Apr 26, 2017 By Andrea Scarlatelli , eChinacities.com

Same Name, Different Game: 5 Ugly Facets of the Chinese Workplace
Photo: ministryoftofu.com

It doesn't take sharp observational skills to notice that China is a very, very different place from whence you came. It doesn't matter where you're from – I happen to come from America, and so use this as a baseline for my own experience – China is completely different from it. This applies to almost all areas of life and many people are not exactly surprised. They come here expecting different food of course, a different language (or ten), different social practices. None of this comes as much of a shock. There is one area, however, in which many expats find themselves taken aback: the workplace. Every office has the same basic feel, right? The same code of ethics, the same unspoken definition of decency, right? Wrong. Read on for some little things that are, if not completely legal all the time, largely accepted in Chinese offices – and that could get you fired if you try them in America.

1) Hiring based on looks
Perhaps one of the biggest and most obvious no-no's in America is not only legal in China, but fuels the multi-million dollar a year plastic surgery trend currently thriving in this country. A plethora of articles have come out in recent years discussing Chinese citizens (a vast majority of them women) surgically altering their looks in order to be more competitive in the workforce. Some jobs, and even college majors, actually have appearance and height requirements in China (such as flight attendants and English majors).

All other jobs simply require a colour photo submission along with your CV – and common knowledge is that the jobs usually go to the prettiest or most handsome candidate with even an iota of qualification (or sometimes not even that – see item #5 on this list). From steel rod leg implants given to increase one's height, to double eyelid surgery done to make one's eyes look bigger, to breast implants to, well, you know, it's all about the looks when hiring. And in America? Just Google "gender discrimination lawsuits" and you'll have some idea of how just how illegal hiring based on looks can be there.

2) Stealing ideas
Intellectual property is a huge deal in America – people want to be recognised and compensated for the hard work and energy they have put into coming up with the next big thing. Not so much in China (fake markets, anyone?). The Chinese workplace is seen as basically one giant, amorphous community, and this includes people's brains  (which explains a lot actually if you stop and think about it).

What one person thinks and says aloud can (and will) be made into a Power Point presentation by another. Never mind who had the brilliant idea or gets the boss' praise, all office workers are the same anyway, right? Well, that is the idea at least. So be sure to guard your ideas carefully if intellectual independence is important to you. Otherwise, you may just wind up seeing your brilliant business approach published without your permission under someone else's name.

3) Smoking in the office
Smoking has been banned in pretty much all work places in America, with the exception being if you happen to work in a strip club. And in fact many cities in China, such as Shanghai, have also banned smoking in the workplace. It is simply that no one really cares or enforces such a law. If one were to blatantly smoke at one's desk in America, or in the hallway, or even the bathroom, you would promptly be fined and perhaps fired if it became a habitual discipline problem.

In China, however, those who point out that smoking is illegal inside the building (usually a member of the cleaning staff) to someone who is smoking inside a prohibited area (usually a guy in a suit) will nine times out of ten simply be screamed at to get back to work and mind their own business. But in all actuality, chances are that no one will actually say anything to someone smoking inside an office building because a) a nation of nicotine addicts cannot be expected to enforce the law themselves and b) the person noticing it probably wants to bum a cigarette off the guy anyway.

4) Paying employees under the table
In all fairness, paying employees company money without paying taxes on them is just as illegal in China as it is in America. And Chinese companies do get in trouble for it when caught. It is just that they are almost never caught because the matter is never looked into systematically – well, either that or the official looking into it has been bribed… with company money that no one is paying taxes on.

One of the most popular examples of this in China is English schools. There are so many English schools either hiring foreigners to teach in their schools or contracting them out to other ones that the government can hardly keep track. So is it really any surprise that a great many of them (I may even go out on a limb here and say the majority of them) simply pay their teachers in cash so they do not have to report their earnings and pay taxes on them? But this doesn't just apply to English schools – there are many, many companies out there paying foreigners for services rendered with cash under the table. It is a win-win situation for both parties (assuming the company does not get caught) so it is doubtful that the practice will stop any time soon.

5) Hiring unqualified people based on personal relationships
In America, most companies require you to disclose if you have had any sort of prior relationship with a job candidate for whom you have the ability of hiring. An example of this occurred recently when a college football coach got fired for having hired a woman with whom he'd had an affair to a coveted position in the athletics department. In China, however, the whole idea of using guanxi, or relationships (business or otherwise), to your advantage in the workplace is such a commonplace thing that no one really bats an eye when the boss hires his nephew for that huge construction contracting job – never mind if the nephew has absolutely no idea about construction.

