This gif sums up my life in the past few months.
I was born and raised in China but never had a chance to work in China throughout my career. Although I haven’t had a solid office in China yet, I have numerous experiences working with my fellow Chinese people. From the time I acted as the Head of Media in the Student Union at a Chinese university, to the period I collaborated with China team while working for a New Zealand airline company, and let alone most of my customers, readers and listeners are Chinese.
I did a paper on Doing Business in Asia when I first came to New Zealand in 2010. There are a lot of theoretical differences between the East and the West, namely high/low context culture, collectivism vs individualism and different business etiquettes. Back then, I thought those differences were so noticeable. Once people knew the basics, it would be easy for everybody to work with business people from different cultures and backgrounds.
However, I was wrong.
Knowing on paper and practising in reality is such a different thing, especially on the business ground that involved money and interest. There are so many rapid changing behaviours and established unspoken rules that scholars won’t be able to write down on their papers because they can’t get the real-time and honest data from the inside world.
In 2020, I had a chance to work along with a Chinese billionaire as his assistant. I thought it would be a great chance to learn from him and offer my expertise in communications and helping him working along with his business partners from western countries. After 100 days working without resting, I have to run away before getting poisoned by those so-called Chinese ways of doing business.
There are plenty of things outsiders might not know or understand. Hence, I thought it would be a good chance to speak out based on my experiences and stories I heard back from Chinese workers so people would be benefited from knowing those common behaviours the next time they are planning to do business with Chinese bosses. Here are nine of them.
1. They take over your personal time.
When I was working for big or medium size corporates in Auckland and London, I had a formal and detailed contract, listing my salary, working hours, holidays, sick pay, and so many more. I never have to work overtime unless I’d volunteer to do so (which it’s quite common for Chinese employees when they first stepped into the western world). I work 37.5–40 hours a week and get four weeks annual leave plus all public holiday or bank holiday. However, I have to be on-call 24/7 while working for this Chinese boss and his company without any formal signed contract. I receive numerous video calls and voice messages non-stopped on WeChat about so many tiny tasks in the midnight and during the weekend. They expect you to reply to their message immediately otherwise they’ll keep calling your number until you finally answered no matter what time it is.
There is no such thing called lunchtime break either. During the lockdown, I have to stay at my Chinese boss’s villa to minimise my contact with the public so we can quarantine together and form the support bubble. I can’t watch movies, taking personal calls or do anything that not relevant to the work because the Chinese boss will occasionally check you, even break into your bedroom door to see you are WORKING. I was horrendous by his behaviours, but he didn’t even realise that it’s rude and anti-social. It reminds me of so many traditional Chinese parents that never knock their children’s door and sneak peek their children’s private diaries or personal belongings. Yes, it’s common. Forget about your human rights.
2. They ask you to work many roles but only pay you minimum wage.
During my time staying at my boss’s villa, I worked as a housekeeper to clean the whole house; as a cook to make breakfast and do grocery shopping; as a tour guide to make itinerary; even as a real estate agent to look at different properties, calculate living area and price and negotiate with renovation and furniture company to help him purchase properties. Apart from that, I have a main job to do such as arrange his daily activities for meetings, record meeting minutes and form the document in both English and Chinese, go to meetings and attend events along with him as a translator, handle basic bookkeeping tasks and research and conduct data to prepare documents for review and presentation.
I’m glad I have a lot of energy to support me to do all those errands plus my proper job. I know a lot of my friends who are working in China have to do what their bosses tell them to do (most of the time beyond their job description) daily. I feel for them. Now I understand why the 996 (work from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, six days per week; i.e. 72 hours per week) is so standard in China. Besides that, you only get paid with minimum wage and way below the industry standard. What’s the point of draining yourself and live like modern slavery?
3. They prefer to talk rather than sign a contract.
As mentioned before, I didn’t have a formal contract to take this role because it’s normal to form an oral agreement in Chinese business culture. China is a relationship-based society. If you and your family have large networking, you don’t need to take any job interview but get the job straight away. The reason why I accept this executive assistant role is to do my friend a favour. However, this favour is way beyond my capacity in many ways. I agree with £30 per hour, and the first project was £1,200 in total, including attending the meeting, taking minutes and preparing documents in both English and Chinese. The Chinese boss gave me £1,000 in the end and told me the integer number sounds better. I was like excuse me???
I should have left him after the first project based on his behaviour. I regret we didn’t have the signed contract to support me from getting what I deserved to have. Even if I’d like to sign the contract, I doubt he wouldn’t do so because it’s not common from his perspectives. Another interesting thing was when he had a meeting with a guy from an EU country. The guy told the Chinese boss several times he had to consult with his lawyer and then prepared everything in the written document to make the deal. Still, the Chinese boss just thought that guy was incompetent because, in Chinese business culture, every deal should be only one phone call away; otherwise, you are incompetent.
4. They keep you guessing about which version of them you’re getting.
Chinese bosses like to manipulate people and ask their subordinates to follow their orders. I don’t usually mind working extra hours as long as I can deliver my works with high quality. However, the one thing I can’t tolerant is that Chinese bosses are keep changing their mind and keep you guessing about which version of them you’re getting — for example, this moment, they want you to translate the document both in English and Chinese. Once you have done the 58 pages of the paper and then they ask you to provide the Chinese version only. During the whole time, they keep chasing up with you about the document, which means you have to work at least 12 hours a day without taking any rest.
Imagining that you have delivered the task as request and then they decide half your work is not necessary. What will you feel about that? I was very frustrated and upset. Sometimes, Chinese bosses don’t say anything, but they’ll give you just enough to let you know that there’s something wrong with a heaving sigh, a raised eyebrow, a cold facial expression and so on. Life is hard enough, and you have to spend time bearing their emotional burdens. That’s not fair at all.
