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Expatriates in China
Experiences, Opportunities and Challenges Ilaria Boncori ISBN: 9781137293473 DOI: 10.1057/9781137293473 Palgrave Macmillan

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Expatriates in China
Experiences, Opportunities and Challenges

Ilaria Boncori

Expatriates in China

10.1057/9781137293473 - Expatriates in China, Ilaria Boncori

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10.1057/9781137293473 - Expatriates in China, Ilaria Boncori

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Expatriates in China
Experiences, Opportunities and Challenges
Ilaria Boncori
University of Essex, UK
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10.1057/9781137293473 - Expatriates in China, Ilaria Boncori

© Ilaria Boncori 2013 Foreword © Heather Höpfl 2013 All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission. No portion of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, Saffron House, 6–10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. The author has asserted her right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. First published 2013 by PALGRAVE MACMILLAN Palgrave Macmillan in the UK is an imprint of Macmillan Publishers Limited, registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS. Palgrave Macmillan in the US is a division of St Martin’s Press LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies and has companies and representatives throughout the world. Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States, the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries. ISBN 978–1–137–29346–6 This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully managed and sustained forest sources. Logging, pulping and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. Typeset by MPS Limited, Chennai, India.

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Contents
List of Figures and Tables Foreword by Heather Höpfl Preface Part I Overview 1 Introduction to International Business in China China in the world Internationalization and globalization of businesses Expatriate adjustment My China Part II Before China 2 A Good Beginning is Halfway to Success Motivation, starting points and expectations Pioneering in China 3 Pre-departure Knowledge Language Understanding cultural matters 4 Recruitment and Preparation Expatriate recruitment and selection Expect the unexpected Part III In China 5 When in China Do as the Chinese Do First impressions Models of adjustment and cultural shock 6 Expatriates in the Middle Kingdom A framework of expatriate typologies in China 7 Expatriate Adjustment Initial adjustment Social adjustment Work adjustment 81 81 83 92 92 103 103 107 119 31 31 35 39 39 49 54 54 62 3 3 16 18 26 vii viii x
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Contents

8 No Place Like Home Home and away Expatriate identity Part IV After China

152 152 154

10 Repatriation Adjustment Re-entry culture shock Issues at work Changes to habits, lifestyle and stimuli Physical adjustment upon repatriation Changes to individual selves Part V Conclusion 11 Contributions, Considerations and Reflections Looking back on the journey Roads not taken and future avenues Final reflections References Additional Bibliography Index

172 172 177 181 183 184

193 193 197 200 202 220 237

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9 Returning Expatriates Reasons for leaving China Home sweet home?

163 163 166

List of Figures and Tables
Figures
5.1 Modified W-curve of adjustment 6.1 Framework of expatriate typologies in China 85 94
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Tables
4.1 8.1 8.2 Traits considered necessary for expatriates to be successful in China Feeling at home Definitions of ‘home’ 60 154 154 196

11.1 Important factors throughout the expatriate process

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Foreword
It is perhaps a common understanding that the foreword to a book should extol the virtues either of its contents or of its author. Here, it is my pleasant duty to attempt both of these tasks. However, let me begin by recounting some of my own experiences to set the achievements of this volume in context. One of my first experiences of the Chinese occurred over 20 years ago when, as a visiting professor of the University of South Australia, I was allocated a group of Singaporean Chinese doctoral students. I had only once been to Singapore before that, for an Air Safety Foundation conference when I had stayed in an international hotel, mixed with fellow delegates, mainly the European ones at that, and saw very little of Singapore. Apart from public encounters on the MRT, the airport and in restaurants, I never met any of its citizens. As a doctoral supervisor I have over the course of 20 years come to have a great affection for my students in Singapore and Hong Kong. They have led me on a variety of cultural experiences and favoured me with their friendship, their kindness and their generosity. On many occasions I have made awkward cultural gaffes. I have talked openly about politics and watched the natural reserve of my friends change like the announcement board at a major railway station when all the trains are cancelled. I have eaten to clean my plate on numerous occasions only to find more dishes quickly ordered and lined up before me. I have listened to the comparative merits of Western versus Chinese medicine and the frequent decision to opt for quick-fix Western pharmacology. I have taken whole days being entertained by eating and shopping, shopping and eating in stores where I could not afford to shop and after my digestive system told me that I could not eat another bite. I have been to weddings, churches, schools, banquets and many, many dinners and over all these years I have struggled to attune myself to the local customs, the accepted practices, the appropriate attitudes and even to temper the degree of my exuberance. How fortunate therefore I might have been to have had the opportunity to read and absorb this delightful book by Dr Ilaria Boncori. I must immediately add a qualification here. It is not usual to describe academic texts as ‘delightful’ and the term might therefore appear misapplied, but this piece of work is very much deserving of the term. It is a book that takes you into itself, into the reading: that shares an understanding with you as you viii 10.1057/9781137293473 - Expatriates in China, Ilaria Boncori

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Heather Höpfl Professor of Management Psychology University of Essex March 2013

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learn more about Dr Boncori’s experience of Chinese culture. She has a capacity to make her research come alive. Moreover, it must be said that Dr Boncori is a woman to be reckoned with. Like the full breathless energy of Italian conversation, Dr Boncori has an intellectual speed, a passionate enthusiasm and a dogged commitment to her work which I have rarely encountered in many years of university teaching. Her work is delightful because she is a delightful, resilient, capable and expressive woman. She is unusual in very many ways. How many people do you know who, being Italian, could speak and write Mandarin and write a thesis in English? She is every bit the pan-European intellectual. In addition to her research, she has a full and demanding post as lecturer in business management and as marketing and liaison director in the International Academy at the University of Essex. She still managed to produce her doctorate two years ahead of time. Her passion for her research is infectious and she has devoted what little spare time she has had available to her to write this book to bring her ideas to a wider audience. Her text takes the reader on a voyage of discovery into what is sometimes anthropology, sometimes semiotics, sometimes autoethnography. This book is the result of both extensive interviews with expatriates working in China and her personal narrative of her own experiences and reflections. She reveals a world which is as rich as it is unfamiliar. This is not one of those airport-style normative texts about how ‘we should’ learn and address cultural issues of the East and West. It is not a simple guide to etiquette. It does not tell you to hand over your business card with both hands. What Dr Boncori does here goes much deeper and is more revealing. Drawing on her own experiences, she leads the reader into situations and explanations which show both the construction and deconstruction of taken-for-granted understandings of familiar situations. It is a fascinating story and a thoroughly good read. I am very proud to say that she was one of my doctoral students. I believe this book will contribute to establishing her reputation for revealing new perspectives and opening a door on China.

Preface
I started my relationship with China in 1995, when the Middle Kingdom (the literal translation of the name for ‘China’ in Chinese) was very different from what people come into contact with today. Heraclitus’ famous quote ‘the only constant is change’ applies perfectly to China: over the last 18 years I have seen it grow, develop and change at an incredible pace. When I left China in 2007, the country was very different from what I had experienced in my first encounter, and the foreigners or expatriates living in China had also changed considerably throughout the years. Back in the 1990s, few publications were available to enlighten those who were embarking on an international business adventure, and the numbers of either Western sinologists or businessmen/women who planned to live, eat, breathe and understand an incredibly fascinating country were very limited. Today, and certainly throughout the past decade, publications have flourished that cover many aspects of the Western experience in China: newspaper articles, periodicals, first-hand accounts written by businessmen, novels, ‘how-to’ guides, academic books on conducting business in this challenging country and many more. The focus of such publications is often on the corporate side of the experience, or on the financial outcomes of cross-cultural business interactions within the macro-environment. When expatriates have shared their own knowledge and personal stories, the narrative has generally only focused on their own individual experience without being based on academic research or empirical data analysis. Moreover, even though academic research in this area is growing, empirical studies of the entire expatriate experience (pre-departure, in the foreign country and upon repatriation) within the Sino-Western business context are still underdeveloped. This book sets out to explore the world of Western expatriates in China by investigating the whole expatriate assignment process from selection to post-repatriation through the use of first-hand expatriate testimonies, including my own experience together with accounts shared by other expatriates collected through in-depth interviews. Multiple accounts and individual perspectives are collected, explored and analysed in order to offer a polyphony of voices and multifaceted experiences that enrich the academic background provided by the extensive review of existing expatriate studies and adjustment-based literature. x 10.1057/9781137293473 - Expatriates in China, Ilaria Boncori

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This project focuses on the individual experience of Western expatriates who live and work in China by investigating various aspects involved within the three main phases of the expatriate process: issues arising before departure, during the adjustment in loco and upon repatriation. The comprehensive exploration of these three phases of the ‘moving to China’ journey helps contextualize and link issues, consider possible alternatives and explore specific aspects in relation to adjustment. While drawing from the academic literature available on cross-cultural studies and expatriate adjustment, the most distinctive feature of this study lies in its combined academic–practitioner character, which makes it both reader-friendly for people working in the business field and trying to understand the dynamics of doing business in China, and valuable for academics and students of international business and cross-cultural human resources management. The use of evocative language, practical examples, extensive quotations and illustrative stories from practitioners, together with a rigorous academic research background, provides a rich yet accessible representation that would suit an academic audience but be of use for a practitioner readership. The idea for this book first came to me while conducting an interview with one of the participants who volunteered to be a part of my study. In describing her first challenging steps into the Chinese world, she said, ‘If only I had met you before leaving for China, if only I had had a chance to talk to you or people who had actually lived there for a long time to learn what to expect, what to expect of the real China beyond the usual “you should give business cards with two hands” stuff that you find in the duty-free “China for dummies” type of books in the airport bookstores … I would have known what I was getting myself into, and I would have probably managed my work and private life in China a lot better … I could have avoided so much frustration.’ Her comment inspired me to write this book in order to shed light on the personal experiences of expatriates in the Middle Kingdom, and to increase understanding of China and of the Western people who move there to find fortune, prospects or excitement. From the initial literature review, it appeared that most of the sources available in relation to cross-cultural business relations between Italy and China were only of a practitioneroriented style (see, for example, Busato, 2006 for Sino-Italian specific studies, and also more broadly De Mente, 1994; Seligman, 1999; Ambler, 2000; Li, 2001; Lee, 2003; Chen, 2003; Fernandez and Underwood, 2005). Such studies generally aim at giving practical tips on how to succeed in China. The aim of this book is not to provide a step-by-step

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guide on how to do business in China, or even to offer solutions to all China-related expatriate problems, but instead to collect and relate individual experiences, and to analyse challenges and opportunities that both academic sources and expatriates themselves have identified as being crucial to the actuality of doing business in China. With regard to the academic background of this research project, I grew increasingly interested in expatriate studies and the managers’ subjectivities in the cross-cultural discourse happening within the expatriate at large in a context culturally (and often spatially) remote from his or her own. I found that one of the most exciting, albeit most complex and challenging, aspects of choosing expatriate adjustment as the focus of my research is the range of fields that overlap throughout this topic (human resources management, international business, sociology, psychology, linguistics, etc.); and while it is beyond the scope of this research to offer a comprehensive account of the adjustment topic in all these streams of knowledge, this study was inevitably influenced by a number of disciplines. In one sense, this book started from the premise that expatriates in China are likely to encounter difficulties in relation to their foreign assignment, which is, however, not necessarily to be considered negative. Also, I am not in any way claiming that the themes and findings stemming from this project can be generalized to the experience of all expatriates. Instead, I would wish to highlight that I am mainly concerned with how people manage their adjustment and their expatriation process from an individual rather than organizational point of view even though the two aspects are clearly intertwined. Previous books and research on expatriates in China have been typically either very general theoretical investigations or studies focused on two countries. In order to contribute to this field of research, I initially set out to involve ‘Western’ managers in this research, and then narrowed the scope down to Europeans. Being an Italian in the UK with a very international group of friends, I soon realized that each country in Europe has a very specific cultural background that would shape the modes and approaches of their relationships with the Chinese world. I therefore decided to focus my research on Italian expatriates in China for two reasons: firstly, such a focus would increase the available data on the relationships between China and Italy – a relationship that has yet to be explored in a similar way; secondly, my status as an Italian native helped me to understand the target culture and get easier access to interviewees. Also, an interesting point which emerged during the review of the available sources and confirmed the importance of studying the interaction of these two cultures in relation to the chosen research

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An interpretive approach
This study stems from my own experience as an Italian expatriate in China. As such, it is very personal. The language used in this book will also be very personal in some sections (especially in the chapters focussed on the expatriates’ stories) and aims to be evocative enough for the reader to be able to grasp what living in China actually means. Bearing in mind that this publication is intended for a readership that includes both academics and businesspeople, this style choice is also related to my overall interpretive research approach, ontological and epistemological roots, which informed and guided my choice of research methods: autoethnography and qualitative interviews. In the ‘interpretive’ paradigm, the social world is ‘the subjective construction of individual human beings who, through the development and use of common language and their interaction of everyday life, may create and sustain a social world of intersubjectively shared meaning’ (Burrell and Morgan, 1979: 260). Consequently, the ontology of the interpretive approach assumes ‘multiple, apprehendable and sometimes conflicting social realities that are the products of human intellects’ (Guba and Lincoln, 2004: 36). The interpretive epistemology then involves the assumption of investigators and respondents who create knowledge through interaction. In recent years there has been an increase in studies adopting paradigm plurality in organizational disciplines which is believed to have a number of benefits and contribute to richer insights into organizational realities (see Kelemen and Hassard, 2003). This research stems from the interpretive paradigm as it is concerned with individual subjectivities and understanding how people with different languages and social backgrounds deal with cross-cultural relations and issues related to cultural adjustment in a specific business context. I believe that the inquirer inevitably has an active role in the research, participating in and facilitating this process, which therefore cannot be fully objective. However, the subjective character of the interpretive approach does not undermine its validity,

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topic is that Italians have significantly contributed to the ‘discovery’ of China. For example, even though it is still unclear whether Marco Polo truly travelled to China (see Bertuccioli and Masini, 1996 for doubts concerning this matter), his tale became very well known and undoubtedly inspired future generations to travel there. Furthermore, it should be noted that in 1583, two Italian Jesuit missionaries, Matteo Ricci and Michele Ruggieri, were the first Europeans ever to learn the Chinese language and reside in mainland China (Bertuccioli and Masini, 1996).

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involves interpreting the actions of those who are themselves interpreters: it involves interpretations of interpretations – the double hermeneutic at work … Understanding an object [the life-world of an individual] is always – prejudiced, in the sense that it can only be approached through an initial projection of meaning. This initial projection is from the subject’s [the researcher’s] situatedness, from the subject’s standpoint in history, society and culture. The implication is that all contributions to knowledge within this framework must be regarded as ‘perspective-bound and partial’, embedded in the subjective interpretative tradition and singular perspective of the researcher (Usher, 1996: 19). This type of investigation also requires an account of the relation between the researcher and the researched so that outcomes may be contextualized by the reader. Clearly, I have my own biases: my cultural background, upbringing, experience and the years spent in China have all left very deep traces on my personality and identity and have made me the person I am today. This will therefore inevitably cause me to interpret words, situations and data through the lens of my own subjectivity. In spite of the breadth of methodologies included within the interpretive paradigm, Jones (1996: 32) suggests that all interpretative perspectives have a common thread by which ‘the study of human culture … profit[s] by using approaches developed in the humanities rather than using approaches used in the natural sciences’. In this way, an interpretive approach prioritizes meanings, interpretations and understandings over facts, evidence and causality. It is for this reason, then, that the focus of this book, with its focus on stories of expatriate adjustment, has its foundation rooted in a broadly interpretative methodology.

Ethnography
Over the past decade, ethnography has gained increased popularity within the methodologies included in the interpretive paradigm. Modern

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as according to Guba and Lincoln (2004), two criteria can be used to judge the quality of inquiry: trustworthiness (which includes credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability) and authenticity (which involves fairness as well as ontological, educative, catalytic and tactical authenticity). This study will inevitably be an interpretation of the managers’ interpretation of their experience in China, which can indeed be perceived in many different ways. As illustrated by Usher (1996: 19–20), research within the interpretive paradigm

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you cannot easily transcend the life-world – since it is the reality in which you move about. Thus it is something you think with rather than think about. It is not the frame around our life, rather it is the strokes of the brush that make the things in the painting hang together. (Frykman and Gilje, 2003: 37) It is ethnography’s claimed strength to be a methodology that allows scholars to focus on individual processes by drawing close to singular subjects while simultaneously or alternatively considering the institutional, social and historical contexts in which these processes are embedded (see, for instance, Van Maanen, 1979; Ybema and Kamsteeg, 2009). Ethnography is an especially appropriate methodology for this study as it rests on the peculiar practice of representing the social reality of others through the analysis of one’s own experience in the world of these others. Ethnography is therefore highly particular and

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fieldwork started to emerge in the 19th century when anthropologists, missionaries and scientists embarked on expeditions to ‘exotic’ lands (Van Maanen, 1988: 13). While early anthropologists adopted the ‘armchair mode’ of investigation (conducting their studies from their homes based purely on readings), others in the early 1920s left their homes but still remained somewhat distant to the field by using informants or remaining on board of their boats and observing from afar, thus prompting the use of the epithet ‘veranda anthropologists’ (Van Maanen, 1988: 16). Malinowski was among the first researchers to engage in ethnography as a systematic research methodology while personally conducting his study to collect empirical data in the Trobriand Islands (Malinowski, 1922; Atkinson and Hammersley, 1994: 249). Ethnography (derived from ethnos meaning ‘people’ and grapho meaning ‘to write’) is a qualitative research method used to explore and understand aspects related to people and culture. Ethnographic studies developed and flourished in anthropology and sociology first, and then influenced other fields of research. This mode of enquiry has gained popularity in the social and management sciences as a methodology that allows researchers to better capture the nuances of human behaviours and meanings in their social activities, everyday ‘life-worlds’ and in the workplace (see, for instance, Atkinson, 2006). Frykman and Gilje (2003: 36) explain the term ‘life-worlds’ as ‘the human and material environment where meaning is created in a continuous activity’ and state that

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hauntingly personal, yet it serves as the basis for grand comparison and understanding within and across a society. (Van Maanen, 1979: ix) Ethnography is not simply data collection as ‘it is rich in implicit theories of culture, society and the individual’ (Agar, 1980/1996: 23). My research focuses on exploring and understanding adjustment in a particular context. Given that ethnography ‘provides researchers with a way to examine cultures from the inside out’ (Schwartzman, 1993: 72) and is located at the ‘shift from function to meaning [by means] of holistic study’ (Gellner and Hirsch, 2001: 20), it seems especially appropriate to studies of adjustment in cross-cultural relations. Shehata (2006: 244–245) captures in his words the focus of this research: [I]t has always seemed to me that the most important questions in the social sciences are not about macro structures, large processes, or social institutions – but about people: living, breathing, flesh and blood, real people who, it turns out, whether intentionally or not, produce structures, set processes in motion, and establish institutions … I mean [what’s important is] how real people understand their situation and their world.

