This is a reprisal of a previous post, but it is so timely I figured that I might as well.
Regular readers know that we seldom write about Chinese etiquette/cultural mores, figuring the real key to doing business in China is to treat people with respect. For examples of this view, check out our posts, entitled, China Cultural Awareness: Going Beyond Not Being An Asshole and Chinese Cultural Awareness Simplified: Don’t Be An Asshole. And we also have not made this a forum where we highlight great cultural gaffes or Chinese tattoos gone wrong, figuring we will leave those things to others.
But I got a great email from co-blogger Steve Dickinson on a cultural gaffe so common as to warrant a post.
Steve sent me a couple of a few New Year “Gung Hey Fat Choy” emails that he had received from American companies doing business in Mainland China– not even in Guangdong. And with those emails, Steve pointed out the following:
Here is one of those odd cultural things. Western folks want to be culturally sensitive. So they send out a Lunar New Year message. But they really mess it up. “Gung Hey Fat Choy” is Hong Kong Chinese [Cantonese], not Putonghua [Mandarin]. So, for the vast majority of Chinese who understand the message, this message could be seen as a brutal and nasty insult, not a positive message. It is a reminder of a former imperialist world where China was ruled from Hong Kong. In fact, to tell you the truth, most modern Chinese would not even know what “Gong Hey Fat Choy” means. They would just treat it as a series of meaningless symbols, insulting in its own way. “Gung Hey Fat Choy” is Cantonese for “gong xi fa cai.” NO ONE in modern China says “Gung Hey Fat Choy.” The phrase is from the old era, which was destroyed by the new regime. So as I say, for the small group of people who even know what this term means, it is an insult, not a positive message.
Brought to you as a public service from the good folks at China Law Blog, who wish all of you a very Happy New Year.
UPDATE: A number of people have read this post ALL wrong, thinking that we are somehow claiming that saying Gung Hey Fat Choy is always wrong. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. All we are saying is that it is a mistake for “Western Folk” (a/k/a Westerners/Americans) to say Gung Hey Fat Choy to Mandarin speaking mainlanders. We are NOT saying that this expression is wrong in all instances as that would be absurd. I find it very irritating when we get criticized for something that we never said by people who fail to take the time to actually read what we did say!