I will never forget a Chinese friend's complete acceptance when a new girl was hired in her office as a secretary – and told my friend she had never used a computer in her entire life. It turns out this girl had worked in the boss's favourite massage parlour and had apparently done such a bang up job that she was promptly hired as his secretary, despite having zero experience in anything other than "massaging." My friend basically wound up having to do both her job and this ex-masseuse/secretary girl's job – but my friend just took it all in stride. Relationships are funny things, you see…

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Keywords: Working in China guanxi in China different rules Chinese companies business practices China bribery and nepotism China

38 Comments Add your comment



I cannot disagree with any of these points, as I believe this American gentleman (I presume that it is a guy who has written this, based on the expressions used). However, I cannot give personal experiences of the first two points, although I certainly had my suspicions regarding point 2, as I did believe that others in higher positions within the company where I worked were taking credit for ideas that I introduced to improve the machinery in the factory. As I knew that they were working there "forever", and I was not, I did not particularly take offence to this.
In regard to point 3, I found that several companies, in regional cities outside of Shanghai, were becoming more responsible in regard to smoking, and were declaring "smoking areas", outside of the main office, often in the guard house. This did, however, make it difficult to locate the "heavy" smokers when required to answer a question.
I certainly experienced point 4 myself, as during short stays, I did not worry, knowing that the hassles of declaring a "new" employee were not worth it for a few weeks work. However, when working for up to a year, I expected, and was told, that I would need to pay a 20% income tax. Then when it came closer to the end of my tenure there, and I asked for a "tax certificate", should I need it for my own country's tax boys, I was led all around the garden path, and finally realised that the 20% "tax" was going back into company revenue.
I was amused when I returned a year later for another 6 month stint, that there was no mention of tax, just the salary had been lowered by an appropriate amount.
Ok, on point 5, I cannot say that I have proof that this occurred, but there were certainly people within the organisation, at reasonably senior levels, who continually "used" others to perform their jobs, and thus, to me, seemed to be not quite qualified for the exalted position that they held.
These comments are simply my observations, and may be refuted by others with no offence on my part.

May 24, 2012 14:59 Report Abuse



If Andrea is indeed a gentleman, then props to a guy who has, in the past, chosen to write about pregnancy and childbirth, and nanny-hunting!

May 24, 2012 20:51 Report Abuse



hehe, thanks MissA, I had missed seeing the name on top yesterday. Full marks to you

May 25, 2012 13:08 Report Abuse



I don't agree with your comments completely.
as for point 1, different requirements are necessary in different positions, such as nice looks is required in sales people, reception, flight-attendant.
but it is not necessary for tech. positions, cook and so on.

May 24, 2012 18:52 Report Abuse



Bull freakin crap! They tried that already in developed nations and proven it to be absolutely false. Firemen is one example. If you are 5-feet tall but you can still carry a 250-pound load up a ladder, then you should get the job. Reception and sales positions do NOT require someone to be beautiful.

I was a hiring manager for years back home. Trust me, I'd rather hire the older, grossly overweight qualified woman as a receptionist over some idiot girl in her 20's who doesn't even know how to turn on a computer. This is why China still struggles on the world stage.

I have a male Chinese friend who is overweight, speaks fluent English, is extremely accustomed to western culture, has worked in America and who is highly qualified for a translator position. My Chinese boss denied him a translator job. Instead my boss chose some girl in her early 20's, who only spoke broken English and who constantly screws up the translations, constantly asks for my assistance, I constantly catch mistakes in her spoken translation of what I say to the customer (such as the difference between price and cost). The unspoken truth was, my boss wanted a pretty face, NOT someone who was capable of doing the job. My wife was fired when her boss found out she was married to a foreigner. How are them apples?

Necessary? I don't think so fan.

May 24, 2012 23:51 Report Abuse



I once worked for EF in Jiaxing. A girl applied for a sales post and she was heavier than average and not very pretty. The investor didn't like her so she was handed a sales manual and put in a room to digest the sales manual. Nobody was allowed to speak to her. After three days she got the message and left.
A foreign teacher arrived similarly unblessed. He was not allowed to teach for three weeks. Then he complained to HQ - within minutes he was teaching.

May 25, 2012 08:50 Report Abuse



fan you are a fine example of chinese thinking still being the stone ages. i was on a plane, the flight attendant told me i could not stow my laptop under the seat in front of me because i was sitting in an emergency exit seat. fair enough. so she took my laptop bag and placed it in the over head compartment . a few seconds later my laptop fell from the overhead compartment. the incompetent stewardess did not place it securely enough. common sense: hire someone who is competent. chinese thinking: incompetent but she look pretty haha ... hired.

May 25, 2012 18:05 Report Abuse



nice caracter is good for job,but at the biginning everybody only pay attation their appearence

May 26, 2012 06:11 Report Abuse


Pee Wee Herman

America this, America that...do some proper research and write an article with a broader view.

May 24, 2012 19:22 Report Abuse



All this stuff is absolutely true. The sales team at the language school I work at is almost exclusively female and entirely incompetent, bar the least pretty one who is very diligent; the only guy on the team was employed through virtue of the then sales manager being his friend. He's useless too.

We also had an American staff member on the teaching team, who was paid under the table and was working without the proper documentation. Unsurprisingly, he ran out on us after being promised the correct visa and never seeing it materialise. And the school thought they were the ones who were cheated! Ungelievable!