Autoethnography
Berger and Ellis (2007: 166; based on Ellis and Bochner, 2000: 733) describe how ‘Auto-ethnography is an autobiographical style of writing and research that connects personal and cultural experiences. Auto-ethnographers not only observe the world around them, but also examine their internal perceptions and feelings about their place in that world.’ Moreover, Reed-Danahay (1997: 9) claims that ‘personal, autobiographical modes of writing are vital for knowledge production in the social sciences’, while Ellingson and Ellis (2008: 448) explain that ‘autoethnography becomes a space in which an individual’s passion can bridge individual and collective experience to enable richness of representation, complexity of understanding and inspiration for activism’. In this study, I use autoethnography to link my own experience of being an expatriate in China with those of others. According to Hammersley and Atkinson (2007: 3), ethnography ‘involves the researchers participating, overtly or covertly, in people’s daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, and/or asking questions through informal and formal interviews,

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collecting documents and artifacts’. In terms of submerging myself in the culture I am investigating in this book, I decided to adopt what I call ‘autoethnography a posteriori’, a term used to reflect the postChina analysis of the subject–object of study. Given that I had already spent five years living and working in China prior to the start of this research, I wanted to take advantage of my past experience, which has been an invaluable tool to enable me to reach a good understanding of Chinese culture and of expatriate Italian workers in the Middle Kingdom. The use of autoethnography has an enormous impact on this research and clearly shapes the whole book as well as my first-person narrative. While this is common in some fields (Ellis, 2004), autoethnography is rarer in management and organizational studies (see, for instance, Rhodes and Brown, 2005). During the five years of my residence in China, I participated in the life of the group of people I am studying today and observed cultural differences, conflicts, issues, amazing and revelatory experiences. Through my participation, I comprehended the familiar in the strange and used observation to see the strange in the familiar. The conversations and experiences I had and the notes I took during those years in my diaries proved to be a precious source of information for my current research even though they did not focus only on the aspects I am interested in exploring today. I am very aware that, having been part of the group of people on which I am now basing my research, I am somewhat biased, and I have therefore tried as much as possible to remind myself of this during the data collection and analysis stages of this study. Agar (1980/1996) points out how being this close to the subject of investigation may bring some issues for the researcher such as taking for granted, misjudging or not noticing some significant behaviours. The researcher-ethnographer is warned that ‘some of your biases will be jolted into awareness; some will only slowly emerge; and some will always lurk unrecognized in dark corners’ (Agar, 1980/1996: 99). Ybema and Kamsteeg (2009) suggest that while doing ethnographic work (and I would say particularly for those who, like me, use retrospective autoethnography) there should be a ‘dual stance on the part of the researcher: being both immersed and estranged’ since ‘immersion and (over) identification can inadvertently produce myopia’ (Ybema and Kamsteeg, 2009: 103–112). In my case, I think that leaving China to move to the UK in 2007 has helped me become more detached towards my experience and relationship with China while still remaining close to the expatriate group and the topic, an insider/outsider dualism I felt very strongly while conducting my interviews.

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Qualitative interviews
Besides my use of autoethnography, qualitative interviews were used as the main method in this research to understand issues related to adjustment for Italian expatriate managers in China. I chose semi-structured interviews for several reasons: I wanted to achieve a greater flexibility by using questions different in number and nature, and I also planned to keep the tone of the interview very informal, almost conversation-like (‘inter-views’ rather than ‘interviews’), in order to enable interviewees to feel free to share their stories, anecdotes and feelings. The review of the relevant literature was conducted iteratively before, during and after the data collection in order to inform and shape my questions, to consolidate my theoretical frameworks and themes and to keep up to date with the most current research available in the field. I interviewed Italian expatriates, regardless of their age, gender, managerial level and business sector. Even though I wanted to investigate issues related to adjustment among people with different qualifications, genders, levels of cultural knowledge and language skills, my sampling was not random because participants had to be of Italian origin and were required to have lived and worked in China for at least one year (often considered the minimum length of time for long-term expatriate assignments; see, for instance, Collings, Scullion and Morley, 2007). I decided to conduct my interviews according to a broad life-history orientation. I wanted to hear my participants’ stories and tried to let them narrate their experience freely, even if sometimes they provided information or details not strictly of interest. As Lichtenstein (1977: 199) observes: ‘If you wish to understand persons … you must be prepared to view them as embedded in historical context.’ While transcribing, I noticed that there was much laughter during the interviews but also some passionate and colourful language, which I have tried my best to render in English in order to convey emotions and social implications. All my interviews were conducted face-to-face (or ‘co-present’), and I rejected a number of offers to hold interviews via Skype or any other software that allows video phone conversations because I felt that such forms of communication would not produce the same rapport or exchange of emotions. As Herzog (2005: 25) points out, ‘locations are not neutral’. While preparing for the interviews, I decided to make use of a vignette, or short descriptive passage, for my participants to comment on and compare and contrast with their own experience in China. The use of vignettes ‘ask[s] readers to relive the experience through the

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writer’s or performer’s eyes’ (Denzin, 2000: 905). It is also, as in this case, often adopted as an aid to the interviewees, a backdrop to use against one’s own narrative. I used this additional tool mainly because I realized that I myself never know what to say when asked about China and my experiences there; these questions are so general and refer to topics so rich and complex that I am usually left rather speechless. In addition, interviewees were asked to complete a brief quantitative questionnaire aimed at providing a richer snapshot of participants in terms of demographic variables and bringing to light any factors that could significantly influence their responses. Another tool that I decided to include in my interviews was a set of photos, the use of which started being considered and debated in the 1990s in anthropology and sociology (Pink, 2001). Even though the use of visual methods is still limited in organizational studies (Ray and Smith, 2011), the popularity of such methods has increased since the late 1990s (Warren, 2009; also, see a recent article by Ray and Smith, 2011). Visual methods can be used as a source of data, as a means of producing the data, or both. Warren (2005b: 863–864) summarizes approaches to the use of visual methods into four categories: (1) visuals as data; (2) images as a record and a way of documentation; (3) visuals as stimuli to elicit information; and (4) images produced by the participants/interviewees and used to tell a story or express ideas. I implemented the third approach identified previously by selecting five photos as part of my qualitative interviews and asking my participants to choose the photograph among those provided which in their opinion best represents their experience in China. They were asked to explain why and how the chosen photo was representative, and also to tell me any anecdotes and stories triggered by the five photos. These pictures were aimed at functioning as a form of ‘photo-elicitation’ (Collier and Collier, 1986) in which the images were given to participants in order to reflect on their experience during the foreign assignment. The five pictures were chosen to represent five key ideas related to the expatriate experience beyond the workplace: people (interaction adaptation), manners (social adjustment), food (general and life-condition adjustment), language (linguistic and cultural adjustment) and places (physical adjustment). The first photo portrays a foreign woman and a Chinese man in an informal social context; the second photo is of a public sign that can be spotted in the streets or in train or tube stations in China which requests people to avoid spitting (other similar signs are commonly seen in Chinese cities such as Shanghai encouraging people to wash their hands and protect nature); the third photo shows a traditional Chinese

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xx Preface

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dish served in a typical steaming basket, with chopsticks and a can of Pepsi (with Chinese writing) in the background; the fourth photo is an example of Chinese calligraphy; the last photo portrays an example of traditional Chinese-style architecture with modern buildings in the background. This photo can also be interpreted in a more symbolic or abstract way given that it portrays a red door. Interestingly, the vast majority of my interviewees chose the last photo and described it as representing ‘a door to a different world’. I am very grateful for the stories the interviewees (nine men and nine women) decided to share with me. The 18 interviews ranged from 32 to 107 minutes (averaging 73 minutes). I felt it was important to make use of extensive quotations from the interviews in this book as I intended to give my conversational partners (Rubin and Rubin, 2005: 14) their own voice. With this in mind I wanted to recognize the uniqueness of their individual contributions and include their words rather than a mere summary of their views. I planned to have my autoethnographic account as a framing narrative throughout the book rather than a dominating one. This is why I have interwoven both my own and the interviewees’ stories throughout the chapters exploring the expatriation process rather than presenting them separately. All interviewees signed an ethical consent form and allowed our conversations to be recorded. Subsequently, I sent them the interview transcripts to allow them to integrate, expand, explain or modify their words. My interviewees’ identities are protected by anonymity (all names in the book are pseudonyms) and identifying details about their companies or specific areas where they live or used to live in China have been deleted.

Part I Overview
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This part offers an overview of the book’s contents in the form of short ‘tasters’ of the main factors investigated in this study on expatriates in China. A background to the topic of international business is provided together with an outline of the key issues in relation to the expatriate experience with a special focus on China and adaptation in crosscultural relations. In order to understand the relevant business context, this section of the book first considers developments within the international business environment; it then focuses on key issues in expatriate adjustment and cross-cultural communication; and finally explores the importance of considering the entire expatriation process rather than only one of its phases.

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Introduction to International Business in China

He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who doesn’t remains a fool forever. Chinese proverb

China in the world
From the beginning of the 21st century the gravitational centre of the world’s economy has shifted to East Asia (De Mente, 1994); China is now considered a country whose influence on the international business environment has become increasingly important. Recessions, the internationalization of business, the development of online retailers, political turmoil and customers’ demands are forcing corporations to diversify their offerings and find ways to become more competitive in order to gain, or even maintain, their market share. Many Western countries are now looking to China as a market for exported products, a source for imports or as a location where, thanks to the low price of labour, the construction of factory sites is both time and cost effective. In many industries moving operations to ‘the Middle Kingdom’, finding suppliers or workers in China and focussing on that country as a market for Western products has proved to be a winning strategy. However, the business context in China changes quickly and misunderstanding about ‘the Chinese way’ of doing business can cause costly misunderstandings and even failure. Historically, the Chinese already believed that their country held a central position in the world. The name used in Mandarin for ‘China’, Zhongguo (zhong meaning ‘middle’ and guo meaning ‘kingdom/country’), is emblematic of this view which treasured their ancient traditions and culture whilst considering foreigners ‘barbarians’ living on the outskirts
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Foreign companies in China Setting up a company in China is often still considered a difficult endeavour even though, in 1979, the Chinese government published the new Joint Venture law that allowed foreign companies to invest in joint ventures. From 1987 overseas organizations could also form wholly foreign-owned enterprises. Even though the number of wholly foreignowned enterprises is increasing at a fast rate, international joint ventures (IJVs) still constitute the largest group in terms of foreign presence in the Middle Kingdom. Doing business in China is not an easy endeavour, but establishing effective and durable businesses there is even more challenging. According to data on foreign investment published online by the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 2012, the number of new approved foreign-invested enterprises from January to October 2012 was down by 10.49 per cent year-on-year, with the actual use of foreign investment down by 3.45 per cent year-on-year (US$91.736 billion). Moreover, in 2012 there was a reported 2.75 per cent increase in the number of European funded enterprises, with actual input reaching US$5.236 billion (down by 4.95 per cent year-on-year). From January to October 2012, the following were estimated by the Ministry of Commerce to be the top ten nations and areas with investment in China (as per the actual input of foreign capital): 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. Hong Kong (US$57.434 billion) Japan (US$6.08 billion) Singapore (US$5.604 billion) Taiwan Province (US$5.25 billion) USA (US$2.704 billion) ROK (US$2.515 billion) Germany (US$1.279 billion) Holland (US$1.01 billion) UK (US$833 million) Swiss Confederation (US$809 million)

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of the world. China has gone through centuries of splendid civilization, cultural developments often ignored in the West, political turmoil and closure towards the outside world. However, from Deng Xiaoping on China’s economy blossomed and opened to foreigners; the ‘open door policy’ reinforced by Zhu Rongji led to a clear commitment towards a less insular business attitude, culminating in the joining of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007 and the hosting of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Introduction to International Business in China 5

Italy in China For this study, Italy was selected as the country of origin of participants. Data made available in November 1999 from the PRC Ministry of Commerce website (2012) reported that Italian companies were amongst the latecomers to the Chinese market, with only a few investments made before 1991. However, the number of investments grew rapidly (1254 investments made by 1998) and by 1999 Italy had become the fifth biggest European investor in China. Even though Italy was a latecomer in terms of discovering the potential of doing business with China, the relationship between the two countries had ancient roots and flourished quickly, so that by 2007 the total interchange between Italy and China was worth US$14.93 billion, compared with US$9.13 billion in 2002 (World Bank website, 2008). The PRC Ministry of Commerce (2011) reports that Since China and Italy established diplomatic ties 41 years ago, bilateral trade has been growing rapidly and in 2010 reached $45.1 billion, while in the first four months of 2011, the percentage was up 36.6 per cent year-on-year. Bilateral investment has been developing rapidly, with investment from Italy to China soaring by 42 per cent year-on-year, while investment from China to Italy doubled the total volume of 2010. Moreover, the two nations have also committed to boost bilateral trade to at least $80 billion by 2015, which confirms the growing importance of cultivating business relationships between the two countries.

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The combined total investment of the countries above actually accounts for 91.04 per cent of total actual use of foreign investment in China (data source: PRC Ministry of Commerce, December 2012). These data show that over 90 per cent of the foreign investment in China in the top 10 countries comes from Asia, whilst Western investment is still lagging behind, with Germany and Holland leading amongst European countries. In terms of import and export, in the first three quarters of 2012, China’s export was US$1495.39 billion and its import was US$1347.08 billion, up by 7.4 per cent and 4.8 per cent respectively. In September 2012, China’s import and export totalled US$345.03 billion with year-on-year growth of 6.3 per cent. Both import and export show growth as China continues to be an important source and destination of business agreements, which is an incredible development from the position China occupied only 20 years ago when it was generally perceived as a ‘developing country’ with limited potential for rapid and successful development.

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Despite such growth, due to language issues, distant geographical location and cultural differences, conducting business in China has proved to be a complex process that often leads to misunderstandings and impediments. This is true for many Western companies, but for Italian ones in particular due to the high number of Italy’s small and mediumsized enterprises (SMEs) operating nationally and internationally with relatively limited financial resources. Italia e Cina (Bertuccioli and Masini, 1996) offers a very comprehensive overview of the many legendary and real encounters that Italians and Chinese people have had throughout the centuries. Anecdotally, something that many Chinese people, from high government officials to taxi drivers, have often mentioned to me is the fact that both countries have a very long and rich culture and history, and that they also share some core cultural values such as the importance of family, respect for the elderly and the social role of food. Olsen and Martins (2009) suggest that when host country nationals see expatriates as coming from a country they admire or find prestigious to affiliate with, they are more likely to offer their support and co-operation. In addition, Varma et al. (2009) explain how ‘homophily’, the perceived similarity of traits, values and beliefs between people coming from two countries, is likely to increase the flow of information between expatriates and host country nationals. In reality, things are still fairly complicated when doing business in China, even though ‘the Chinese like us Italians’ to quote one of my interviewees (Beatrice). People’s actions are based on their history and culture, which in both Italy and China are greatly influenced by religious and philosophical beliefs. Confucianism and Christianity permeate every aspect of people’s lives in China and Italy respectively, with the former being especially influential in determining how people relate to each other with respect to interpersonal behaviour, harmony, hierarchy, morality and kinship affiliation. The four basic principles of Confucian philosophy are crucial in diplomatic, private and business relations as they shape interactions and behaviours. The Roman Empire and the Han Empire were the two biggest powers of ancient times in terms of length and reach, both starting around 200 BC and ending about 400 years later. Roman merchants often visited Siam and other Asian territories to buy exotic products such as silk and spices but rarely went all the way to China to meet the Seres (the name used in Italy to describe the Chinese at the time). Until the 19th century, one of the difficulties in cultivating diplomatic relations between China and the West was the fact that the former would accept foreign visits as a sign of tribute but were reluctant to reciprocate

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Introduction to International Business in China 7

on an official basis. The first approaches seem to have been made on a business basis in order to buy and sell silk, but more contacts happened with the Byzantine Empire (known in China as Da Qin) when commercial exchanges multiplied (Bertuccioli and Masini, 1996). During the 13th century and up until 1368, the establishment of the Mongolian Empire (Yuan Dynasty) and the pax mongolica resulted in flourishing business relations, with merchants such as Marco Polo visiting the Middle Kingdom as well as missionaries (six Franciscans first, followed later on by Jesuits during the Ming Dynasty). These men, who often took advantage of establishing valued relationships amongst the locals and hiring Chinese assistants, left detailed accounts of their travels and encounters, which are a precious source of knowledge about ancient Chinese culture and society. Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) was probably the most successful and famous Italian Jesuit in China. Not only was he able to speak fluent Mandarin, but he also abandoned religious clothing when in China, presenting himself as a Western scholar in order to be more easily accepted by the atheist Chinese. When he reached China in the 1580s, he also adapted his looks and habits to the local customs by growing his hair at the back of his head and braiding it into a ponytail, known as a ‘queue’ and by trying to integrate his Western religion with the Chinese culture. He was admired and respected by people at all levels of Chinese society on account of the books he wrote in Chinese to introduce religious matters and to share Western scientific and geographical knowledge with the Chinese. During the 16th century a number of novels were written in Italy about China. This period marked the start of the European ‘sinomania’ phenomenon that reached its peak in the 18th century and saw a fascination for everything Chinese including patterns, fashion, ceramics and furniture. In 1644, the Ming Empire ceased formally to exist and was followed by the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, which unified the country and started what is recorded as one of the golden periods in Chinese history. In 1732 another Italian missionary, Matteo Ripa (1682–1746) founded the Collegio dei Cinesi in Naples, an institute devoted to welcoming the few Chinese men who had reached Italy at the time. This institute later became the Istituto Orientale Universitario di Napoli, it was the first university in Italy to pursue the study and teaching of sinology. It was approximately with the end of Qianlong’s mandate in the late 1700s that interest in China started to decline in Italy and surge in England. The ending of the Opium War (1839–1842) marked the forced opening of China to ‘the barbarians’, who were so called and considered given that the Chinese thought they lived in and ruled the centre of

