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
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NEWS FLASH If given a choice between two candidates who have similar qualifications except one is attractive and healthy-looking while the other one is overweight, ugly and possibly scruffy, any employer, no matter where they're from, will go for the former. This is not merely because we like to be surrounded by good-looking people but very often your appearance reflects who you are. If you are good-looking, there is a big chance you're confident and can "sell" yourself well, while if you're fat and ugly, there is a big chance that you're a bit of a loser, too (or at the very least come across as such). Yes, there are exceptions but not that many when you think of it.
Apr 27, 2017 16:29 Report Abuse
If you insist on using the word "whence," keep in mind that preceding the word with "from" is redundant. "Whence" implies "from" already. Yeah, this is not exactly news to the rest of us. China is as shallow as a puddle of gutter oil. To be fair, I've seen examples of guanxi in the US, but only in the private sector (and quite possibly the Trump administration). I never heard of there being any physical standards for English majors, though it wouldn't surprise me.
Apr 26, 2017 23:34 Report Abuse
Ohhhh man I cant breath!!! can anyone see and smell the non-stop ciggarette smoke filling up school i work in, the children breathing it in - no problem! What law against smoking in the workplace, they obviously did NOT get the memo!!!! I dont think an air filter would even make a dent in this!
Sep 01, 2012 05:21 Report Abuse
taxi drivers anyone?
it is too much to expect that someone who is PAID to know what he is doing would actually be able to find a street (or place even) without the customer describing the precise location of it. Particularly if that customer is a foreign person / tourist who is putting his trust in the supposed knowledge of someone who should know the streets.
Jun 01, 2012 18:35 Report Abuse
Its called culture folks, get used to it or go home and complain there about your inability to find a job and a girlfriend.
This article like many being posted on this site, are just reiterating things every foreigner learns within a month of living here. It is putting a damper on my morning reading. Guess i need a new source.
May 26, 2012 18:11 Report Abuse
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
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
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
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
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