A couple years ago, I did a post, entitled, “Managing The China Dragon: Patience As Virtue,” on an interview with Jack Perkowski. I listed the following as my favorite questions:

What do you hope readers will take away from reading Managing the Dragon?

There are many lessons to be learned from the book. Above all, though, I hope that the book will demystify China for the readers. It is true- there is a shroud of mystery that surrounds China, and there is much about the country that is difficult to understand. A central theme of the book, however, is that China does have its own logic, and that if you take the time and use your experience, knowledge and common sense, you can figure it out. Once you do, doing business in China, or just making sense of the country, becomes a whole lot easier.

What piece of advice do you wish someone had given you before you started building your company in China?

As I reflect on my time in China, it is clear to me that every mistake I have made, I have made because I acted too quickly and did not listen hard enough and long enough. More often than not, I should have just slowed down and taken a deep breath, rather than giving in to my gut reactions and desire for short term results. Patience is definitely a virtue in China.

I just read a New York Times interview with James McGregor who says something similar about the need for patience when doing business in China:

Q. You’ve written about the challenge of negotiating in China. Any tips for would-be deal makers?

A. When you are negotiating in China, just have endless patience and always be willing to walk away.

Culturally, we are always in such a hurry to get things done. I’ve seen it in consulting. You’re busy, you’re flying all over the world, you think ‘China problem, let’s fix that next week.’ But you may want to spend a year fixing it. The Chinese will have a year to fix it. This is a place where haste makes incredible waste.

Way back in 2006, I wrote a post, entitled, Don’t Just Be Leaving On That China Jet Plane, in which I talked about the need for patience in China and on how Americans seem to be in particularly short supply of this virtue. That post follows.

Twice in the last week, clients of my firm have been subjected to one of the international business tricks: changing the deal right before an in person signing overseas signing.

This trick typically goes like this:

— You [the foreign company] agree to the general terms of a deal with your Chinese counterpart.

— You schedule your China flight to sign the deal and celebrate your new relationship.

— You arrive in China for the signing and only upon arrival do you learn that the contract you are to sign is very different from the contract to which you previously agreed.

There was a slight variation from the above with our two clients because we had insisted on receiving the contract in sufficient time to review it before anyone was to get on any jet plane. We had made very clear we would need to get the contract back at least two weeks before our clients’ scheduled departures or there would be no departures at all. In both cases, we got the contract (which was nothing like that which had been tentatively agreed upon) only 2-3 days before departure. In both cases, our clients chose to remain at home while re-negotiations proceeded apace.

I think this trick is tried on Americans more than on those from other countries. I think the Chinese (somewhat rightly) view Americans as “impatient.” We Americans love thinking of themselves in the following terms:

— Can do attitude

— Focused on getting the job done.

— Solutions oriented

— Hands On

Heck. I like to think of myself in this way and my own law firm’s philosophy reflects this:

We have done this by developing close relationships with a worldwide network of key personnel, including government officials, consultants, expert witnesses, local legal counsel, critical to getting the job done for our clients.

We operate in the fast-paced international business world where we promise and deliver dynamic, results-oriented advice. Our solutions will put you ahead of your competitors. We are practical lawyers and problem solvers who take a “hands-on, get out from behind the desk” approach to solving client problems.

And do not think the world does not know this about we Americans.

The thinking in China seems to be that once the American comes to China “to do the deal,” he or she will be unwilling to return home empty handed and, instead, will end up signing something less favorable than previously discussed and tentatively agreed upon.

There will be times when you need to go to China to negotiate a contract and there will also be times when your Chinese counterpart will falsely entice you to China by promising to sign. Nonetheless, in most instances your strategy should be not to get on the plane unless and until it is clear the right contract will be there for you when you land.

Patience. It matters everywhere, but in China it matters more.

Do you agree?


  • Do you think the fact that American history is so comparatively short has anything to do with our impatience in business? Perhaps the collective Chinese mindset allows for patience more because the cultural memory is so ancient.

  • Always strikes me the resemblance between Chinese and Italian. Years back General Motors’ rush on the Italian FIAT ended up with heavy losses for the American company. Nowadays GM is part of the FIAT group.
    Being an Italian lawyer, pro American and dealing with China since 1996, I am deeply fascinated by these news.
    It is not so simple I know. But I should admit the success we have in helping foreign company with the Italian bureaucracy mostly came from my years in China. I have learned (some) Patience there, and in our huge-haystack- global-world this can be more rewarding that any university diploma.

  • hanmeng

    …knows this about _us_ Americans…. (he said impatiently)