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the world and believed that the Chinese emperor was of divine nature. While the foreigners felt superior and more powerful in terms of weaponry and commerce, the Chinese felt the same in terms of morality and cultural life (Bertuccioli and Masini, 1996: 234). After treaties were signed between China and foreign countries as a result of the Opium War, China understood the necessity of learning to deal and co-habit with foreigners, who were then allowed to also reside in Tianjin and Shanghai. The Chinese needed to deepen their knowledge and understanding of foreigners and their technology. Hence in 1861 the Chinese set up the Zongli Yamen (their first modern institution devoted to the establishment and development of international relations) as well as schools to learn Western languages (in 1862–1863 French, Russian and English were the only foreign languages offered in China). Of the few Italians who were in China at that time, most were sailors on foreign ships or missionaries. At the beginning of the 20th century, China experienced the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising against foreign imperialism and Christianity. As a result of this, the Chinese were required to pay very expensive reparations and give foreigners more room to manoeuvre in their commercial activities on Chinese land. After centuries of religious sinologists and merchants pursuing business interests, Italy and China finally started developing more consistent literary and cultural relationships, and official exchanges also became more frequent through the 1900s. While a detailed analysis of contemporary Chinese history and the power struggle within the Communist party is beyond the scope of this book, it is worth noting that with the end of the Chinese Empire and the creation of the Republic of China in 1912, a new historical and political phase began for the Middle Kingdom. In 1919, the May Fourth Movement started in response to the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I; this treaty had imposed heavy reparations on China which sparked protests surrounding the domestic situation in China, criticism and condemnation of the liberal Western philosophy that had spread amongst Chinese intellectuals. At that time, China started to adopt a more conservative and inward looking policy, which continued for about half a century. This closure greatly affected Western business in China. After the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949 with the Communist Party gaining control over mainland China, while the Kuomintang occupied Taiwan and surrounding islands (calling themselves Republic of China). On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and led the country until his death in 1976. He was succeeded by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, who

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The expatriate experience
Due to the growth of multinational organizations and international business, especially from the 1960s, there has been an increasing number of articles and publications that have focussed on globalization and the spread of Western business into the East. An increased amount of bilateral business and financial investment also resulted in more ‘people traffic’ and social exchanges. Long-term expatriation is a particularly intense cross-cultural experience, and research in the mid-1980s (see for instance, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1985) saw the flourishing of expatriate studies, which concentrated their investigations primarily on the adjustment phase of expatriation. The field started developing with the identification of success factors in US foreign-service representatives (see Spenser and Spenser, 1993), with many studies focussing on Sino-American relations and questioning the validity and effectiveness of American ways of doing business in China due to the significant cultural and organizational differences between the two countries (see for instance, Shenkar and von Glinow, 1994; Shenkar, 1996). Other studies have considered German, Finnish, Japanese and Hong Kong nationals doing business in China (Zimmermann et al., 2003; Selmer, 2006b; Kohonen, 2008), but there remains a need for further investigation involving more nationalities given the range of different cultural approaches and differences in modus operandi.

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later promoted his famous cultural and economic reforms and opened the door to a more significant foreign presence in China. China’s contemporary foreign relations have been strongly influenced by the recognition of its sole power over all Chinese territories in opposition to the Republic of China in Taiwan (for instance, the latter was expelled from the United Nations when China assumed its seat in 1971). Its initial foreign policy focussed on establishing relations with the Soviet Union and other communist countries, leading to a fairly antagonistic attitude towards the West in general and the United States in particular (the two were also on opposite sides of the 1950–1953 Korean War). As relations with Moscow became increasingly tense during the 1960s, China softened its anti-West approach, joining the UN in 1971 and getting closer to Western countries throughout the 1970s and 1980s (and even establishing new diplomatic ties with the USA in 1978). Nevertheless, a number of countries reduced diplomatic and economic relations with China after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. These ties were, however, largely re-established by the end of the 1990s.

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The recent Chinese economic development and its diplomatic efforts have resulted in an increased number of successful international business relations over the past 20 years. Nowadays, businesses are no longer merely focussed on their immediate locations or neighbouring countries, but take advantage of foreign investments, international partnerships, decentralized offices and foreign suppliers. Multinationals have often been slow to realize how operating across cultures requires a deeper understanding of a range of dynamics, cultures, languages, organizational strategies and processes that often differ from familiar practices established and practised in a company’s headquarters. In this research, unless otherwise specified, the term expatriates refers to both employees sent by their company on a work assignment in a country different from their home country for at least one year (who are ‘standard’ expatriates according to Haslberger and Brewster, 2009) and people choosing independently to work and live in a country different from their home country for at least one year (‘self-selected’ expatriates). Even though the conditions of these two types of workers are different, they are both considered expatriates, regardless of their salary, type of contract, hierarchical level, type of company and field of operation. In addition, the expatriate category in this book also includes entrepreneurs who have sought to start a business in China. Whilst Italy and Italian workers were chosen for this particular study, businesses and expatriates from other countries often face similar challenges while doing business in China. Although overall numerical data on country investment, sector trends and individual business performance is undoubtedly useful and important, this research shifts the focus on the actual actors performing business activities in loco. Expatriates are at the forefront of doing business in China and constitute an invaluable source of information and expertise in that field. In a study of adjustment and performance in China, Fee et al. (2011: 366) recommend that ‘Australian and other western firms operating in PRC would be expected to give great attention to their EPM [Expatriate Performance Management] systems, due to the rapid change, uncertainty, information asymmetries, large cultural distance, and high cost of foreignness that are prevalent’. If approached at a macro level, or from a corporate viewpoint, the volatility of business trends, physical and cultural differences in business practices, changes in policies and technological advancements make it difficult to successfully analyse the everyday practice of doing business in China. In order to fully understand the nuances of doing business in China, it is important to not only consider international, national and

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corporate factors, but also to explore the challenges, opportunities and experiences of those contributing to the making of cross-cultural business relations in China. Expatriate adjustment In recent years, issues related to expatriate adjustment and cross-cultural communication have been examined in more detail across a broad range of disciplines such as sociology, psychology and management studies. However, in his review of 271 articles published in top journals between 1996 and 2000, Werner (2002) found that only 16 had used expatriates as the primary subjects of analysis. Expatriates are sent abroad by their companies for a number of reasons: in order to promote knowledge transfer in terms of technology and organizational culture; to explore new markets and ventures; and to develop people’s skills (Shaffer et al., 1999). The future of a company and the success of a business venture in foreign lands are often placed in the hands of the expatriates chosen to run or manage the day-to-day work of the business, which makes the understanding of their experience crucial to the exploration of doing business in China. According to the latest Global Relocation Trends surveys, China is ranked second only to the US as the top international destination and the first destination amongst emerging new assignment locations. China is reported to be the country to which expatriates find it most difficult to adapt, and it also ranks first in the countries that expatriates fail to adjust to during foreign assignments (GMAC, 2010, 2011). There are a number of aspects that can negatively affect doing business in China and even cause costly premature returns (which were estimated at 40 per cent of the total expatriate population by Black and Mendenhall, 1990 and confirmed by later studies and meta-analyses explored in Part III). Poor efficiency and weak performance of expatriates engaged in assignments in China can be related to a number of aspects: delayed productivity and start-up time, disruption of the relationship between the expatriate and host nationals, damage to the multinational company’s image, lost opportunities, and problematic repatriation resulting in high turnover rates. Bennet et al. (2000: 239) seem to point out the importance of understanding the details of the expatriate experience rather than its mere outcomes when claiming that ‘the causes of expatriate failure are more numerous than the indications of failure’. It would therefore appear essential for both organizations and individuals to further investigate the experience of expatriates in China in order to better understand their motivations, issues and needs.
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The cultural influence on business The concept of culture has been defined in many different ways, and this book will not attempt to provide a comprehensive overview of all available definitions or analyse the concept in detail. The kaleidoscopic and multi-faceted complexity embraced by the term ‘culture’ can be captured by Tylor’s definition (1873: 1) of culture as ‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs and any capabilities and habits acquired by a man as a member of society’. Hofstede (1981: 24) provided what is probably the most widely quoted definition of culture as ‘the collective programming of the mind, which distinguishes the members of one group or society from those of another’. Generally speaking, in this study, culture is understood as a concept shared by all or most members of a social group, which is durable but at the same time malleable as it is passed on from one generation to the next; a value that shapes people’s understanding of the world, beliefs and behaviour. Culture can be seen as existing in two broad categories: at the national level (national culture) and at the organizational level (corporate culture). Since the mid1980s, a number of researchers have discussed whether national culture is overpowered by organizational culture (see for instance Adler and Jelinek, who in 1986 suggested that employees working for the same organization are more culturally similar even when of different nationalities), or whether by contrast national culture is predominant and shapes organizational culture (see inter alia Hofstede 1980; Laurent, 1983). While I recognize the importance of both and appreciate how interdependent they are, this book focuses on individuals, and while being informed by the concept of national culture, this study is not specifically concerned with organizational culture. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (1997), echoed in a later study by Schein (2004), identify three levels of culture that should be considered in developing a shared understanding: the outer layer, which incorporates artefacts and products which are observable manifestations of culture (explicit); the middle layer, which includes norms, beliefs and values; and the ‘centre of the onion’, which is made of basic underlying assumptions about existence (implicit). The outer layer of this ‘culture onion’ is visible and what most people experience in everyday cultural interactions: whether it is visiting a location during a holiday to a foreign country, tasting foreign food, using international suppliers or relating to customers at work. Even though only superficial, this layer provides an introductory approach to a different culture, which can obviously have both a positive or negative impact on one’s understanding and perception of ‘the other’. By reaching the middle layer one starts

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addressing more complex issues, including aspects that might challenge or be in conflict with one’s own core personal beliefs: cultural values, religious views, the more intellectually and emotionally charged aspects of people’s inner and social life. These aspects of ‘the middle layer’ are often the topic of discussions amongst friends, conversations and explorations in some contexts and fields of work, but are not always made explicit. The core level of the ‘culture onion’ is often difficult to share and grasp when dealing with individuals from a culture profoundly different from our own, as such basic understandings are often unspoken, unarticulated and taken for granted by those who live by them. When managing or operating across cultures many people can fail to keep in mind the differences between these three layers, and how they are intertwined and interdependent. When doing business across culture, expatriates may benefit from understanding the different facets of ‘the culture onion’ and the impact that these three levels of culture can have on business in general and everyday practices in particular. Many managerial studies focus on what managers do and how the practice of management is defined or changing; cross-cultural studies frequently focus on external exchanges and differences between cultures or individuals coming from different backgrounds; expatriate studies often merge these two and highlight issues of managerial practices blended with adjustment to otherness. Several studies have been conducted on cross-cultural differences in relation to job performance and satisfaction (see for instance Lincoln, Hanada and Olson, 1981; Candell and Hulin, 1986), and a number of factors and scenarios have been researched on East–West cross-cultural business relationships and managerial work attitudes. Hofstede (1980, 1991), Hall and Hall (1990) and other academic researchers chose to focus their studies on crosscultural models aiming to clarify the complexities of national culture diversity and differentiation. Moreover, Vogel (1963, 1979) and Bae and Chung (1997), propose culture as one of the main factors that influence a manager’s work attitude. Ryan et al. (2000) also point out how there is surprisingly little research being directed specifically towards international employees’ attitudes. Specific research on Westerners in China (Selmer, 2006b) has indicated how intercultural skills and communication abilities are even more demanding and crucial for expatriates working in that country given its particular business and cultural context. Having lived and worked in China first as a sinologist and then as an expatriate businessperson, I have had a chance to hear and read many stereotypical academic and practitioner-oriented stories about China and the expatriates who live there.

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A holistic approach to expatriation The relevant literature on expatriate adjustment seems to neglect the importance of a more holistic perspective in relation to pre-departure cross-cultural training, expatriation and repatriation issues. While the literature has dealt with all three phases, the majority of studies have focussed on individual aspects in isolation, traditionally centring on cultural adjustment and issues encountered during the actual assignment or one of the stages in the process (Harrison et al. 2004). More recently, research has started considering issues in relation to re-entry adjustment, host nationals and family involvement (see Part IV). On account of all this, there is a growing realization of the importance of business relations with China and of its contextual cultural aspects. Hence, a number of academic journal articles currently available on cross-cultural business and communication with China have explored country-specific salient aspects of business practices such as those involving negotiations (see for instance Buttery and Leung, 1998; Graham and Lam, 2003; Kumar and Worm, 2003; Shi and Wright, 2003; Zhu et al., 2007), the role of guanxi (personal relationships, connections) and mianzi (face) in the Chinese culture (for instance Cardon and Calvert Scott, 2003; Cardon, 2006; Wong et al., 2007). A review of the key concepts from the available literature supports the assumptions of this study that the expatriate assignment should be considered by individuals and organizations in its entirety, from the management of pre-departure training and expectations, through to expatriate adjustment overseas and the issues encountered upon repatriation. Expatriate assignments pose unique challenges for employees since they not only have to adapt to new places, but also need to develop the ability to function in an environment with different languages, cultural values and expectations (Shin et al., 2007). When managers move to a country that is significantly distant to the one of origin (literally and figuratively), they are likely to need specific pre-departure preparation and training as well as post-arrival support given that adapting to distant environments with high or low novelty (unknown situation or codes of conduct) is likely to require different types of training and levels of adjustment (Selmer, 2006). When I lived in China, I met many people who had moved to Shanghai, Beijing or smaller cities with very little knowledge of the country, its history, political environment, cultural context and social practices; this seemed to have hindered their adjustment and integration with the local environment. In my experience, many Western organizations focus mainly on business management tasks rather than developing strategies towards doing

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Introduction to International Business in China 15

Language both reflects and affects one’s view of the world, since language and culture are dimensions of each other, interrelated and inseparable. … Language affects and reflects culture just as culture affects and reflects what is encoded in language. (Selmer, 2006b: 352) Moreover, within the literature that concerns expatriates, Peltokorpi (2010) recently noted how the influence of both cultural values and languages is axiomatic in terms of intercultural communication, and yet most studies have focussed on either one or the other of those aspects thus neglecting an approach to research that takes into account both cultural and linguistic competencies for multinational organizations or individual expatriates. Ji et al. (2004) emphasize the complex interrelations between language and culture, which are both investigated in this study and linked with expatriate adjustment. These two dimensions of the expatriate competencies are at the basis of the framework developed in this study, which differentiates and explores different expatriate typologies in China. Moreover, recent meta-analyses (Mol et al., 2005; Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2005) call attention to the positive relationship between local language competence and success of the foreign assignment (see Part III for a more in-depth discussion of this topic). According to Mol et al. (2005: 609) ‘more research may be needed on the moderators of this relationship’. This book argues that the provision of pre-departure training is crucial in improving adjustment overseas and addresses some of the common issues expatriates face while abroad: physical and cultural differences, social adjustment, work-related issues abroad, personality traits and motivation (Tung, 1981; Baumgarten, 1995; Bhagat and Prien, 1996; Littrell et al., 2006). In addition, this study proposes a more detailed classification of expatriates that needs to be taken into consideration in terms of social, work and general adjustment. Furthermore, Black et al. (1992) and

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business in China that also incorporate elements of linguistic, cultural and social adjustment. Recently, a number of studies such as those conducted by Peltokorpi (2007, and later 2010) have highlighted the importance of taking a more holistic approach towards cross-cultural relations in terms of considering how diverse aspects such as communication styles, cultural values and different native languages all influence expatriate–local relations and business activities. This lack of an integrative approach is surprising given that expatriates have to find effective ways to interact across cultural and linguistic boundaries in order to be successful in their assignments overseas,

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Internationalization and globalization of businesses
Conducting business across cultures Becoming an efficient and high performing expatriate in China is likely to require individuals to develop an in-depth understanding of crosscultural matters. People who work across national boundaries, should take into account many aspects related to culture that are critical in the workplace: how workers modify their within-culture styles when interacting with cultures significantly dissimilar from their own, how to work in harmony with people from different cultural backgrounds and how to develop or implement the most effective ways of dealing with foreign colleagues. Both practitioner accounts and academic research show that what may be effective in the US or in Europe may not necessarily be appropriate or applicable in Latin countries or Asia. Morden (1995) clarifies that it would not be wise to apply an ethnocentric and universalistic view of management practices and policies in different countries and towards other cultures. On the contrary, cultural differences in aspects that involve all three layers of the ‘culture onion’ described before would there advocate the need to view cross-cultural international business and management from multiple points of view (Hampden-Turner and Trompenaars, 1993) to take into account and value those differences. Also, it would appear essential for today’s international managers to understand diversity and to apply locally appropriate models to their business strategies. In other words, expatriate managers should be able to understand and use cultural differences to their advantage rather than see them as a source of conflict or limitations. Following Sackmann and Phillips (2004) and Primecz et al. (2009), three streams of research can be identified in cross-cultural management studies: studies adopting a cross-national comparative perspective; those favouring an intercultural interactional perspective; and finally, studies focussing on

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Andreason and Kinneer (2005) point out that, from a research perspective, the lack of appropriate and systematic investigation of repatriation adjustment may be partly caused by an erroneous underlying assumption that this issue ‘is not significantly different from either adjustment after a domestic relocation transfer or from adjustment to an overseas assignment’ (Andreason and Kinneer, 2005: 110). This study will refute this assumption and draw attention to the importance of understanding repatriation issues by sharing the interviewees’ own testimonies on this matter and analysing a number of challenges experienced by expatriates upon return to their country of origin.

