The empirical approach of the Chinese
There is a Chinese proverb that says: Facts are better than words. Unreceptive to concepts, the Chinese see and understand things through facts.
This is particularly the case in the professional world. The remarks I often hear from my Chinese colleagues about the presentations made by Western colleagues are always the same: too long, too many details, too many theories…
But for cultural reasons, they don’t say anything even if they don’t understand. Therefore, to succeed in meetings with Chinese people, I recommend that my Western colleagues be as untheoretical as possible and that they use a maximum of facts and concrete cases.
The Chinese have an empirical approach to things: all human activity consists of functional acts aimed at achieving a concrete goal. If a theory remains as an abstract concept without being transformed into concrete practice, they are likely to lose interest in it and give up making the effort to understand it, before rejecting it. Although the Chinese have a certain admiration for intellectuality, they consider it to be a kind of pure spirituality, with no connection to real life.
How do you convince a Chinese person?
This factual and very realistic view of the world is omnipresent in all aspects of Chinese society, even in matrimonial advertisements.
Chinese advertisement :
“Shanghai woman born in 1995, height 1.62 m, graduated from a prestigious university, working in a state-owned company, salary 200k yuan per year, beautiful face, white skin. She is looking for a man with a university degree or more, at least 1.75 m tall, no more than 5 years older than her, with a stable job and good economic conditions. If we have common interests, it will be possible to buy an apartment together. If the profiles are too far apart, you are wasting your time.”
French ad :
“I’m 30 years old, and I want to experience a real, genuine, lasting and sincere relationship with a mature, self-confident, responsible and committed man. I like life to be simple, walks, small outings. I live in Paris. Above all, I want to find the dynamics to give the future the colors of happiness. See you soon. »
The Chinese ad lists concrete requirements, without revealing the woman’s personality. The French ad evokes feelings, abstract desires from which one piece of information is drawn: it is about a 30-year-old Parisian woman.
The Chinese woman will find it difficult to find her soul mate in France with this ad, because the French might consider it too materialistic. Similarly, for the French woman, because the Chinese would take her for a dreamer, unaware of the problems of real life.
Understanding Chinese history
4,000 years old, China has brought to the world a significant number of tangible and intangible achievements to the world. But there are very few theories in the natural sciences.
Anyone who has learned geometry knows the Pythagorean theorem, discovered in the 6th century B.C. However, in the 11th century B.C., a Chinese scientist found that in a right-angled triangle, if the length of one side touching the right angle is equal to 3 and that of the other side is equal to 4, then the length of the side opposite the right angle is equal to 5.
But it took 500 years for a mathematician from another civilization, Pythagoras, to translate this discovery into theory. From the facts, Pythagoras was able to show the general relationships between the lengths of the sides in a right-angled triangle.
The Chinese are often precursors but do not seek to theorize or to move from specialization to generalization. They possess a rich knowledge based on observation and intuition and favour ways of acquiring knowledge through experience.
More generally, the Chinese have, in the past, developed many advanced technologies for the time, including the four great inventions of which they claim authorship: the compass, papermaking, mobile printing and the invention of dynamite. But they did not develop scientific theories from these inventions.
In the business world
The empirical approach predominates in the business world. Therefore, in meetings, in presentations and in daily communication with your Chinese interlocutors, I recommend adopting a written or oral language based on facts and examples.
The Chinese set themselves concrete objectives and find solutions empirically, without feeling the need to go through an exhaustive theoretical analysis phase. They have a global approach (vs. an analytical approach) that we will discuss later on based on a real negotiation case.
Xuefei Lu, Akteos consultant