5. They always blame others rather than admit their mistakes and ignorance.
My Chinese boss had a visitor who is also a Chinese but living in Europe for more than 20 years. My boss asked the visitor to find him a secretary. You’ll laugh about his requirements: single, beautiful, model is prefered, know three languages, a university degree is preferred and has to live with him 24 hours to teach him language and maybe sleep with him together. I was shocked when I heard about his requirements. The visitor also wondered are you going to find a professional assistant or a whore? The Chinese boss laughed and said, aren’t they the same thing?
I was so embarrassed with his comment, and the visitor also expressed his concern and tried to explain how it works in Europe that no one should work 24 hours and suggest the Chinese boss should be scrupulous in separating public from private interests. The Chinese boss wouldn’t listen to a single word and told the visitor that he was out-of-date. A lot of C-suite in China has a pretty and smart secretary. It becomes a norm to show off your secretary while you are attending group meetings. The Chinese boss stuck to his own view and thought money could do him a favour to find what he wants. However, until now, he hasn’t found anyone fit his criteria yet, and he blamed the visor of his incompetent for helping him find the one. Haha! Good luck with that!
6. They read clickbait articles without thinking critically
I’m always wondering what kind of information does Chinese businessman consume every day. Based on my experience and observation, I notice that WeChat and Toutiao is basically everything they read. My Chinese boss like to read click-bait news from his friends’ circle. Some titles are ‘Hurry-up to read this breaking news is gone soon’ ‘5 things you are eating is killing you’ ‘99% people read this news..’ and so many more. My Chinese boss told me not to do exercise in the morning because the morning breeze will lead me to a headache or even a heart attack. And a few days later, he told me not to do exercise in the night because the night wind will cause me the same symptoms. Excuse me???
He also has some fallacies. For example, he asked me don’t put potatoes in the fridge because it causes cancer, and don’t use the microwave because it affects your brainwave. Moreover, anything patriotic would generate huge interests—for example, the speech from the president of PRC or new policies from the central government. I’m so curious about how he accumulated his wealth without critical thinking but believes to whatever he reads on the internet. This is a huge mystery to me. There’s no point arguing with him about his fake beliefs because they like to twist the story and retell the facts so convincingly that they’ll believe their own nonsense.
7. They don’t use emails but send everything on WeChat
It’s quite rare for Chinese C-suite using emails. Everything from daily order to send documents is on WeChat, which means they have the ability to harass you 24/7 based on their mood. The most common email address I come across in China is ended with @qq.com. WeChat has become the super app throughout Chinese people’s work and daily life. I prefer to separate my personal life away from my work life. However, I was forced to add so many random people since I worked for this Chinese boss. He handover my personal WeChat account to his team back to China or his friends without my permission. I have to deal with not only his non-stop orders from WeChat but his teams as well. Due to the time differences between Europe and China, I again have to work abnormal hours to reach his requirements. Do you think it’s a healthy way of living?
8. They kill your creativity and train you to be a royal dog
The most feedback I received from my Chinese boss is ‘you should listen to what I said and do it immediately’. You might already get a feeling that there is a lot of conflict between this Chinese boss and me after reading the above content. I respect this Chinese boss and treat him politely for the sake of my friend. I sometimes speak up to keep my stand whenever I see something wrong, but he never listens. In his mind, I’m a stubborn Chinese girl who has been brainwashed by western culture and has a weird way of thinking. In his mind, there is only one way to solve the problem, and it’s his way. In his mind, I don’t need to think but follow orders like his puppy.
Another interesting thing is when his business partner from the EU tried to find him a secretary who can speak three languages. The first question this Chinese boss asked was girl or boy? Boy? NO! What a sexist! I know he thinks females are easier to manipulate, and he’s afraid males would fight hard for their rights. This Chinese boss grew up under the influence of Confucianism like most Chinese people in his generation and believe women are inferior to men. They regard women as a fertility machine and look down upon women who are beyond 30 years old and still single. I now understand why western girls don’t like Chinese boys. It’s not their appearance or body figure but their toxic thinking that not treat women equally.
9. Deep down they are lonely and pathetic even if they are billionaire
During the time working with this Chinese boss, I notice that he has to talk with others rather than stay alone constantly. Since he doesn’t know how to type on his mobile phone, the majority time he is doing a video call or sending voice messages. One afternoon, I overheard that he sent out at least 20 messages to different people with the same message, ‘what’s up sis?’ and then sat on the couch to wait for the reply. I feel deeply sorry for him. It reminds me about what Naval once said, “a fit body, a calm mind, a house full of love. These things cannot be bought — they must be earned”.
I don’t know this Chinese boss’s whole life story, but I know he doesn’t have stable family members to chat or provide the love him he needs. He has a lot of money and a lot of ‘girlfriends’ he called sis, but none of them could fill the gap of his empty mind. Alright, who am I to judge? It’s none of my business. He normally calls me little kid, so I’m very safe to live with him without worrying about any sexual harassment. But the way he treats and talks with other women reminds me of Donald Trump — — disrespect and objectify females. I’d urge my fellow Chinese girls. Please protect yourself when you work with male Chinese supervisors or bosses. Don’t grovel to anyone and speak up when you see something wrong.
In summary, I feel like there is no right or wrong way of doing business. If you prefer the Chinese way of doing business, go for it. But for me, I’d rather spend my time on more valuable things and pursuit my basic freedom as a human being. Sometimes, it’s better to save the FUCK YOU money in advance so you’ll have the ability to say goodbye to toxic people before things are getting worse. End with another Melania Trump gif.