Introduction to International Business in China 17

a multicultural perspective. The cross-national comparative perspective looks at national differences, and Hofstede (1980) provides seminal work in this area. Research inspired by anthropologists such as Geertz (1973) focussing on intercultural interactions characterize the second strand. Finally, the multiple culture perspective considers cultural influences affecting different levels (Primecz et al., 2009). The growing literature available on expatriate management in both academic and more popular publications seems to highlight how intercultural relations have in this century assumed an even larger role with global marketing and sales strategies. Being contextualized within the ‘one world market’, companies are often asked to ‘think global and act local’. These practices have forced businesses to compromise and enhance their flexibility as well as their cross-cultural competencies. The increased crossing of different cultures in business resulted in the emergence of cross-cultural management studies during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and this has emphasized the influence of national culture(s) on organizational practices and generated recognition that many of the problems encountered in international business relations can be traced back to employees’ cultural attributes. It is widely accepted that culture is the leitmotiv and invisible hand behind operations, practices and behaviours in business, and that it has an even more significant effect on international organizations. Many researchers have pointed out how doing business across cultures needs careful consideration of a number of aspects and developed cultural approaches to international businesses. For instance, despite being challenged and criticized as a monocompany overgeneralized study, the work of Geert Hofstede remains a crucial contribution to the field of cross-cultural relations with his books, where he proposes that national culture and values affect the work environment and could be categorized according to five variables: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism–collectivism, masculinity–femininity and short/long-term orientation. Similarly, Terpstra (1985) identified five factors to be considered in international business: cultural variability, cultural complexity, cultural hostility, cultural heterogeneity and cultural independence. In addition, in the early 1990s, Hall and Hall (1990), Trompenaars (1993) and other influential researchers also conceptualized seminal models and frameworks to explain dimensions and ways in which people relate to each other. Specific cultural factors in China In relation to the Asia-Pacific region, Lasserre and Schutte (1995) stated that in that specific location business is influenced by two dominant

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Expatriate adjustment
Definitions, degrees and dimensions of ‘adjustment’ Expatriate adjustment can be defined in many ways, depending on the aspect that one wishes to highlight; however, for the purpose of this

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concepts: a homogenous concept of social organization (similar to Hofstede’s concept of ‘collectivism’) and the pervasiveness of Confucian values such as hard work, thriftiness, obedience, benevolent leadership, harmony, respect of hierarchy and value of education, which are still embedded in most levels and dynamics of social interaction in China and other Asian countries. In China, for instance, it is very rare to see a host country national challenge or criticize a superior; this led to what some expatriates call ‘laobanism’ (from the Chinese term laoban, ‘boss’), used to describe the almost blind obedience that the Chinese tend to display to their boss (and the Party at a higher level), which in turn implies the superiority of hierarchy over truth and independent decision making. In many Asian countries, the middle and inner ‘cultural onion layers’ highlight the importance of collectivism rather than individuality and assume that people should prioritize group interests over personal ones. Some of the expatriates I have been in contact with in recent years argue that in the last decade, due to the influence of Western practices and the ‘one child’ policy, Chinese citizens are rapidly moving from a collective Confucian communist background to a more individualistic capitalistic one. However, it would appear that centuries of cultural principles and practices have not yet been eradicated and the traditional cultural orientation still pervades the country as a whole. For instance, whilst in many Western countries there is a tendency to keep one’s private matters unknown to superiors and lecturers, in China the relation between the boss and his or her subordinates, or the one between teachers and students, has a paternalistic character and is connected to Confucian relationships as well as filial piety; this results in a blurring of boundaries between work and personal life, and very little privacy. In China, other philosophies and influences, such as Taoism, Buddhism and Sun Tze’s Art of War are inextricably intertwined within the cultural net upon which social interaction and relationships are built. These beliefs and taken-for-granted orientations shape both social and work environments and should be taken into consideration, if not fully understood, by expatriates wishing to carry out successful business in China.

Introduction to International Business in China 19

research, I will use the following definition that also encompasses effectiveness, local knowledge and emotions: Expatriates shall be called adjusted to a facet if they are effective in dealings in the new environment (in their own eyes and in the eyes of their hosts), perceive themselves as adequately knowledgeable about the local environment, and feel neutral or positive emotions overall. (Haslberger and Brewster, 2008: 387) Moreover, adjustment can be defined as changes in the personal role (values, attitudes) and/or the work role (how the job is done) that expatriates may face during the transition process (Nicholson, 1984). In addition, Black (1988) defines the degree of expatriate adjustment as the extent to which a person is psychologically comfortable with various aspects of the host culture. A number of studies have focussed on factors that have an impact on expatriate adjustment during the overseas assignment. Such factors, which will be discussed in Part IV, include personality traits (Caligiuri, 2000), previous overseas experience (Takeuchi et al., 2005), training (Black and Mendenhall, 1990) and other factors not strictly related to work (Takeuchi, et al., 2002). From a broader cross-cultural perspective, Mendenhall and Oddou (1985) and Black and Mendenhall (1990) propose a framework including three dimensions of expatriate adjustment: 1. The relationship dimension, which includes skills used to establish and cultivate relationships with host nationals, so that the expatriate’s adjustment experience both at work and socially can be improved (Hechanova et al., 2003). 2. The perceptual dimension related to sensitivity towards cultural differences and the correct interpretation of behaviours and situations arising in the new cultural context (Yiu and Saner, 2000) and performance (Spreitzer et al., 1997). 3. The self dimension which refers to individuals’ ability to tolerate stress, their confidence in themselves and personality traits which are all believed to influence the level of efficiency they achieve at work (Caligiuri, 2000). Issues of assessing expatriate adjustment have been a subject of academic exploration for many years. In her seminal work on expatriates, Tung (1981), and later Mendenhall and Oddou (1985), noted how in the previous two decades studies indicated significant rates of

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premature returns amongst expatriates and how the inability to adjust to the host culture’s specific social and business environment led to an expatriate failure rate of 20–40 per cent. Later research has shown that little improvement has been achieved in the practice of expatriation. The often underestimated but complex challenges faced by expatriates could explain both the high rate of premature return, estimated at 40 per cent (Black et al., 1991; Gregersen and Black, 1996), as well as the poor assessment of 30–50 per cent of assignments as being costly and ineffective (Copeland and Griggs, 1985). Research (see for instance Parker and McEvoy, 1993; Kraimer et al., 2001) has confirmed that poor adjustment does have a negative influence on expatriate performance. Generally speaking, there are two main themes in the literature available on expatriate adjustment: the first is based on Nicholson’s (1984) work role transition theory which focuses on understanding how expatriates adapt in order to achieve what is needed in terms of work and general environment (through role innovation and personal change); while the second, which is represented by Black’s research (1988), focuses on the degree of psychological comfort in relation to various aspects of the host culture, both of which were linked to contextual performance in a model later developed by Shay and Baack (2006). My research is more concerned with the latter theme and the work of Black and his colleagues (Black, 1988; Black and Stephens, 1989) who identified and evidenced three broad dimensions of expatriate adjustment: general, interactive (social), and work-related adjustment. They see adjustment as a process of social learning whereby expatriates become aware of local behaviours, develop a cognitive map to understand them and then create appropriate strategies of their own in order to adjust to the foreign environment. Lack of adjustment can create physical, psychological and emotional discomfort that is likely to affect expatriates’ well-being and performance. The research undertaken for this book provides a general confirmation of what is probably the most popular model of adjustment, that proposed in 1991 by Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, who pointed to the importance of job design, organizational support systems, the inclusion of the spouse in any training and support programs, and the importance of language fluency as a selection criterion for expatriates. Several authors have highlighted shortcomings related to this model (Hippler, 2000; Harrison et al., 2004; Stahl and Caligiuri, 2005; Thomas and Lazarova, 2006), which are mainly linked to the fact that it measures expatriate adjustment on an apparently one-dimensional scale from unadjusted to adjusted, whereas many authors believe this to be a much

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Introduction to International Business in China 21

1. Speaking the language (deemed crucial). 2. Adopting the ‘right’ way of communicating by understanding and practicing ‘underlying values and social rules that govern verbal and non-verbal interactions in China’ (Zimmermann et al., 2003: 50). 3. Work adjustment, itself comprising four distinct modes: replication (no change to the expatriate’s role, behaviour or attitudes), absorption (no role change but modified behaviours and attitudes), determination (changes to the role but not to behaviours and attitudes) and finally exploration (whereby role, behaviours and attitudes are all modified). 4. Living condition modes of adjustment, which are categorised in terms of modifications or maintenance of one’s habits and acceptance of the local norms of living, for instance by eating new foods or engaging in local leisure activities (Mendenhall and Oddou, 1985). Expatriate adjustment has been investigated by looking at how individual, job, organizational and social factors impact on different adjustment outcomes such as integration, performance, levels of stress or anxiety, work attitudes and turnover. Zimmermann et al. (2003), in their study of German expatriate adjustment in China, stress the importance of two mechanisms of adjustment: coping strategies and behaviours put in place by expatriates in order to achieve psychological well-being (Stone Feinstein and Ward, 1990) and the learning process implemented in order to ‘fit in’ (Furnham and Bochner, 1986). Blakeney’s model (2006) looks at both the psychological and the socio-cultural components of the expatriate adjustment process and starts by assuming that expatriates are being either more ‘self-centred’ or more ‘knowledge and peopleoriented’. He explains that ‘self-centred’ individuals are those following the adjustment-only track of cultural coping, while the ‘knowledge and

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more complex process. A later study conducted by Shaffer et al. (1999) identified three related yet separate facets or dimensions (which mirror those originally conceptualized by Black et al. in 1991) with which to measure expatriate adjustment. These were adjustment to work, adjustment to interacting with individuals in the foreign country (social adjustment) and adjustment to the general environment and culture. Modes of interaction adjustment (ways of interaction and adjustment between the individual and the environment) have been investigated by Janssens (1995) in terms of maintenance of one’s cultural identity and contact with the foreign culture. Zimmermann et al. (2003: 50) indicated four modes of adjustment specific to China:

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people-oriented’ expatriates have a different approach and follow the learning-adapting-adjusting path. Being able to implement effective coping strategies is very important for expatriates, especially for Italian workers, who seem to have very little corporate or network support in terms of adjustment and coping. Ward and Kennedy (2001) studied the coping strategies of British nationals in Singapore and found three styles (avoidant style; approach style; acceptance and restraint coping style) that expatriates would adopt to cope with psychological adjustment and that could also influence the level of well-being during the assignment. Other aspects of expatriate adjustment will be investigated in this book in order to further understand the factors comprised in these three macro levels of adjustment (general, social and work adjustment). For instance, Kraimer et al. (2001) found that expatriates’ perceptions of the overall support provided by both the home and the host unit are likely to have a positive influence on their adjustment. In addition, more current research has begun to examine the role of social networks on the expatriate assignment and, in particular, on their adjustment while in the host country. Other recent studies have considered the importance of host-unit employees (Toh and DeNisi, 2007) and host country mentors (Mezias and Scandura, 2005) as crucial socializing agents. In terms of adjustment upon repatriation, Black and Gregersen (1991) showed that this process is again very complex and encompasses the same kinds of related yet distinct dimensions as expatriation adjustment. However, a later study by Suutari and Valimaa (2002) claims that upon repatriation, work-related issues may consist of two separate facets or dimensions: job adjustment and organizational adjustment. In relation to expatriates who operate in contexts that are significantly different from what they experience in their home country, Garrison’s research is worth considering (1998: 116) as it presents some stereotypical behavioural differences that American, European and Asian populations would adopt in cross-cultural exchanges. As mentioned previously, Europe is very heterogeneous, so I do not believe that this type of generalization is always appropriate; however, if taken with caution, these categories do offer some insight into some of the most common cultural differences perceived by expatriate managers. Whilst considering such cultural generalizations can be useful in order to develop an initial superficial awareness of cultural differences, it is important for those intending to do business across cultures to explore issues in more detail. Adjusting to Asian countries seems to be particularly difficult for Western managers and it appears that China in particular, being so different from most other countries, would be a challenging destination

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Introduction to International Business in China 23

for Western business expatriates (Selmer, 2006b). Their need for effective cross-cultural skills appears to be substantial as they have to adjust to a fundamentally different cultural and social context than their own. Although adjustment may be facilitated by means of cross-cultural training, there is inconclusive evidence of the effectiveness of the latter (Selmer, 2005). Language proficiency Language and culture are clearly inextricably bound together. Giles and Byrne (1982) claim that language is one of the most characteristic markers of people’s identity, but, in terms of corporate business practices, linguistic competence has often been enclosed within the concept of culture or neglected altogether, mostly because of the use of English as the lingua franca of international business (see Charles, 2007). Two recent meta-analyses conducted by Mol et al. (2005) and Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al. (2005) show that the ability to speak the local language is a positive predictor of international assignee success. This is confirmed by Caligiuri et al. (2009: 254) who note how many researchers have stressed the positive relationship between language skills and expatriate success. In a significant contribution to this area of investigation, Selmer (2006b: 349) highlights the difficulties Westerners face in China specifically in terms of language and communication: ‘China is “… often seen as the most foreign of all foreign places” (Chen, 2001) not least because of its language, which may appear totally impenetrable to many Westerners’. In the case of Italian workers dealing with Chinese host nationals, English would be a second language for both parties, which can easily lead to even more misunderstandings and inaccuracies. Even if expatriates are able to speak in English with local employees, the interpretation of the underlying meaning might vary owing to different cultural norms and/or sociolinguistic orientations. Such differences sometimes remain unrecognised and can result in misunderstandings and errors in decision-making. (Peltokorpi, 2007: 70) According to my interviewees, one of the main factors influencing expatriates’ adjustment and success is their linguistic and cultural knowledge, which is also one of the key aspects they used to discriminate between the different types of expatriates. Silvana: I know of Italians [living in China] who have never had Chinese food. Italians who only went to Italian restaurants in China,
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In 1961, Edward Sapir wrote in his famous article entitled ‘Language’, that: Language is a great force of socialization, probably the greatest that exists. By this is meant not merely the obvious fact that significant social intercourse is hardly possible without language but that the mere fact of a common speech serves as a peculiarly potent symbol of the social solidarity of those who speak the language. (Sapir, 1961: 50) All expatriates interviewed, ranging from those who do not speak Chinese to fluent sinologists specializing in Chinese linguistics, highlighted the importance of language competence for those planning on living and working in the Middle Kingdom. Selmer (2005: 71) explains how ‘Besides facilitating communication with locals, it [language competence] may also demonstrate an attitude of attempting to learn about the host culture, enabling one to be polite and permitting cultural understanding not otherwise possible (Eschback et al., 2001)’. Pre-departure training The unique challenges posed by foreign assignments would require companies to offer targeted cultural and linguistic training in the predeparture phase, while focussing on the provision of on-site support at a later stage when expatriate workers are expected to start interacting with host country nationals. In fact, cross-cultural training has been widely accepted as having a positive effect on expatriates’ performance (see for instance Black and Mendenhall, 1991; Brewster and Pickard, 1994), their turnover rate (Naumann, 1992) and general outcome of their assignment (Deshpande and Viswesvaran, 1992). Mendenhall, Dunbar and Oddou (1987) have provided an early classification of training

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which are truly disgusting, where you get disgusting pizza with all sorts of stuff on top … but they felt at ease there. They felt tranquil and relaxed. I know of Italians who have never had an interaction with a Chinese person. Then you have foreigners who are there to work but can speak Chinese and are similar to students because they get integrated, they speak the language; they have Chinese friends and can establish human relationships of friendship with the Chinese. Then you have those who live in their foreigners’ ghetto. [The fact that they don’t integrate] I think in 90 per cent of these cases is their own choice.

Introduction to International Business in China 25

Effective expatriate recruitment People tend to be influenced by many cultural interactions, historical and geographical matters, religious influence and social contexts which are a ‘combination of values, ideals, and attitudes inherited from previous eras’ (MacDonald, 1965: 379). These differences and peculiarities are obviously significant in the case of relationships between Italy and China and can contribute to a number of conflicts and misunderstanding for expatriates working overseas. Shin et al. (2007) agree that expatriate assignments are considerably challenging due to linguistic and cultural differences as well as expectations, which are likely to affect the manner in which work is done and the efficiency of workers. As a result of these differences, it is especially important for companies to select carefully those to be sent abroad as different cultural contexts may require a different combination of skills, ability and personality traits in comparison to similar domestic positions. In 2002, Nicholls et al. advocated the need for more research regarding individual attitudes given the influence personal traits would have on work. However, it seems that organizations often neglect these aspects and over-emphasize technical knowledge and work tasks (Shay and Baack, 2004). Typically, multinational organizations, foreign subsidiaries and foreign organizations in China recruit a mix of employees from the host country and foreigners; the latter are sometimes hired in the destination country but more often sent from the headquarters or the country the organization is originally from. In my experience, this recruitment pattern tends to be due to the following reasons: reduced labour costs in China which prompt companies to hire people directly in loco, lack of expertise abroad which can lead to more or fewer Westerners within the workforce, and sometimes lack of trust whereby the home branch prefers to either send senior managers from the headquarters or hire people who are not Chinese. Gong (2003) suggests that multinational enterprises use expatriates in order to maintain cultural control in branches operating in foreign countries that are more distant in terms of culture.

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approaches into three categories: information-giving approaches (that is factual briefing and awareness training), affective approaches (roleplays, critical incidents, culture-assimilator training) and immersion approaches (assessment centres, field experience and simulations) that could be useful while planning a foreign assignment. The chapters following this introduction will investigate the importance of the predeparture stage, including training for Western expatriates moving to China, with a particular focus on linguistic and cultural training.

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Expatriate assignments pose a number of challenges in terms of staffing due to the fact that Western managers in China tend to occupy positions of responsibility and their expectations, linguistic level as well as cultural understanding are likely to influence the way they do business and their success (Caligiuri, 2000; van Vianen et al., 2004).

