In a previous CLB post called To Succeed in China Know the Now, I somewhat minimized the need to know Chinese culture to do business in and with China:

Knowledge of Chinese history and culture is an asset for doing business in China.  However, because circumstances in China change so quickly, staying abreast of China’s current situation is far more important than knowing its past.  The most successful businesses in China usually emphasize knowing their own businesses inside and out first, understanding China today second, and China’s history and culture third.

This initial post drew a big response, both in terms of comments from readers and from other blogs picking up the post and adding their own thoughts.  So I ran a second post on this, entitled, Chinese Culture Wars (Continued) setting forth the various positions taken by readers and other bloggers on this issue.

I had thought my complaining about the over-hyped need to know Chinese culture would bring a flood of people disagreeing with me, but most everyone agreed that knowing Chinese culture is an important asset, but no replacement for knowing business.

I am bringing this all up again because the Journal of Intercultural Learning (which is written by a Chinese native out of Beijing (in NINE different languages), did its own post on this issue, explicitly agreeing with me.  I find this particularly heartening because it comes from someone whose business is cultural training.

In its post, entitled, “Cultural Knowledge is a Plus to Business Success,” the Journal had this to say:

I can not be more agreeable to these arguments [referring to the paragraph I set forth above from my initial post] and I think these insightful arguments put forward a new perspective on how one should relate Chinese culture phenomena (old and new) to doing business in China. Being a native Chinese and with limited knowledge of English language and culture, I feel it is interesting to notice that many of the teachings of how to do business in/with China tend to start or end up with listing out some stereotyped cultural tips and types, and my natural response towards it is that it is really inadequate. I do believe that cultural awareness contributes to business success, for

‘Culture shapes our values, attitudes and our behavior. It affects the way we communicate with each other, the way we expect to lead and to follow, the way we negotiate, the way we buy and sell, and the way we work together in teams.’ (by Cultural Intelligence)

The stereotyped cultural tips, however, could be very misleading when delivered in an over-generalized approach or taken with an over-simplified manner without better and live understanding of the specific situation. In terms of China, the speed of change, the scope of the land, the complexity of systems, the span of history, the diversity of local cultures, the varied levels of educational development in different localities, and the gaps in economic development among areas would all affect business developments and successes, either domestic or international.

Moreover, business success is composed of many factors and some of which are not cultural specific. For instance, as pointed out in the posts by Asia Business Law, good networking is in fact universally essential. Good networking is certainly an intercultural skill but it is an interpersonal skill in the first place where attitudes towards differences is of the essence. So, either in business or in any other intercultural communications, it is important to be aware of cultural idiosyncrasies and actively work to overcome them.

I would also agree that cultural knowledge is not always a prerequisite, but I think it is not always a prerequisite in the sense that it will not guarantee a success, but rather, it is a plus, which, together with other business essentials, helps to pave the way to a success.

I agree.  What do you think?

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Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.