May 24, 2012 21:16 Report Abuse



I agree with this comment but not at all. If you are looking around, veery ugly chinese women or man have a job, so in my opinion this is not true . And I saw so many flight atendant also who are ugly. Ugly or beautiful doesn't mean that you must like them, peoples like different and they have different tastes, so if you fon't like a girl or man, the one who hire her or him may like .
About the job with that massage girl, is true, is happen very very often in China. She is a secretary just to do a blow job to the boss... I am foreigner and a company sent to me a kind of this offer , saying that they will pay to me ov er 30,000 rmb per month , and my job will be just to "visit" my boss in his office...... Of course I declined this offer and told them to hire their Chinese stupid girls for this ...

May 25, 2012 01:56 Report Abuse



A chinese company really asked you, a foreigner, to be the boss's slut!? Wow, these chinese really have balls to even ask someone who's not one of their own, they really do think they can do whatever they want

May 27, 2012 01:59 Report Abuse



Yes the IR laws are different here, yes I have a hot personal assistant, speaks fluent English. She was hired for looks and language skills. But she is useless as hell for any other job I give her. So she is very usefull on business trips.

May 25, 2012 04:21 Report Abuse



I worked in the very large finance office (30 staff) of an MNC in Shanghai. The FD was a man, all the other staff were good looking women with large breasts. There is a general shortage of such women in Shanghai, which suggests positive discrimination in recruitment.

May 25, 2012 04:40 Report Abuse


Ms. Me

All these things happen EVERYWHERE. It's called corruption. People get hired based on looks in almost every competitive industry. Ever heard of Hollywood? When you have 10 people who graduated from Harvard with perfect resumes, other criteria become the deciding factors! Stealing ideas; wasn't Facebook supposedly stolen a stolen idea? How did George W. get into Harvard? Connections.

The problem with foreigners in China is their biased view and closed-mindedness. Foreigners tend to think their country is the best and everything and everyone else are doing in wrong. The truth is, if you leave your country to go to another one, you become the alien, the weirdo and the last person who is the position to make judgments.

May 25, 2012 06:11 Report Abuse



have you been "everywhere" ??? how about fixing your problems instead of excusing it. face= delusion retardation.

May 25, 2012 18:08 Report Abuse



Ms. Me,
I love that you used Hollywood and Politics as two examples. Ha! Yes, ILLEGAL descrimination does still happen in developed nations, but it is definitely NOT highly condoned like it is in China. Perfect example, how many foreigners are hired in China for their milky white face? Ex-pats who are not white and try to get a job in China for a Chinese company have struggled (based on this websites previous comments).

I may be a rare case, but I HATE being hired solely for what I look like (young white guy). I try to make a real difference in the Chinese company that I work for. I was fed a bunch of B.S. by the Chinese boss in the beginning in order to lure me into signing a contract. Now, I realize that I am just an over-paid advertisement that makes his company look "international." When you really want to make a difference, the paralysis is very frustrating. I feel cheap and used. I'm not going to renew the contract. So, if anyone is looking for a "do-nothing" high paid position and doesn't mind being exploited for your white face, then feel free to leave a comment and I will refer you to my boss who will need to fill my position in September.

May 27, 2012 16:32 Report Abuse



Hey Mr. Chaching.

I'm looking for a job in in the autumn and this sounds good to me. Could you refer me to your boss if I send you my information?

Thanks man

Jun 05, 2012 06:10 Report Abuse



Actually, having experienced more than one culture is exactly what allows you to make judgements.

If you haven't lived in both cultures, you have no basis for comparison, and no idea what you're talking about.

May 25, 2012 06:28 Report Abuse



@Ms. Me

May 26, 2012 01:04 Report Abuse



Re: #4 In China, companies frequently pay Chinese employees under the table, including cash and any number of benefits and direct payments for necessities like cell phone service. It is not limited to foreign English teacher compensation. Non-taxed bonuses (hong bao?) are common and seemingly de rigueur in China.

May 25, 2012 09:14 Report Abuse



China better than US because those foreigner dont understand concept of civilisation. it will take them 1000's of years to reach chinese level etiquette. i love their notion of PC - makes me lauch every time

May 25, 2012 20:42 Report Abuse



Hi Mossy.

For the benefit of foreigners, please explain the concept of civilisation or etiquette. Either will be ample entertainment.

May 26, 2012 01:10 Report Abuse



@ Mossy ...
"makes you lauch .." ?
Is that civilization speak for spewing noodles ?

May 26, 2012 06:02 Report Abuse



@ prettycindy
Really? Are you seriously going to go that kind of racist route?
That is about one of the most unoriginal racist Asian comments I've heard.
As for your name, arrogant much? You are probably just about as ugly as your words. Get some education and culture. Maybe then you might actually be a pretty person.

May 29, 2012 19:02 Report Abuse