My China
This book is aimed at investigating the experience of doing business in China from a Western point of view through the words of those who lived it at first hand. I used to be one of them. Before starting my life as a lecturer in the UK I lived and worked in China for five years, mostly in Shanghai. Working there has provided me with an incredible source of learning, knowledge, experience and personal growth. The places I visited, the innumerable people I met (Chinese and foreigners), the work I was involved with and the pace at which everything happens in China have enriched my life, my self and my curriculum vitae. It wasn’t all ‘peachy’ (or rose e fiori, as we would say in Italian), but this is probably the reason why I learned and grew so much through that unique experience. Living and working in China has probably been the single most difficult, frustrating, enraging thing I have embarked in during my whole life. I would do it again, I am happy with the choices I made that led me to the Middle Kingdom, but I now realize how that experience would have been much simpler if only I had known back then what I know now after years of studying as a sinologist, working in the field as a practitioner and developing my management knowledge as an academic. China is tough. I didn’t have all the answers at the beginning of my journey (even though at the time I thought I had most of them) and, like others before and after me, a large portion of my knowledge and understanding of China was accrued through trial and error. Nowadays, an increasing number of expatriates, travellers and business people (some admittedly more experienced, reliable, business oriented and informed than others), share their individual stories of living and working in China, acquiring the necessary know-how, and coming to terms with all the amazing and sometimes shocking anecdotes experienced in loco (see for instance Clissold, 2004; Perkowski, 2008; Fernandez and Underwood, 2009; Stevenson, 2012; Adams and Ruggles, 2012). This book reflects the synergy between my practitioner experience in the field of marketing and communication and my academic role as a lecturer in business management; my educational background in Oriental

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Introduction to International Business in China 27

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languages and cultures first, and my marketing and management qualifications later, together with the reality of operating within the Chinese business arena. China seems to have a special way of touching people, whether in a positive or negative manner. Many friends and colleagues of mine have noted how China can hardly be explained to those who have not had a chance to live it first hand, because one needs to be there in order to experience its wonders, contradictions, absurdities and charm. Even the most experienced expatriate will admit that China is a country that does not easily let people in on its dynamics, synergies, complexities and innuendos. This book cannot hope to explain China, or claim to have the key to all its secrets, but it will hopefully help its readers shed light on a marvellous civilization and open a window on China as it is experienced by expatriates.

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Part II Before China
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We start the investigation of the physical and metaphorical expatriate journey to China by exploring the pre-departure stage of the expatriation process. Previous research has identified a number of aspects as significant in shaping the pre-departure stage of expatriation, so we focus on reviewing these and examining them through the experiences related in interviews with international business pioneers and today’s Italian managers in China. This exploration starts by considering the reasons why people decide to go to China: whether they are sent by companies or recruited overseas; whether they are looking for an adventure, a promotion or fulfilling a requirement on the course of their career path. The focus then shifts to their pre-departure knowledge, which is investigated in terms of educational background, cultural awareness, previous overseas experience, language proficiency and technical versus soft skills. We question to what extent do these factors have an impact on people’s performance abroad, their level of effectiveness and adjustment; we draw conclusions on the procedures and training companies and individuals can engage in to support and prepare prospective expatriates to encourage a successful experience.

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A Good Beginning is Halfway to Success

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Chinese proverb

Motivation, starting points and expectations
Why China? Expatriate studies tend to focus on those whose transfer was requested or initiated by the organization in which they were employed (‘standard’ expatriates); however, a number of expatriates choose to make their own arrangements in order to find a job abroad (‘self-selected’ or ‘self-initiated’ expatriates), or to set up their own business (entrepreneurs). In the case of Italy, the decision to seek overseas employment is also often due to the poor employment opportunities available in the country for young people or those wishing to move up the corporate ladder. While prospective expatriates in different countries might be influenced by other political, economic, socio-cultural and macro environmental factors, many are likely to face similar issues and be pushed (or encouraged) to expatriation by analogous motives. In a study of graduate engineers from Finland, Suutari and Brewster (2000) identified a number of distinct characteristics of self-initiated expatriates compared to those sent by the company: they tend to be slightly younger, single and female; they work for organizations generally less focussed on international business activities and are employed at lower hierarchical levels and on more temporary contracts than traditional expatriates; they are often motivated to move abroad due to an interest in internationalism and poor employment situations at home; finally, they see their relocation as more permanent given that they cannot
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My departure The question ‘Why China?’ or one of its variations (such as ‘Why did you decide to start studying Chinese?’; ‘Why did you move to China?’) is probably the question I have been asked more often than any other. Over the years, the conversations I have had with others (and myself) have contributed to the construction of a narrative (see Weick, 1995; Blenkinsopp, 2007, 2009) which somehow helps me and others make sense of a choice that seemed rather absurd at the time, back in 1995. That ‘official’ story retrospectively identifies me as a mildly nerdy and highly pioneering teenager with a prophetic hunch for the economic wonder that China was going to become after some years. The ‘real’ story is that even though I might have been pioneering at the time in my passion for China, I had no clue of what was going to come, business or work aims were nowhere in my mind, and the direction of my career had yet to be set. I became involved with Mandarin out of curiosity and then fell in love with the writing and the challenge of studying such a beautifully evil language to learn. I remember stubbornly arguing with my mother to allow me to attend Chinese language classes after school during my final two years in high school. I used to write Chinese characters over and over again during philosophy or religion classes, and then again in the lazy afternoons while watching music videos on MTV. My sisters laughed at my loud attempts at learning to pronounce the tones correctly and made funny mocking sounds. If China had remained what it was back then, I would have been perfectly happy hidden in a dusty library somewhere in the Middle Kingdom, deciphering ancient manuscripts and cultivating sinologist Indiana Jones aspirations in terms of career development. I had decided to study Chinese (Mandarin) at 16 years old, inspired by the love for foreign languages and a bit of youthful and resolute boldness. At the time China was not a popular study destination and finding schools of Chinese language in Italy was quite rare. I finally managed to convince my family to allow me to give this ‘impossible language’ a try. It proved to be, indeed, an incredibly challenging albeit charming and beautiful language to learn.

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count on repatriation plans. Stahl, Miller and Tung (2002) and Suutari (2003) point out how relatively little is known about motivation and what specifically prompts expatriates to accept an international assignment and move abroad. However, Suutari (2003) summarizes the main reasons investigated by previous research: personal interest in internationalization, together with challenges, economic benefits, personal development and career progression.

A Good Beginning is Halfway to Success 33

Progress towards spoken and written fluency takes time, a lot of effort and strong commitment. By the time I turned 18, and after two short study trips to Beijing in the late 1990s, the conditions in China were changing. I decided to challenge parental recommendations and embark on a BA (Hons) in oriental languages and cultures, majoring in Chinese language and philology. I loved the course, but realized very quickly that graduation day was going to be only the beginning rather than the end of my Chinese journey. I prepared to move to Shanghai after winning a scholarship in 2002 to conduct postgraduate studies (and to run away from a fairly miserable failed relationship that I could not seem to shake off): China was becoming a global economic power; people had started talking about it; there was news on the TV covering a mysterious country that suddenly people were slightly frightened of. I remember writing in my diary upon landing at Pudong airport that I could not believe I had really packed up my life and decided to move to the other side of the world. I was finally there, with a bunch of good friends, a battered Chinese dictionary and an oversized bag full of vacuum-packed Italian food that my mom had lovingly procured for me regardless of border patrol laws. While I was living there, about eight months into my stay, came the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) scare. Many students like me were advised by their embassies to pack up and go back to their home countries, which I did in utter desperation as I was being forced to leave my independence there (together with a new love I thought even my ability to breathe depended on). Once back in Italy, I realized that employment prospects for recent sinology graduates looked fairly grim and tried my luck at getting another scholarship to attend an MA in marketing and communication (while suspended in a romantic limbo of a long distance love affair between Italy and China). I strongly believe that upon completion of my postgraduate degree my fluency in English and Chinese was one of the main reasons why I ended up working at the UN, which was roughly what I would expect heaven to feel like if it was an organization. I treasured every minute of that job but decided to apply for yet another scholarship to try to go back to China, where my fairly lonely and increasingly frustrated boyfriend had been waiting for me to return for almost a year. My boss at the UN offered me a very appealing contract and asked me to keep working with them in Italy; however, I decided to leave the decision to ‘destiny’ (I do tend to put on a fairly romantic and dramatic persona when I am in love) and wait to see whether my relationship was ‘meant to be’ (i.e. whether my scholarship application to return to China was

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Work or study? Generally speaking, there are two main reasons why people decide to move to China: to work or to study the language. Nowadays, studying Chinese at university is not as rare and bizarre as it was in the 1990s, and the study of Mandarin has even been introduced in some ‘experimental’ Italian high schools. I started studying Chinese in 1995 out of sheer interest: I remember being a 16-year-old high school student with great grades and an intense passion for languages wanting to know more and explore different cultures. I called the Chinese embassy to find out where I could start my Chinese course in Rome, and I was told that I was too young to learn that language given that the only places I could attend classes were the university, the ISIAO Institute (which ran university level courses) and the Italy-China Association. I convinced my dad to go to the latter with me to investigate further options, even though nobody in my family saw the point of my studying Chinese at the time: there was no news about China on TV or in the newspapers; it had yet to be recognized as the international power it was shortly going to become and all people had heard about it was in regards to cheap fake goods and oily restaurant food. During a muggy summer afternoon, we sat in a tiny office at the Italy-China Association where a member of staff tried to discourage me from signing up for Chinese language classes: I was told that they had never had anyone this young wanting to study Chinese; they also warned me that the Chinese language was terribly difficult to master, and that I was welcome to attend classes but that they were quite sure I would not last over a month. They didn’t know that I like challenges. At any rate, they were absolutely right in highlighting how difficult it is to achieve proficiency in

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going to be successful). I moved back to Shanghai almost exactly a year after my unplanned departure and embraced what felt like an epic love reunion that could have put to shame centuries of romantic literature. So, actually, my ‘clever’ move to China (both times) was really dictated more by sentimental reasons than clairvoyance in relation to future career opportunities. Once there, I realized that, unsurprisingly, love was not enough to pay bills, so I sent what felt like a million CVs (mostly to Italian companies in loco) and started working in the fascinating world of international cross-cultural business. I then turned to academia and, according to my bilingual business card (an indispensable artefact embodying one’s identity in China), worked as a ‘lecturer’ (which in England would have been described as a teaching fellow) at Shanghai University for two years.

A Good Beginning is Halfway to Success 35

Pioneering in China
As I mentioned before, at that time China had yet to reveal itself as the global power it is today, so there is a very strong sense of camaraderie as well as belonging to a ‘sub-cultural identity’ among expatriates who went there and experienced ‘the real China’ before the millennium. This is the China foreigners could see before dairy products and deodorants were sold in supermarkets, before there was easy access to the Internet and mobile phones, before the no-spitting rules were put in place during the Olympics and before globalization had reached the Middle Kingdom. During the interviews conducted for this study, and in many conversations I have had throughout my 18-year-long relationship with China, people have referred to this group of early expatriates as ‘pioneers’ to highlight how rare, adventurous and strenuous it was for people to embark on such an assignment back then. Silvana: At the time [studying Chinese] was considered somewhat pioneering, and when I started studying it everyone told me it was useless, ‘it has no use, what are you doing that for; are you trying to be exotic, you want to be the weird one?’ … I started studying [Chinese] in ‘98. After a couple of years, there was a boom [and people would say] ‘ah China is the future, the new world,’ and everyone then complimented me [and said] ‘eh I told you that it was the right choice’ [studying Chinese], while actually they had said the opposite!

The study of Chinese in Italy has traditionally been more oriented towards language and culture rather than business relations. As China became a global economic player, people other than sinologists started

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that language for Western people, and I am sure I would have never accomplished my goal had I not had two fantastic teachers who taught me with great knowledge and passion. I do remember that at the time everyone I told I was studying Chinese replied that I was crazy, wasting my time: ‘Why study Chinese? Japanese is a far better choice! You will find a job easily if you speak Japanese, but what are you going to do with Chinese, order steamed dumplings at the restaurant?’ Three years afterwards, I did study Japanese as a second language for my BA, but I had by then hopelessly fallen in love with Chinese and chosen that as my major at university (with a slightly masochistic specialization in Chinese philology).

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Giulio:

Paolo:

There is still a bit of this [arrogant and superior] mentality [among Italians who go to China]. There is superficiality, but at least people know more about China now, so now people go there with a more cautious approach. Before people thought they were going … they could have gone to conquer the Congo or China [they didn’t differentiate or know countries]. Now that’s not the case anymore; China makes people respectfully scared. Now everyone goes to China! It’s not like when you and I went there. Now kids even spend their gap year in China, work in pubs … which is something that people would have considered incredible back then.

Narrative identity clearly shapes the career and personal stories that the interviewees have kindly shared with me, and even though in my interviews I have tried to reach deeper than what is usually involved in the questions they have been asked ad nauseam since the start of their experience in China (such as ‘Why did you go to China?’, ‘Can you tell me my name in Chinese?’ , ‘Is it true that they eat cats and dogs?’), I am conscious that some of the information they have told me is likely to be part of that rehearsed tale they have been (often unconsciously) practicing so far, which has often been formed and polished throughout many years. One of my interviewees (Mario) actually said that he was happy to ‘finally talk to someone who has been to China and shares my experience’ rather than ‘the usual journalists who live there in their ivory towers without actually living in the real China and write a bunch of stereotypes and bullshit’. Others said they were glad the interview was coming from someone who had shared that experience instead of from someone who has no idea of what ‘real China’ actually looks and feels like, as they felt then able to talk about ‘the real stuff’ and did not

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developing an interest towards China that was mainly led by economic factors rather than pure interest. In a way this marks a new type of expatriate interest, after the very few Italian entrepreneurs or employees who ventured into the Middle Kingdom in the 1970–1980s and the ones whose passion brought them to China before the millennium. This feeling of change in terms of Chinese society and the types of expatriates who go there is very strong in the accounts made by those who have lived in China or experienced the country for long periods before and after the millennium.

A Good Beginning is Halfway to Success 37

feel forced to keep engaging in the tired narrative of ‘the usual stories you keep dishing out in a loop about the usual stuff’. I believe that while telling stories of the past, we inevitably shape the old through the here and now and all that happened in between, but I still think that all stories preserve their value. Passion, money or career? In terms of reasons and motivations for departure, the same work/study categorization still applies today, and even though the number of people who go to China has increased exponentially, language study and work remain the two main motivations for Italian people to move halfway around the world for a long time. There is also a minority who travels to China and decides to stay (one of my interviewees, for instance, went there on holiday, fell in love with a Chinese girl and consequently decided to move there). Another distinction often connected to the above-mentioned categorization identified by my interviewees, and by many of the hundreds of expatriates I have met in my life, is between those who go there because of a ‘real passion’ and those who go there ‘to make money’. People with a cultural background in oriental studies seem to somehow despise those who moved to China only due to financial or business reasons, and there is a fairly strong sense of superiority emanating from their discourses even though many of them started working for companies in China after getting their degrees. Silvana: When I was there, I felt superior compared to the foreigners who didn’t integrate with the [Chinese] culture because I lived happily and engaged with everything that was dished out on my plate, I lived happily the walking in the streets, while they didn’t live happily in that way [because they only lived in the luxurious parts of China]. I felt superior even though they made three times more money than I did because they missed out on a lot.
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In this book (Part IV), I will also explore how the difference between students and businesspeople plays a crucial role in the classification of expatriate typologies. For those who did not pursue oriental studies and did not speak the language, going to China was in some cases a way of experiencing something new, and in other instances a way of progressing in their careers, thus echoing research suggestions that in today’s business context international experience should be considered

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a prerequisite for advancement to higher management positions in firms acting on a global basis (Selmer and Leung, 2003). Rebecca: Nowadays I think that having work experience in China is almost a must [at top managerial levels]. Now having spent some time in China has to be part of your CV. This has changed compared to 15 years ago when China was something different and exotic. Currently, at least in the manufacturing industry, I think that going to China or India, but China especially, has become compulsory work experience. Almost compulsory. I asked interviewees what their plans before departure had been regarding the length of their stay, as I thought that the planned duration of the assignment was likely to have an impact on their expectations, involvement or adjustment. Among my interviewees some had planned to live in China for six months and ended up staying for years, while others did not give themselves a time frame at all and approached the move as ‘let’s go there and see how it goes; if I like it I’ll stay’. I was rather surprised to learn that, according to the data collected for this study, there seems to be no specific correlation between the time planned, the time actually spent in China and the level of commitment or integration demonstrated by the expatriates I interviewed (the shortest length of time lived in China was one year). What really seems to make the difference in terms of adaptation is the level of linguistic and cultural understanding together with personal characteristics such as openness to alterity and flexibility rather than the amount of time spent in loco.

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3
Pre-Departure Knowledge
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Truth makes you stronger; wisdom makes things valuable; knowledge gives the true value of power. Chinese proverb

Language
Ni hui shuo zhongwen ma? (Can you speak Chinese?) When I conducted my pilot interviews, I had a list of themes and questions I had planned to ask my interviewees which had been informed by both my own experience and an initial literature review. I am almost ashamed to admit that I had underestimated what turned out to be probably the most important and most passionately argued topic of the subsequent interviews conducted for this study: the importance of cultural as well as linguistic understanding. When I went to China for the first time in 1997, I could already speak Chinese at a lowerintermediate level, so even though communication was still tiring and strenuous, I could nonetheless survive on my own, and this is probably one of the reasons why in my pilot study I had underestimated how overwhelming it is to go to China without being able to speak the language at all (especially before the 2000s, when it was very rare to find an English-speaking host national). All 18 interviewees in Zimmermann, Holman and Sparrow’s study (2003) on German expatriate adjustment in China agreed that language is the most basic need in terms of interaction adjustment, which mirrors the unanimous responses of my interviewees. Imagine being in a country where nobody speaks your language, where you cannot even hope to grasp the general meaning of a conversation, where gestures often have different meanings and signs
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in the streets, bus numbers, subway station names, menus and instructions are written in indecipherable Chinese characters. Giovanni: Not being able to speak Chinese while in China is almost like having a handicap. It’s easier in Hong Kong [because many people speak some English], but you still always have to have an assistant or a Chinese person or someone you can go to if you have a problem … And those taxi drivers that you have to fight with every time you have to go somewhere … I mean it’s different if you know Chinese because you can manage. If you don’t speak the language, they can scam you any way they want, but apart from scams which can happen anywhere, you have no ability to have a proper dialogue or interaction. As usual, you go to a restaurant, you don’t understand shit, and you are always in somebody else’s hands, and at work you always need a translator … and very often you feel … how can I say … you are not sure whether you really understood each other or you got lost in translation, so it really feels like you have a handicap. I see this even with translators: it’s always very complicated.

