Regular readers know that we seldom write about Chinese etiquette/cultural mores, figuring the real key is treating people with respect and just doing business. 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 today on a cultural gaffe so common as to warrant a post.

Steve sent me a couple of New Year “Gung Hey Fat Choy” emails 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, 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 purely 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 you all a Happy New Year.

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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.