As I got off the flight yesterday in Beijing coming from Shanghai I immediately noticed that the people in the airport were taller (and a bit wider) than the people in Shanghai. You might also be interested to know that as in the U.S., when the flight lands and the plane pulls up to the gate and the bell rings everyone jumps up and stands up as if they will be ready to walk off the plane inside of a minute. I imagine that is true all over the globe.
China is known as the Middle Kingdom. There are 56 recognized ethnic groups in China and 31 provinces. And people are often defined by where they are from – physically and behaviorally. To me this is in stark contrast to the United States since Americans have access to much of the same information and resources simultaneously which makes things more homogenous. Could you really tell where in the U.S. someone is from merely by looking at them?
The Chinese from the North (cities like Harbin) are tall and just big. The influences of Russia and north Asia being primary reasons. As you move further and further south the people get smaller and at times darker as the Polynesian and island influence is much stronger (Cantonese are smaller than Shanghainese for instance).
Language also is greatly impacted geographical location. Cantonese is very different from Mandarin which is the ‘national’ language of China (thank Chairman Mao for that). I can now hear the difference between Cantonese and Mandarin even if I cannot understand what is being said. Not the same for Shanghainese though. Amazingly (to me) there are many people living in Shanghai that do not easily speak or understand Mandarin – they can communicate in Mandarin but are not comfortable. This is true in other provinces in China as local dialects prevail and remain.
The Shanghainese seem to look down on the Beijingers as old world and a bit slow to adapt. The Beijingers look at the Shanghainese as faddish and arrogant. That sounds more like what happens in the U.S. with L.A. people, Chicagolanders, and New Yorkers all drawing conclusions on the other based on geography.
China is also a very social place to do business. We flew into Beijing last evening just as the sun was beginning to set – a bright orange disk as while it was a clear evening in terms of rain clouds, the pollution from Chinese coal-fired factories mixed with dust from the nearby Gobi desert combines to produce a seemingly constant state of haze. This reminds me of when I lived in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. We had a dinner with some people Elizabeth (who has done a marvelous job of facilitating my business trip here in China) thought I should meet. I truly enjoyed meeting Phil (an Aussie) and his lovely wife Debbie (a Kiwi). Elizabeth noted that she had to meet some other people at 9 and we only sat down to dinner at 8 (a great Thai restaurant called Purple Haze – why the name?). She asked us if she could invite them and of course we said yes and shortly thereafter two younger Chinese (a couple maybe?) showed up and we moved to a table for six. (And we did not even use Foursquare!)
This happens all the time (apparently) in China. People come and join in – stay a while and then leave or not. 5 of the six of us spoke Mandarin. You can guess who the oddball was there. The young Chinese man did not speak English. So when people spoke Mandarin I had no clue what they were saying and then when 5 people spoke English the young Chinese man looked equally at sea.
Elizabeth then noted she had to leave with her two (the woman was named Jeannette and she too was lovely) Chinese associates. So there I ended up with two people I had never met from three different countries talking about business in China. I could not have had a better or more interesting time. And it is not possible for me to pay for any meals when out with people here in China. I cannot even get my hand in my pocket – they simply will not stand for it.
We talked about the fascinations of what one sees in China and Debbie said – well you know what they say – ‘Only in China’. I wonder what Don King would say about that?
Hey Mark – interesting stuff! Maybe you should facilitate a Rotary trip to China!!
Thanks Steph – that would an interesting trip indeed – happy to oblige – I will be going back soon enough!