The interviewees who could not speak any Chinese upon their arrival described feelings of confusion, of being lost within an impenetrable net of language and meanings (‘I felt lost’, ‘It was like being in a noisy silent movie you can’t decipher the meaning of’, ‘I stayed in the hotel for two weeks as I was afraid to go out and get lost’). I remember having to accompany friends and colleagues to markets, pharmacies and bookstores to translate for them, and doing the same when a police report had to be filed in 2005 when a newly arrived lecturer at Shanghai University had her wallet stolen in the city centre. I remember being asked to write on innumerable bits of paper for my friends with choppy sentences along the lines of ‘please take me to … ’ or ‘I am allergic to … ’ and explaining a million times why ‘no, I can’t really write your name in Chinese’. I was fairly shocked to learn throughout the years that not even one of the Italian expatriates I met who moved to China for work purposes (standard expatriates) had received any form of linguistic or cultural training prior to their departure, and none of the interviewees had either. I am sure that this is not the case for all expatriates, and companies in other countries (in my experience especially Germany and Scandinavian countries) seem to be more amenable to training and proper pre-departure familiarization processes. None of the participants

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in this research really knew beforehand what they were going to experience or what to expect, and this seemed to have a profound impact on the way they approached China and the speed and level of success they achieved there. On one hand, it is also true that, as one of them said laughing, ‘not sure it would have made a difference, China hits you in the face like a punch anyway!’ Mendenhall and Stahl (2000) have called for additional training measures to be adopted within the expatriate process especially highlighting the importance of in-country, real-time training, global mindset training and CD-ROM/Internet-based training. However, research also suggests that a gap is still present between individual training needs and the actual training programmes offered by multinational companies (Harris and Brewster, 1999b), which seem to cover only some very basic language training and general information about the host country. Littrell et al. (2006: 357) explain that ‘despite the many claims by researchers that CCT [cross-cultural training] is necessary to increase the probability of success on foreign assignments (Black and Mendenhall, 1990; Tung, 1981), MNCs are not listening’. Some recent studies indicate that an increasing number of successful multinational corporations are noting the importance of training employees to be effective on a cross-cultural basis (Olsen and Martins, 2009; GMAC, 2011). Nevertheless, according to the interviewees and my own experience, it seems that generally speaking Italian companies underestimate the importance of pre-departure training provision. Welch and Welch (2008: 341) explain that language is ‘a mental model, framing activity and behaviour’. This is something that my interviewees also pointed out: it’s not just about knowing the grammar, speaking and reading the language (especially one so different from the Latin-romance ones). Rather, the main point of learning the local language is about reaching a deeper understanding, which means accessing unspoken pockets of meaning via a forma mentis embedded in cultural and social aspects transferred through the linguistic medium. I agree with many of my interviewees who noted how, in the specific case of China, being able to speak Mandarin is not just a matter of knowing the language and having ease of communication, but also a way of reaching a deeper understanding of the Chinese way of thinking, which would give expatriates a competitive advantage on many levels and allow nonChinese people to get closer to the Chinese mindset: Francesco: I am sure that it’s beautiful and good [to learn Chinese], especially if you also learn how to write because it helps you get inside their heads, and that’s a lot. Because you

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Bianca:

Subjects also highlighted how speaking Chinese can help in a number of aspects related to one’s life and work in China, even fairly trivial matters like communicating with taxi drivers, avoiding getting ripped off while bargaining and shopping for groceries. Selmer (2006b: 347) reports how ‘although the standard of English proficiency is rising in China, using English in conversations with Chinese host nationals may be very difficult due to a lack of much common vocabulary’. Hence, the use of English in the Middle Kingdom can become a hindrance instead of an advantage. Lost in translation The use of ‘translators’ (it should be noted that in this book the term will be used to refer to both translators of written texts and interpreters of the spoken language) was also addressed during the interviews. Interestingly, not only people who had invested years in studying the language, including those who had themselves worked as translators, but also expatriates with no understanding of the Chinese language(s) suggested that relying on translators when doing business is a very risky strategy, especially in China. Giovanni: I think that [knowing the language before going to China] is very important, for sure. First of all, how can you do
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understand a lot of things through their language, you understand why people behave in a certain way, how they behave and how they think through their language. History started in China almost 5000 years ago, written history started 4000 years ago, and it’s created in a completely different way [from how the Italian one has developed]. While writing, they show what they see, and that’s where the writing developed from, and then they made it more and more complex and moved towards abstraction … In China, there is so much abstraction of thought, and they have simplified their [written] language so much that they have made it even more complicated. … It comes from a Confucian model that is still present in the [Chinese] society, and if you don’t understand that and don’t know the relationships and how those have been regulated, you won’t get anywhere. That’s why I say that the value of the knowledge coming from knowing the language and the related openness is an access key to society which carries a weight that’s a lot bigger compared to what you would have in the European world.

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Some of the many challenges involved in learning the Chinese language are its lack of conjugation and declination as well as the high number of homophones. This means that there is a considerable degree of vagueness in the Chinese language that makes it very open to (mis)interpretation which requires very experienced translators, who are therefore very expensive (e.g. as an Italian–Chinese translator I would get paid four times more than when translating from Italian to English). Also, there are some ‘culturally salient’ words (such as guanxi, mianzi and reqing in Chinese) that are specific to certain languages whereby their full meaning is often impossible to translate either due to a lack of an equivalent term or due to a translation that does not cover all related nuances of meaning and cultural connotations (Blenkinsopp and Pajouh, 2010). Italy is particularly active in the business field through SMEs, which are often not prepared or able to invest in high quality translators (for both short and long assignments). However, some of my interviewees reported how they came to realize that the person holding the reins of the language in an office is often the person who controls a great deal of power through knowledge and information sharing. Giulio: I think that [using translators] doesn’t work because in order to interact with that world [China] you must have tried in some way to get to know the language and culture of that country. This doesn’t mean that in order to work in China you must speak Chinese perfectly, but nonetheless you have to have made the effort to personally get closer to that linguistic and cultural reality. If you haven’t made that [effort], it will be difficult for you to understand and get real access in terms of relationships [with Chinese people] and to do your thing there, even if that’s just fixing machines … even an office
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business if you don’t know the language and culture? You would have to find some Chinese person there [in China] whom you trust completely, but from what I have experienced, this is not advisable, I mean trusting Chinese people. It’s different when you have someone who has to translate for you, because you have to always check their work; or when you go to China you would have to make decisions or manage or leave important situations in his hands. I think that if someone is to be sent there as a manager or at a high level they must speak the language, otherwise it won’t work. Of course, there are always exceptions, and also it takes a long time to learn that language, but …

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worker who is an accountant and gets sent to China from Italy or Germany, he can actually only do his job properly only if he can get in touch with the world surrounding him; otherwise, he doesn’t become [effective] … it won’t work.
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During the interviews, lack of linguistic competence, but especially lack of interest and commitment towards learning at least some basic Chinese, was in most cases linked to an archetypal figure of ‘the bad expatriate’, the one who goes to China due to a mere business objective, a person who lives in foreign compounds, exploits the locals, earns a lot of money, is not concerned with understanding any sociocultural local dynamics and does not learn the language. All these aspects form what some expatriates call the ‘expatriate bubble’, used to describe an environment of almost exclusively foreign lifestyle that some expatriates choose to live in whilst avoiding to engage with the local context. Bianca: [For a foreigner who lives in China speaking Chinese] is essential. Because if you don’t even put in the effort to learn what I call survival Chinese, which means [knowing how to say] things like ‘take me there’, ‘how much is it?’, ‘I need to get to that place’, so just the bare minimum, you will always live in a bubble, a bubble that’s made of very few things. Now, I don’t want to generalize too much because there are also some enlightened people, but the tendency for those enlightened people is to learn Chinese one way or another, otherwise you’ll always be stuck in the bubble. Like the famous wellknown German manager that people talked about in Beijing, who had arrived in Beijing with his wife about 20 years before in the 80s or end of the 70s/early 80s with a fantastic benefit package which he still had at the time, and this person in 20 years of staying in China hadn’t even learned a word [of Chinese]; he couldn’t even say nihao [hello], and so he did everything through an intermediary, his secretary/ translator who accompanied him anywhere, and his driver who took him anywhere, so this person in reality had worked there without actually being in that place at all, I believe. I am obviously making a judgement, but that is the feeling I got. Like when we used to see the first businessmen, remember? those who were there in China back then [in the 1990s]. I remember going there, speaking Chinese, doing the same job they did

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In agreement with what was mentioned during the interviews, I have found from my experience that, broadly speaking, Chinese people greatly appreciate some language ability among Westerners (both at work and socially) as it demonstrates a commitment not only to profit, but to a longer-lasting and stronger relationship. Yang and Bond (1980) suggest that students of a new language may go through a phase of cultural accommodation during the learning process; this is also beneficial to the long-term expatriate, even though, as argued by Liu (1995), having socio-cultural knowledge does not always imply the implementation of correct behaviour in real interaction. However, it is believed that Host language ability may serve several purposes. Besides facilitating communication with colleagues, superiors, and subordinates, it may also demonstrate an attitude of attempting to learn about the host culture, enabling one to be polite, and permitting cultural understanding not otherwise possible. Selmer (2006b: 350) The analysis of the empirical data collected in this study highlights how pre-departure linguistic and cross-cultural training would also help expatriates to save time and resources, to limit culture shock and to make the adjustment period upon arrival smoother and shorter. Rebecca: [Having linguistic and cultural training before moving to China] would be a dream! It would be really useful to avoid this shock and to avoid having to discover everything on

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but being 15 or 20 years younger than them, but I was doing the same job. My advantage was that I could speak the language, so I had sped up in a few months processes that they had taken years to understand. The Chinese language is essential, the deep knowledge of the Chinese language, because it teaches you a forma mentis which you need in order to relate yourself to that country, and unfortunately that’s just the way it is. It’s not a linguistic matter; it’s that through that language you get to reach some aspects, the non-spoken, the taken-for-granted and a series of cultural aspects that are crucial to get the access key to that country, and therefore, also in terms of work, the relationship with your subordinates, the relationship with the institutions and everyone else [is different].

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Mario:

your own. It would be good to have an adjustment phase instead [of mere shock] (laughs). Damn, it’s true what you say here [in the vignette], if only I had had at least this sheet of paper with me [the vignette] before going to China [telling some of what I could have expected before], I would have avoided the complete shock. Nobody, at least none of the people [expats] I know in my company and none of all the other foreigners I know in China, nobody has had any training or preparation [before moving to China]. I mean they were literally taken and shipped out there to China. Some of them also faced big problems [in terms of adaptation]. After a few months, they had a total rejection (smiles), and they literally ran back home. … Generally speaking, if I had to come up with general statistics, people who go to China don’t get training beforehand, unless they attended Ca’ Foscari [a university where students can attend degrees in oriental languages] that gave them a specific preparation. Having some pre-arrival training is absolutely crucial. That’s not because it’s necessary, and if you don’t have it you cannot go there at all to do business or whatever you want to do, like almost everyone is doing in China now. However, I say this because I have always seen the difference, even after I returned to Italy, between my colleagues who had to deal with China but had never in their life had an interest in it, and people like myself who are able to speak Chinese and know the Chinese people and their customs. The rapport you establish when you know their communication parameters makes it work. Also, they know that you can speak Chinese and that you are close to their culture, even when you are doing business on the phone or even via email [it is different], and they take down that external wall they always put up against foreigner customers, so [if you can speak the language and know the culture] you have a more sincere relationship, more direct, a much better one in terms of quality. So I think that knowing them and having empathy for them, due to everything you have studied and got to know, is crucial. It’s not vital, but it gives you so much more, and those who don’t have this [knowledge and understanding] will never achieve that [type of relationship with the Chinese], I think.

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The development of such linguistic competence and cultural understanding takes time, whereas Western organizations often go to China hoping to make quick deals and build business relationships in a short period of time.
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Beatrice: There is still a lot of confusion regarding China, meaning that there are a lot of goals but few real plans. OK [people say that in terms of business] ‘we all have to go to China now’, but then companies don’t have the budget, they don’t have the time, and most of all they don’t have an understanding of the fact that you need to invest time and energy there. It’s not touch and go there; China – it’s never a sprint, it’s always a marathon. China moves and changes fast, technological advancements and economic developments are surprisingly rapid. However, doing business in China requires time and patience, a lot of patience. This is because the Chinese people tend to look for commitment and respect towards their country, their culture and ‘their ways’. Understanding the business context, developing good relationships, establishing good social or work relationships and conducting negotiations are very time consuming processes in China, and entrepreneurs or companies who go to China with the intent of making quick money are likely to realize their mistake fairly soon. After some time spent in China, it is difficult to find expatriates who cannot speak a word of Chinese (only one of my interviewees indicated in the questionnaire no improvement of his non-existing initial Chinese language level, but during the interview he said some words in Chinese, which indicated some level of language development, even if a basic one). However, most foreigners would usually only learn ‘survival spoken Chinese’, which consists of a few sentences such as ‘how much is that?’, ‘I want this’, ‘I want to go here’. Therefore, even though many expatriates who go to China without speaking the host language do learn a little of what in linguistics (Fasold, 2006) is called ‘instrumental language’ (whereby the speaker knows and understands basic sentences and phrases, or enough of the target language to meet his or her basic needs), the use of ‘integrated language’ (when the speaker can actively converse with a native speaker of the target language) is still considerably limited for those who do not have an educational background linked to the study of oriental languages prior to their departure. This is also likely to be due to the exceptional difficulty of learning Chinese (Mandarin, and Cantonese even more so due to the increased number of tones), and the amount of time it takes to become fluent.

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Silvana:

[Having previous linguistic and cultural training] is vital! Because first of all you won’t integrate otherwise, but there are people who are fine like that [without integrating], and they live in their ‘little world’. Basically they achieve no integration, which leads to the inability to operate effectively in the workplace and the inability to work well with Chinese colleagues because many attitudes get misunderstood. I see that in the company I am working in right now, and these people [with no integration] ask why Chinese people don’t want to do the work unless they are given the exact picture of what is asked of them with all the wrong details pointed out [of what needs to be changed in the product]. I know it’s because Chinese people don’t want to take that responsibility upon themselves [of making intuitive changes and showing initiative], and it’s your fault [as a foreigner] that you sent them the wrong picture. Chinese people are well able to carry out the task, but they don’t want to take on that responsibility. …

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Triandis (1994) suggests how the most significant barrier for expatriate managers in terms of interaction and general adjustment may just be lack of fluency in the host country language. Shay and Baack (2006: 288), inter alia, suggest that companies should ‘either assign expatriates who possess local language fluency, or provide adequate language training for them’. In their empirical study, they found a correlation between language, general interaction and work adjustment, the latter playing a determining role in expatriate performance. There are many sources available in the literature to explain the different theories and practices related to translation and interpretation (see, for instance, Janssens, Lambert and Steyaert, 2004). After graduating from my BA degree and before moving to China, I completed a postgraduate diploma in ‘Translation as a cultural media’ (Chinese– Italian–English), and it should be noted that based on that educational background and some work I did as an interpreter in China, this book assumes the point of view that translation should be pursued from a cultural rather than mechanical perspective notwithstanding the difficulties involved in this approach. The ability to speak a language, without necessarily being fully proficient in it, is not only important in relation to business meetings and the writing of contracts, but also in terms of organizational and social integration, which is another aspect identified as being heavily influenced by the ability to speak Chinese and understand the host culture.

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Pre-departure language training would therefore appear to be very beneficial to both standard and self-selected expatriates. In the case of entrepreneurs, given the lack of organizational support they suffer when trying to set up a successful business in China, direct access to local knowledge would be particularly crucial to the success of their business venture. While 15 years ago in Italy Chinese language courses were rare and extremely expensive, nowadays there is a good selection of different types of learning methods addressing the needs of students, workers and vocational learners. The linguistic and cultural learning process of expatriates also needs to continue while abroad in order to better cope with adjustment issues in China and upon repatriation.

Understanding cultural matters
The link between language and culture in the workplace Cultural aspects inform language as a vehicle of communication: Chinese communication is situated in and influenced by the premises of its culture. For example, five major speaking practices have been identified in Chinese culture: implicit communication, listeningcenteredness, politeness, a focus on insiders, and face-directed communication strategies. Chinese-speaking practices often lead others to (mis)perceive Chinese people as shy, indirect, and reserved, or as evasive and deceptive. Selmer (2006b: 348) Speaking Chinese is very advantageous for expatriates in the workplace, for instance, in terms of problem solving and being able to develop a

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Even drinking tea [if you are a foreigner at a business meeting] you can’t say, ‘I am not drinking tea because the cup is dirty’. No. You have to drink that cup of tea. End of discussion. Because you are at a business meeting, and if you don’t drink that cup of tea, you are being rude. There are rules from the business point of view as well, so all the ceremonies and procedures have to be carried out accordingly … even if the cup is dirty [you have to drink tea]. Amen. Italians who go to China clueless about the Chinese culture suffer from this ignorance and become rigid and unpleasant. I have seen so many of those [Italians with no cultural understanding], I have really seen a lot of those.

