post on the silk road international blog entitled, Foreigners not Welcome and I find this post echoes much of what I see on the ground as well. Which is that I have noticed a trend in almost all of my conversations with the local people in which I interact with in daily life. As a Mandarin speaker, I tend to spend a fair amount of time conversing with people who are the mainstream “lao baixing” (the common man) – ranging from factory workers to taxi drivers to highly educated college graduates (from well known universities I might add). And I speak my opinion. I think if you live and work here on a day to day basis its hard to “not be yourself.” But now the views and reactions from those around me thats changed.

So, what are the viewpoints?

  • Pollution in China is the fault of foreigners. We foreigners have come here to manufacture our cheap garbage at the lowest price possible and consequently, the environment is polluted as a result. If we foreigners didn’t come here to make so much money, there would be no environmental problems in China.

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