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

Flag_of_the_Peoples_Republic_of_China.svg_ 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.

The real question here is, how will this effect both the long and short term business climate here in China for foreigners?

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.

Chinese-Nationalism Rising Chinese nationalism - Will it effect the business climate in China?
Street fury: demonstrators in Shanghai shout nationalist slogans near Japan’s consulate in 2012 to mark the 1937 invasion © Reuters

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.

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

Chinese Nationalism in the Global Era

Presenting an analysis of the tension between nationalism and globalization in China since the beginning of the ‘reform and opening’ period in the late 1970s to the present day, this book makes a unique contribution to the on-going debate on the nature of Chinese nationalism. It shows how nationalism is used to link together key areas of policy-making, including economic policy, national unification and foreign policy.

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.
  • If there are quality problems with Chinese made products, its our fault. If we didn’t come here to buy low-prices trash they not have made it, so stop complaining.

  • Foreigners are only here in China for the fantastic money making opportunities that are everywhere here. Money is the driving force here, not the culture, the adventure or anything else. (This one seems to hurt the most since I have spent the last few years in a culturally rewarding but fiscally less rewarding industry specifically because I like Chinese culture. Actually most of the foreigners I know here have made very little money in China and the few that have have paid dearly for it).

  • Yes, China’s new labor law is a pain but a good thing since as it will help to prevent the foreign business here from continuing to exploit Chinese workers (still not sure how this will prevent this sort of thing from happening: slave labor in the Shanxi brick kilns)

  • If you have a complaint or problem with something, its probably because you just don’t like the way we do things here (and are just looking to exploit us anyways). Now there is some merit to this, but this one has shown up in some surprising situations like during quality control inspections on furniture. If it its the wrong size, its the wrong size. What does that got to do with being a foreigner?

  • China is rising. If you have an issue with this, live with it or get our. Its probably because you are unhappy with the fact that even though the west is working furiously to contain China, its just not working. We like our government as they have made us more prosperous.

I must not have gotten the memo

Did we just revert back to the 1960ies? Have we returned to days when Americans were branded “capitalist running dogs?” Whats scary about all this is the all encompassing depth and coverage of these viewpoints amongst different age generations, cultural and social backgrounds, education levels and professions. People I have known for years who are normally very non-confrontational now pepper their conversations with these viewpoints when discussing seemingly unrelated and benign topics. I have also noticed that the younger the person, the stronger the anti-western sentiment. And the wording is almost identical in some cases.

The real question here is, how will this effect both the long and short term business climate here in China for foreigners?

After eleven years here and running, it makes you realize that though much has changed on the surface, not much has changed underneath. In fact, in this regard it seems like we moved backwards. How and why this is occurring, is something I will not address as there are many other more eloquent and qualified writers who have written extensively on this topic. And one thing is for certain: Whether you agree or disagree with the Chinese viewpoint is irrelevant because its their viewpoint. This is clear from the articles linked below – particularly the ones where comments have been enabled. They don’t really care of you agree with them. They believe this viewpoint and will defend it passionately. Sure this makes for some interesting conversations but does not help when talking about constructive criticism towards an employees. How do you get a person to increase their productivity when they already resent you to begin with for trying to contain their culture?

More article on this topic from other sources on the web:

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