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different approach towards issues, not necessarily limited to linguistic problems: Beatrice: I think that everything changes according to whether you speak the language or not. I have noticed that the main difference is if you know the Chinese language or you don’t because you have a different type of relationship with China compared to others, whom I know and have contacts with, who have huge issues in communicating due to linguistic problems but also because they haven’t deepened the intercultural aspects of doing business the way I have done, more due to passion rather than mere study. It’s really a matter of cultural misunderstandings. Knowing the language gives you a deeper cultural understanding, and most of all, it gives you a competitive advantage because Chinese people think that it’s almost impossible for a Westerner to speak Chinese fluently, and this opens the doors to their trust too because automatically they will trust you more given that you have devoted an enormous amount of time and commitment into learning some of their language and culture. I have witnessed how this makes a huge difference also in work relationships. Because the problem [in doing business in China] does not revolve around price or products as [Chinese people know that] those can be offered by everyone [foreigner]; the problem is actually an intercultural one, so you need to let them understand that you are investing culturally in getting to know their specifics. They [the Chinese] really perceive this as a step towards them because they think it’s almost impossible for a Westerner to learn Chinese. Speaking objectively, Chinese truly is one of the most difficult languages in the world, and I am not the only one saying this: it’s actually one of the most difficult languages to learn.

The international work environment is often described as less trusting because of different cultures and expectations ( Johnson and Cullen, 2002). Liu and Shaffer (2005: 240) point out how trust has not received appropriate attention in the expatriate literature ‘even though trust has been found to have a number of important outcomes for organizations and their members’. They go on to explain that in the expatriate context, success and adaptation are developed through relationships of trust with host nationals. Barner-Rasmussen and Björkman (2007)

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show that language fluency is closely related to perceived trustworthiness; language and cultural competence can help establish this trust and can therefore be beneficial in dealing with colleagues and subordinates.
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Andrea:

I think that [speaking Chinese and knowing the culture] is important, and I have witnessed various realities and situations. For instance, I had a friend who opened his own company after having worked there in China, and I saw that the fact that he could speak Chinese and actually interact with people in his factory, and even speak the local dialect, got him really close [to his Chinese employees], and they forged a very strong relationship of trust, whereas foreigners are usually approached with scepticism and a bit like people who are not able to understand China and as weird people. [Speaking the language] helps for sure, for instance, in terms of the relationships with suppliers, especially small suppliers that you want to develop [through your business relations]. I think that generally speaking it helps at work.

Cross-cultural training Cross-cultural, intercultural or acculturation training programmes were defined by Landis, Brislin and Hulgus (1985: 466) as ‘designed to prepare people for a successful sojourn to another country or for extensive interaction with members of minority groups in their own country’ whereby being successful means being able to accomplish a combination of positive individual adjustment, good interpersonal relations with members of (and in) the host culture and the effective completion of required tasks. The literature since the late 1970s has highlighted how cross-cultural training is a means of allowing a more rapid adjustment, achieving better efficiency and facilitating effective cross-cultural interaction both personally and in the workplace (see, for instance, Harris and Moran, 1979; Brislin, 1981; Tung, 1981; Bochner, 1982; Mendenhall and Oddou, 1986; Black and Mendenhall, 1990). However, some criticism in relation to its effectiveness has also been raised. In my experience it seems that so far in Italy there has been little connection between business-oriented academic research and the practice of cross-cultural business. This may be due to the fact that sinology in Italy is traditionally language oriented but may also be the result of a lack of appropriate linguistic and academic competencies within organizations that have not allowed businesspeople to

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bridge the gap between research and practice and thus take advantage of the former. In their review of 25 years of CCT practices, Littrell et al. (2006: 359) summarize the main reasons why multinational organizations underestimate the importance of training: The short length of time between selection and expatriate departure; the belief that technical competence is the main factor in determining success; the opinion that managers who operate well will be effective regardless of location; and the costs associated with training have all been supplied as reasons for neglecting preparatory training on international assignments. Another suggestion made by a number of interviewees is that generally speaking, Italians are particularly arrogant compared to businesspeople of other nationalities, as they often seem to underestimate the knowledge and abilities of the Chinese host nationals and overestimate their own. Beatrice: There are people [Italians] who make terrible gaffes at work, or they immediately cause doors to slam in their faces due to intercultural problems, so now it seems that even major institutions have slowly started considering perhaps training people from a cross-cultural point of view first, and then talking business. … The majority of Italian people don’t know that China has been a hegemonic world power during seven out of the last ten centuries, only not so during the last three. It’s during the last three centuries that they have been through difficult times due to problems such as communism, Mao, all the damage done by that, colonialism, this type of problem and the closure that happened after communism. In reality, China was a leader in the world scene for seven out of the last ten centuries, but people don’t know this. Our entrepreneurs have no clue about this, so they think they are going to meet a bunch of losers. These biases come from not knowing, from ignoring the 5000 years of Chinese cultural history – the fact that they invented the compass; they invented fireworks, paper, printing … I mean they [Italian businesspeople] don’t know these things, so they only judge the Chinese by saying that they can only copy [make fake goods] and have no knowledge.
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Caterina:

The difference is that those who studied the Chinese culture go there with a different interest and a more understanding approach … the end result may be the same, so maybe after two or three years, they will still say ‘Oh my God, do I really want to live here? Maybe not because I don’t feel at home here’ or ‘maybe I’ll decide to stay because I don’t see better alternatives [in Italy]’. However, the foreigner who comes to China without any cultural knowledge of China first of all has a disadvantage in terms of relationships but also different assumptions and a different approach to others. They don’t understand.

Avoiding mistakes that could cost a company a large amount of money is another reason why expatriates would benefit from pre-departure cultural and linguistic training: Beatrice: Nobody explains to you [before going to China] the faux pas that you can cause while at the dinner table, the misunderstandings created during the negotiation process and the intercultural problems. Most contracts fail because of these types of issues, not because of matters related to price, so everything still needs to be explained, but I think the time has come [for companies to learn about China], and that’s because companies have been left with no alternatives [after the international economic crisis].

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While in China, it is easy to realize how proud host nationals are of their long history and civilization. Many expatriates ignore the fact that the Chinese created some great inventions that made a difference in almost every culture on this planet: paper, printing with movable type, gunpowder and the compass. This Western arrogance and lack of knowledge regarding the reality of living and doing business in China often leads to the perception of not needing any pre-departure training and preparation in terms of linguistic and cultural understanding as ‘they don’t bother to invest emotionally and personally in China, and I don’t mean in terms of money, because we Italians are a bit like that, arrogant, and think that we are creative and can get out of trouble anyway … That we can always “wing it”, while that’s not possible in China and they get burnt’ (Beatrice, conversation before the formal interview).

4
Recruitment and Preparation
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When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people. Chinese proverb

Expatriate recruitment and selection
Skills, previous experience and relevant knowledge Expatriate adjustment is strictly linked to expatriate selection, as recruiting the best people for foreign assignments could improve the rate of those who manage to adjust and avoid turnover or early repatriation. Caligiuri, Tarique and Jacobs (2009) note how being qualified and performing in one country does not necessarily imply success abroad, even in the same role. Given that expatriate performance and adjustment is influenced by a number of factors including personality, language competence and prior international experience (see for instance Hechanova, Beehr and Christiansen, 2003; Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2005; Mol et al., 2005), it seems necessary to carefully consider selection processes both for standard and self-selected expatriates. Amongst the many studies that stress the crucial role of pre-departure training, Andreason and Kinneer (2005: 121) highlight how this aspect of the expatriate process is linked to effectiveness during the assignment overseas and the expatriates’ performance upon repatriation: Effective pre-departure recruiting and selection procedures, to begin with, can screen out employees and family members with personal characteristics or family situations, which would limit their probability
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Some interviewees speculated that the number of issues related to under-performing Italian expatriates in China may be the consequence of poor recruitment and selection which often results from the fact that companies may think of saving money by not hiring experienced expatriates with expensive competencies. This is false economy, such actions actually causing more damage to their organization. Bianca: This miserable and often young manager gets thrown there [China], probably in a governmental joint venture where he needs to deal with some ruthless dragons from the Chinese government who have so much experience that half of it would already be more than enough. You [young Italian manager who has just come out of university] don’t know the codes of behaviour [in China], you don’t know the social codes, you don’t know how to behave there and relate to people, so I [a person with knowledge of the country who is already working in China] get there [to a meeting] all of a sudden and realize with a quick look at the list of those attending the meeting that the person whose arse you have been kissing for the whole day is actually the third one from the top in the hierarchy because before him you should consider the regional president of SASAC, which is the governmental office that deals with privatization of state companies and is the same one who you don’t know signed your authorization and also contributed with some capital. But you [young expatriate with no local knowledge] haven’t even considered him because you think that the city mayor is more important … wrong. Wrong. One has to understand these things, which in China remain absolutely crucial because it’s nothing like the standard European or American market system, and you risk huge damages to the companies. Because you [CEO or hiring manager] hold a treasure in your hands [your company], as the mere fact of having had permission to create a joint

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of success, along with those who are unwilling to go on the foreign assignment. This can be followed by thorough pre-departure training, as well as effective in-country support programs, since those who experience significant problems during the foreign assignment are also more likely to have repatriation adjustment problems. Predeparture training can also inform those going on the foreign assignment as to what kinds of problems to expect upon return.

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venture of this type is a treasure in itself, and you kill it [by hiring the wrong people]. A few expatriates highlighted the importance of not only selecting people who have the right position and technical skills, but also especially those who have had prior experience of foreign assignments in China (expatriate experience in general was not deemed very useful in the Chinese context, in agreement with Selmer, 2002). Self-selected expatriate interviewees pointed out that Italian companies should ‘save money by spending money’ on training and hiring the right people, which does not seem to be current common practice. Bianca: No, [you shouldn’t just hire whoever is cheaper amongst the Italians you know to lead your company in China] because otherwise you end up giving the reins of your company to a secretary because it will be the boss’ secretary who will have the real control over your company [since he doesn’t speak Chinese and doesn’t know the culture] because she is the one who speaks both English and Chinese and will filter everything. And how do you really know what she does? She can tell you that you have to sign a purchase form for toilet paper, and I have seen this happen before, but if you don’t speak Chinese, and you don’t have experience there you think you signed off on an order for toilet paper, but in reality you have no idea what you have actually signed.

Moreover, according to my experience and my interviewees’ accounts, expatriates who are already in the country and have already had experience of the complexity of doing business in that context are often paid considerably less than expatriates sent directly from the headquarters or other regional offices, even though the latter may have little or no experience of the culture, the business approach or the environment in China. This seems to be a fairly myopic practice, and it does not take into account or place enough importance on the adjustment phase of the expatriate experience and how strongly it can affect performance and well-being. In terms of selecting of the best candidate for the foreign assignment, research has shown that organizations often focus more on technical knowledge and ‘hard skills’ rather than on personal traits that may be of more significance while abroad. An influential study conducted by Tung (1981) identified four sets of variables that contribute to expatriate

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success and should be taken into account during the recruitment and selection process: technical competence on the job, personal traits or relational abilities, ability to cope with environmental variables and, finally, family situation. Shay and Tracey (1997, cited in Graft and Harland, 2005) also highlight the importance of interpersonal skills. Nicholls, Rothstein and Bourne (2002) indicate flexibility and the ability to deal with stress as two important individual traits for intercultural effectiveness, together with behavioural attitudes of respect and tolerance towards the host culture. In addition, a study by Bolino and Feldman (2000) found that the skills most employed by expatriates while on their foreign assignment were cross-cultural and communication skills. Even though possession of these traits should not be seen as rigid prerequisites without which the expatriate experience is inevitably doomed, it is believed that it may be appropriate for the expatriate selection process to focus on applicants’ strengths and weaknesses in relation to the variables above in order to maximize the potential for success abroad. Moreover, companies may need to re-assess the importance they place on various skills or strengths. Franke and Nicholson (2002) discuss research which shows that the actual practice of expatriate selection focuses primarily on technical competence, followed by previous expatriate experience, motivation, talent and degree of independence; while family issues and language competence come low in the list of criteria. However, in some cases, interpersonal skills, personality and socio-biographical background may be more important and ‘these should more logically be the target of selection since they are personal qualities that are less malleable and trainable than technical and other specific skills’ (Franke and Nicholson, 2002: 23). Also, Selmer (2002) explained how previous expatriate experience in non-Asian countries does not actually help expatriate adjustment in China given the specific cultural context. Hence, the recruitment and selection process for workers assigned to China must be particularly careful. In addition to an over-reliance on technical skills and common disregard of other factors that should influence expatriate recruitment, the process of appointment is not always systematic and rigorous, as pointed out in the provocatively titled article: ‘The coffee-machine system: How international selection really works’ by Harris and Brewster (1999b). This study outlines a typology of international manager selection systems based on the distinction between open and closed systems and formal and informal systems, and suggests that, in reality, many organizations select expatriates on the basis of informal networks of

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While the percentage of new hires for international assignments continues to be at an all-time low (8 per cent), the proportion of current versus new hire employees with international experience is growing in response to the increasingly globalized economic environment. Respondents indicated that 12 per cent of all employees had previous international assignment experience – an increase over the historical average of 10 per cent. This is possibly an indication that companies are making more effort to locate qualified candidates of choice from within their organizations rather than to hire in the open marketplace. Personal traits A number of studies have focussed on traits or personal characteristics that are believed to be good predictors of positive adjustment. From these studies, five factors, labelled ‘the Big Five’, have emerged and gained increasing popularity as a set of personality characteristics that are desirable: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Extroversion Agreeableness Conscientiousness Emotional stability Openness or intellect Caligiuri, Tarique and Jacobs (2009) In a meta-analysis, Judge and Ilies (2002) firmly suggest that motivation is linked to personality variables and can be a precursor to successful performance. This shows the importance of taking into account candidates’ personal traits during the selection process as Caligiuri, Tarique and Jacobs (2009: 254) point out that ‘collectively, these personality characteristics have substantial empirical support and should be included in selection systems designed to forecast success in international assignments’ (Van Vianen et al., 2004).

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recommendation within closed systems. Caligiuri, Tarique and Jacobs (2009: 259) confirm how ‘across all firm-level strategies, the use of formal or structured international assignment selection is surprisingly low’, and Swaak (1995) and Boles (1997) report that companies do not seem to pay enough attention to screening and selection of expatriates. These issues have been neglected not only in the practice of business, but also (according to Forster, 2000) by researchers. The latest Global Relocation Trends report (GMAC, 2011: 9) states that:

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Guthrie, Ash and Stevens (2003: 233) explain that there are two basic approaches to selection: the top down and minimum approach (whereby ‘candidates are arrayed from top to bottom with applicants selected in rank order until the number of desired candidates is obtained’) and the competency strategies approach often used in the early stages of the selection process whereby ‘a cut score on a predictor is set on the basis of the minimum qualifications deemed necessary to perform the job (Heneman et al., 2000, cited in Guthrie, Ash and Stevens, 2003)’. In terms of gender-based discrimination in the selection and appointment of expatriates, Guthrie, Ash and Stevens (2003), in agreement with a previous study by Caligiuri (2000), support the idea that women generally may possess traits that would make them more suitable as expatriates, even though there still seems to be significant negative discrimination towards female expatriates. Westwood and Leung (1994), for example, found that women expatriates thought they benefitted from being more sensitive, interpersonally aware, empathetic and sociable than men in their foreign assignment. However, gender discrimination and ‘corporate resistance’ (Adler and Izraeli, 1995) have been identified as factors affecting female expatriate careers, even though personality and stress tolerance may be better predictors of whether or not an expatriate should be selected for an international assignment (Caligiuri, 2000). According to a review conducted by Mendenhall, Kuhlmann and Stahl (2001: 156), past studies of expatriate effectiveness have tended to rely on four broad theoretical underpinnings: (1) learning, (2) stress-coping, (3) developmental and (4) personality-based theories. Liu and Shaffer (2005: 236) explain how a number of studies have looked at personality and personal characteristics that are more likely to make expatriates successful in their foreign assignment, but that there is not enough consistent theory to support the identification of ‘essential’ expatriate characteristics and an ideal expatriate archetype (Harrison, Shaffer and Bhaskar-Shrinivas, 2004). However, it should be stressed that lists of personal traits and attributes are obvious generalizations and would not apply to all expatriates. Furthermore, people who possess these characteristics may not necessarily be effective and efficient once overseas. In a review related to expatriate traits, Kealey (1990) found six common criteria to successful expatriates: empathy, respect, interest in local culture, flexibility, tolerance and technical skills. In addition, Mendenhall and Oddou (1985, 1986) identified three sets of cross-cultural skills deemed important for expatriates: self-efficacy skills, relational skills and perceptual skills. Moreover, the role of flexibility and openness was

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Table 4.1 Trait

Traits considered necessary for expatriates to be successful in China Number of interviewees who mentioned the trait 7 5 5 5 4 3 3 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

Flexibility Abandonment of their Western mentality Openness to different culture Desire to understand and integrate with the Chinese environment Loss of any feeling of Western superiority and arrogance Linguistic competence Patience Determination Ruthlessness Communication skills Creativity in problem solving Respect Tolerance Maturity Long-term orientation People skills Strength of character Hard-working orientation

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emphasized by Black, Mendenhall and Oddou (1991) and Tung (1981). The number of personal traits to be considered increases dramatically in Baumgarten’s review (Harzing and Van Ruysseveldt, 1995) which identified over 80 competencies that could be used to develop a hypothetical ideal profile for an expatriate worker. These included traits such as leadership skills, initiative, emotional stability, motivation, ability to handle responsibility and cultural sensitivity. Moreover, Birchall et al. (1995, cited by Harris and Brewster, 1999b) found that the five most crucial characteristics for overall successful performance in an international and cross-cultural assignment were international negotiation, global awareness, international strategy, international marketing and cultural empathy. Establishing an ‘ideal’ candidate may be of some use during the recruitment process, yet the real feasibility of such lists of competencies and traits is obviously questionable given that it is very unlikely for companies to find numerous candidates to match all those criteria (Brewster, 1991; Harris and Brewster, 1999b). While such lists should, therefore, be considered with caution, it is worth noting that ‘soft skills’

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Emma:

Mario:

Well, [a manager who wants to live and be successful in China] must have a desire to understand cultural diversity and willingness to integrate. That’s also because Chinese people are not easy to deal with, I mean it’s not an easy group of people and in some ways they are closed within themselves and also fairly racist. So if on the other side [the Western side] there is no desire to at least get to know the people you work with, I think there is no hope … They [people who want to live and work in China] need tenacity because China is not a country that opens its doors to you immediately, and it doesn’t tell you how it works. There are 10,000 houmen, back doors, so you have to be the type of person that has a strong direction and doesn’t stop in front of negative answers, but someone that investigates those answers. This is a bit like Italy: it’s not like you surrender after people tell you that something can’t be done! In China, nothing is possible, but at the end of the day, nothing is impossible, and [expatriates would need] flexibility because if you get stuck with wanting to get something done in a certain way [the Western way], you won’t necessarily achieve that. Therefore, if you learn to understand how their minds work, then you can work your way around the obstacles, and you may get the results you want. However, if you are one of those very stubborn managers who want to impose their way of doing things … no, Chinese people reason with their own minds, so it’s up to you as a manager to understand how that mechanism works and then move the right pawns to achieve what you want.

