I have learned a new expression on this trip to China from people that live here – ‘Life is cheap in China’. This has been said to me by westerners and Chinese alike. The recent high speed train crash was an example of that as the controversy over the death count continues as does the way those that perished are being buried. If you follow the news in China you see examples of this every day – people perishing in strange accidents on the roads, on escalators and other public venues. While there are more than 1.3 billion people in China that should not be an excuse to cheapen the value of people’s lives.
And while the above may be the case with life in China, most other things in China are becoming more expensive. The cost of food, shelter, and clothing are all skyrocketing as the Chinese government tries to keep a lid on the worry of runaway inflation.
When it comes to business I have found that Chinese companies are not yet accustomed to the idea of paying for consulting services. The Chinese corporate focus is so strongly based on making money fast that hiring and paying experts seems unnecessary to them. After all many Chinese companies are still finding great success and growth in their businesses without implementing western expertise and best business practices (or as they say in still British influenced Hong Kong – best business practises).
Yet in many of the Chinese factories I visited on my trip this week (I think it was something close to ten), there was an increasing understanding of the idea that perhaps the Chinese companies are not experts outside the China marketplace. Things that worked prior are not working as well now and there are signs that new practices and strategies have to be implemented. It will cost more than the Chinese have ever paid before – but paying something when you are accustomed to paying nothing will always be a hard pill to swallow.
Doing business in China is very different than any place I’ve done business before in the west. The cultural aspect weighs heavily in everything that occurs. One example is tea. It’s a good thing I like tea because in nearly every meeting I would consume not three cups of tea (apologies to Greg Mortenson author of the controversial best seller ‘Three Cups of Tea’) but 10 cups of tea and then on to the next meeting where the same thing would occr. There were days that I drank thirty cups of tea! I sometimes felt that the expression ‘all the tea in China’ was underrated.
Things will continue to get more expensive in China as the overall living standards increase. I’ve noted before that the U.S. will become more competitive as the Chinese and the rest of the world’s standards of living rise. Yes there’s still a long way to go in many parts of China and the world for that matter.
So while things get more expensive in China I am hoping that the most precious thing of all – life itself, also gets more expensive and soon. I will be leaving Hong Kong in the morning but know I will be back in China very soon. Xian zai, zai jian Zhong guo.