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do appear frequently in these lists (and were also frequently mentioned by my interviewers). I asked my interviewees to identify, based on their own experience in the Middle Kingdom, which characteristics they thought managers needed to have in order to have a positive experience and be successful in China. Interestingly, none of them focussed specifically on task- or job-related aspects but more on personal traits and intercultural skills. Table 4.1 includes both the characteristics identified and the number of people who mentioned those. Flexibility and an open attitude towards understanding the host culture without imposing one’s original culture as the better (or superior) one were deemed as the most important traits for expatriates to have when operating in the Chinese context.

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According to Schwer (2004, cited in Hajro and Pudelko, 2010), it is particularly important for team leaders with international experience to have a higher degree of cultural awareness and empathy in order to reduce conflict, improve the dynamics of the team, avoid biases and establish a common ground. Giulio: They have to have flexibility, material but especially psychological flexibility. I mean being ready to come up with new solutions to old problems [is important]. Chinese people will make you face the need to solve some issues … solve some issues in a way that is completely different from the way you had always thought was the only way to solve those problems. And [expatriates who want to be successful in China need] openness to alterity, they can’t take with them a sense of superiority. I think that you [foreigner] have to be very respectful when you go there. Absolutely avoid making judgements, be very open and very flexible because living and working in China is not easy. If I had to hire an expat to go work in China, I would choose one with language skills if possible, for sure. Because it helps, I think that knowing the [Chinese] language helps a lot, and I would also choose someone who has a sense of humour like me (laughs), someone who is not too formal, not too structured and stiff, someone who won’t panic. [Italian managers who want to be successful while working in China] must have a mental openness towards resetting everything they had learned up to that point, be willing to learn from scratch and see what the local customs are, the procedures, the key to the reading of a country that is so different [from their own]. Without this attitude, they won’t get anywhere. They can still be fine without knowing much of business, but having this attitude is crucial. Then they also need to have lots of patience, heaps of it, and a desire to explore. Because everything is new there, everything they know needs to be reconstructed. You can build the rest because you can learn everything else, but if you don’t have this approach yourself … that’s something that you cannot learn, I think. Everything else you can learn.
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Rebecca:

Beatrice:

Expect the unexpected
As I mentioned before, I was surprised to learn just how many expatriates are not given enough information on what to expect once in
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Traffic, pollution and noise Transport in China can be quite challenging to manage for foreigners, even those who have lived their entire life in big cosmopolitan cities like London or Rome. Traffic in places like Beijing and Shanghai takes the expressions ‘traffic jam’ and ‘to a standstill’ to another level, so much so that I used to always carry a book in my bag just in case I got stuck in traffic (which would happen at least a couple of times each week when going or coming from work). The pollution level set as safe according to the World Health Organization is 20–25 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic metre), but in large Chinese cities pollution levels are actually hazardous and in some cases go beyond index levels. On 12 and 13 January 2013, the Beijing Municipal Environmental Monitoring Centre published an online report declaring a density of 700 µg/m3 in many parts of the city and recommending that children and the elderly stay indoors, while others should avoid outdoor activities whenever possible. This level of pollution in the US is considered worthy of a health warning of emergency conditions. Three of my interviewees mentioned how pollution is something that affected their stay in China in a negative way; while in Shanghai in the early 2000s, on some days I could physically perceive the high level of pollution as I would get a painful dry feeling at the back of my throat. This is however not the case everywhere in China, where there are numerous beautiful natural environments both on the coast and inland.
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China, even just from an everyday practical point of view. In my experience, the aspects that tend to shock Westerners the most are often related to manners, or to the superficial manifestations of the first layer of the ‘culture onion’. Even though very often these are dismissed as annoying or weird habits, such manifestations are often potent indicators of deeper cultural beliefs and norms. One of the interviewees said she wished she had received a list of what to expect, to help her culture shock be less intense. Below there is an outline of the aspects of everyday life in China experienced by expatriates that are often the cause of surprise, curiosity, misunderstandings or even shock. Some of these matters may seem trivial or silly, but they do tend to be discussed very frequently in the expatriate community, and are likely to affect expatriates’ lifestyle and behaviour in China (bearing in mind that not all expatriate locations, living conditions and workplace environment in China are the same). Some of these aspects will also be discussed in a wider context and more detail later in the book.

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Buses Buses (gonggongqiche) today have improved considerably since the ones I was accustomed to ride on in 1997, when cute Chinese children used to gather around me giggling, touching my curly black hair, complimenting my white skin (more on this in the following sections) together with the height of the arch of my nose and my double eyelids (two things I had never particularly paid attention to or been aware of before moving to China). Most buses are still, however, overcrowded and fairly dirty. In some cities there are people whose job is to physically push embarking passengers through the doors and onto the bus. Bus tickets are very cheap, but timetables are often not provided and the unreliability of the service means finding other forms of public transportation would be preferable unless unavoidable. Compounding these issues is the fact that destinations on the bus signs are generally in Chinese, which might lead to misunderstandings: I have heard of many foreigners once they managed to get on a bus getting lost in the middle of nowhere. Subway The metro (ditie), on the other hand, is generally clean, efficient, modern (with TV screens) and fast. It is still overcrowded, but trains are usually very frequent. The number of people on trains can be so overwhelming (as in London and Rome) that in the last phase of my stay in China, while working at Shanghai University, staff used to make bets on

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Noise levels in cosmopolitan areas can also have an impact on expatriates’ well-being; I remember a friend with a serious hearing impairment visiting from New York and saying that in the three weeks she spent in Shanghai she used her hearing aids as much as she would have in six months at home. Street noise in China is a cacophony of people speaking loudly, horns honking, vehicles, construction (which seems to be ongoing and does not stop at night), loud hacking, announcements on loudspeakers made by street vendors, fireworks during celebrations and much more. The speed at which roads and neighbourhoods develop is incredible, and I was very impressed by the intricate multi-levels of the highways in Shanghai, which are actually quite beautiful when seen from skyscrapers or aeroplanes. There are several means of transportation in China that expatriates who don’t have a driver will experience. (Many standard expatriates are likely to have drivers and an ayi – literally ‘auntie’ but also used to mean ‘nanny’ or ‘maid’ – as part of their contracted benefits package.)

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Trains There are different types of trains (huoche) in China like everywhere else in the world. There are amazing super-high speed magnetic levitation trains that are incredibly modern, such as the Maglev train that was completed in Shanghai in 2004 (with great expectations) to connect Pudong airport to a metro station, and travels at the top operational commercial speed of 431 km/h (268 mph), making it the world’s fastest train. There are bullet trains, fast trains and slow regional trains, with or without air conditioning, for which the tickets can be bought though agencies or at train stations (where local staff often do not speak English, even if they are sitting at the counter for international travellers). It is recommended that tickets are bought in advance for long journeys, and especially during public holidays as that is when millions of people move across the country. Trains are usually punctual and fairly affordable. Bearing in mind that it is normal in China to smoke on trains, spit unwanted food or seeds on the floor and speak loudly on the phone, there are different types and ‘levels’ of seats: (a) Hard seats (yingzuo) are the cheapest and most basic travelling option, mostly used by working-class Chinese people; the name suggests that the seats are not equipped with soft cushions and can be quite uncomfortable for long trips. The train carriages with hard seats tend to be extremely noisy. (b) Soft seats (ruanzuo) have padded cushions and increased leg-room. These are more expensive but a far better option for medium to long trips. (c) Hard sleepers (yinwo) generally have six open berths in each open compartment with three beds at each side. These are not very comfortable and are often quite unsafe as thieves frequently target sleepy foreigners in these compartments. The lower berth seems to be used by everyone as a stepping stool, and it is not unusual to have strangers sitting on the lower bed when one is already asleep on it.

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the time of arrival of new foreign employees and the number of trains they would wait for before realizing that most trains before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. are inevitably crowded. When the train arrives, the platform looks surprisingly similar to a 100m Olympics race, and I have seen people fighting, yelling, pushing, kicking and shoving in order to conquer a seat. I have also had strangers sitting on my lap on numerous occasions in an attempt to a seat I had won.

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Taxi Taxis (chuzuche) can be approached in the street and are quite numerous in most cities, where various taxi companies operate in different districts or across every part of the city. It is quite normal for Chinese taxi drivers not to know the way to places, and not many companies use GPS navigators so it is usually good to join friends or colleagues who know their way around. Moreover, expatriates should not expect taxi drivers to speak English, or know the English name of international hotels. I would strongly recommend having a Chinese friend write Chinese characters or directions on a piece of paper, or use a business card of the restaurant/place one needs to visit. (Many foreigners also find the use of flash cards very useful in order to convey basic ideas, as knowing an approximate pronunciation of a word and making oneself understood in Chinese are completely different matters.) Taxi drivers often try to make a bit of extra profit (this is also true in Italy and many other countries) by tricking inexperienced expats and taking long-winded routes to reach a close destination. Foreigners should make sure that taxi drivers use the meter to calculate their fare, and should not shy away from confrontation if they feel scammed. Usually, a good technique to is to make a big show of writing down the driver’s name and ID number alongside the name and phone number of his taxi company, as too many complaints can result in a revoked licence, which is generally a good deterrent. Also, foreigners should always demand a receipt (fapiao) which reports the fare, together with details about the taxi company and driver. When friends visited me in China they were quite terrified about the absence (or poor implementation) of road rules, whereby in China

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I would strongly recommend the berth in the middle as it has a bit more room than the top one, but it is not as abused by passers-by as the bottom one. The last time I travelled in a hard sleeper with friends as a student in 1998 the trip was interesting in terms of learning Chinese habits and behaviours, but very noisy and dirty. Also, my European friends and I had a small group of people staring at us at the bottom of our bed for the whole 23 hours of our trip, asking questions, laughing at our looks, offering food or simply pointing at us while muttering the ‘laowai’ mantra. (d) Soft sleepers (ruanwo) are the most expensive way to travel on a train but definitely the best option for long travels when planes are not available. Soft sleepers come in four berths per carriage (two upper and two lower berths) and the compartments have doors for privacy.

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Food and drink The first time I went to a business meeting in full summer with a temperature of around 40°C (around 105°F) and was given a glass of hot water, I thought that my hosts had either gone mad, or that they could not afford to buy tea leaves (fairly improbable in China). I accepted graciously, took a sip of the plain hot water and planned to ask my Chinese and foreign friends for an explanation. They were fairly amused by my puzzled reaction and recognized the question as a mustknow for a newly arrived expat; my friends kindly explained that in China it is believed that drinking warm or hot water is good for the stomach.

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lethal traffic accidents are very common. Techniques such as reversing in the fast lane of a highway because the driver should have taken the previous exit, driving against the traffic flow, honking the horn on a regular basis and picking a fight or yelling at people because they are in the way as the taxi drives down the sidewalk are routine sights. I got quite used to it after a few years, but (quite apart from the number of fake accidents staged to milk the wealthy laowai behind the wheel) I would not recommend driving in China if other options are available (public transport or company car). Even though it is true that taxi drivers in China can be unnerving and frustrating, some of the most pleasant and interesting conversations I have ever had occurred during long cab rides. They can also help a foreigner discover less touristic corners of the city and explore some cultural gems. On the other hand, for some reason, taxi drivers seem to be particularly fond of a Chinese tradition that most Western expatriates find particularly unappealing: the long fingernail grown on the little finger and thumb. Very often, a cut is made in the driving gloves to allow the fingernail room to grow free outside of the fabric. I have received two explanations regarding the motivation behind this tradition: (1) long fingernails indicate that the person does not engage in manual work, and as such is of a better background and higher status; (2) the nails are used to explore and clean orifices (generally ears and nostrils) or are generally devoted to unclean practices. While I was working for an Italian company in China, it was quite common for us to hire private cars/taxis to take us around for the day, whether it was to help a client move from meeting to meeting or to take us to neighbouring cities such as Hangzhou. This is a very convenient solution for small companies that cannot afford corporate cars or for people who do not need to travel on a daily basis but still want to avoid buses and trains for short journeys.

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Greetings In China people often show respect by using each other’s surnames or title. In the full name, the surname always comes first and is monosyllabic, while the given name can have more than one syllable. For instance, Ji Lilai’s family name is Ji; Yuan Chen’s first name is Chen and so on. However surnames are not used in isolation as the family name is generally followed by a title, whether that is a simple Mr (xiangsheng) as in Ji Xiansheng, or Ms (nushi) as in Bai Nushi, or whether the title is ¨ ¨ related to one’s career or specific role as in president (zongli), which would become Yuan Zongli. Titles are sometimes even used by colleagues, often to show respect rather than to behave in an unfriendly and distant way, while first names are used only by family and friends.

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On the other hand, people traditionally try to avoid drinking cold water straight from the fridge (even though this is an increasingly common practice due to the widespread consumption of Western soft drinks and soda). Usually, hot tea or water is given to guests upon arrival to meetings and meals, in a glass that is normally three-quarters full; the drink is both given and accepted with two hands to show politeness. Tea drinking in China is a completely different experience from the way it is usually consumed in Europe. Tea leaves of different types, with very distinctive tastes and perfumes, healing properties and objectives, are infused in hot water along with fruits and spices and the liquid drank from thermal or glass containers. Most workplaces and universities have hot water dispensers or kettles used to top up the tea containers bit by bit throughout the day until the flavours of the tea are no longer present. Some teas are very superior in terms of quality and value, and in some cases even rare; others are absolutely beautiful to look at as flowers are often used as tea. Professional tea ceremonies held at tea-houses can be incredibly charming, and I loved witnessing the rituals related to tea making and tea drinking performed by graceful Chinese ladies with beautiful porcelain tea sets. Tea in China is normally drunk without any sugar, milk or lemon. There is, however, a very popular drink made of tea and milk (one of the things I miss the most of China) called zhengzhu naicha (pearl milk tea) that contains tea, milk, pearls made of gelatine and various other flavourings. My Shanghai University classmates and I used to go out every night for a cup of that milk tea after dinner, either a hot or cold one depending on the weather, and the little shop by the university’s southern gate that sold zhengzhu naicha always had a queue outside.

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For people with whom one is familiar, the Chinese use the prefixes lao (old) for people above 40 years old and xiao (young, small) for those younger. Moreover, in China terms of kinship are often used for close non-relatives, whereby for instance a younger man/boy often calls a man who is only a few years older than him ‘big brother’ (da ge) and a woman ‘big sister’ (da jie) to highlight respect, social connection and friendliness. The Chinese are traditionally taught not to display emotions in public, which obviously does not mean absence of such feelings. However, culturally, they are used to keeping a ‘poker face’, which can be very difficult for foreigners to interpret in a business context and an extremely useful skill to have in negotiations. Chinese people do not welcome physical contact with people they do not know, but nowadays handshakes are common practice at meetings (something that I witnessed being an awkward issue about 15 years ago). Even in friendly relationships, the Chinese are often embarrassed by Mediterranean displays of warmth. I remember my Italian friend and I rushed to hug and kiss the cheek of a Chinese friend of ours to wish him happy birthday, which left him crimson in the face and stiff as a lighthouse. It may therefore be preferable, when associating with host country nationals in China, to keep back slaps, hugs, kisses and other types of physical contact to a minimum. When meeting people for the first time for business, and often even in social occasions, it is customary (practically compulsory) to hand out one’s business card. Business cards, like everything requiring keqi (manners, politeness), is handed out and received with two hands. The receiver then looks at it for a little bit to show respect and consideration before putting it away. In China, it is always better to have bilingual cards with one side in Chinese and one in English/Italian or another foreign language. For foreigners, even for those who speak fluent Chinese, it is almost impossible to distinguish between male and female Chinese names, and the Chinese often also find it difficult to discern foreigners’ names and gender. It is very important for the foreign name to be translated by a Chinese person as choosing the wrong characters, or pronouncing the string of syllabi the wrong way, can result in embarrassing albeit often hilarious moments. English names chosen by the Chinese who do business with foreigners can be equally puzzling: Egg, Stone, Wind, Superman and Patient are but a few of the more interestingly named colleagues and associates I’ve met over the years. Foreigners in China usually have a name that is based on the phonetic translation (an imitation of the sound) of part or all of their name. For instance, it is common for women called Laura to have Lao La as

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Personal space Whilst Chinese people would feel uncomfortable with foreigners patting their back, putting an arm around their shoulders and saying ‘Call me “Bob”’, their cultural background is very tolerant of what many Westerners would consider invasions of privacy and personal space. The Chinese personal space tends to be significantly smaller, and people often to get up close and personal, but without any aggressiveness. Houses, streets and shops can get very crowded in big cities and Chinese people often keep getting closer while talking to foreigners even when the laowai tries to re-establish some physical distance. Luck and superstitions The Chinese, like many other people, have numerous traditional superstitions. The number four is considered unlucky as it sounds like the word si that means ‘to die’, while the number eight (ba) is believed to be lucky as it can also sound like the word ‘prosper’ (the Chinese language is full of homonyms). This number-related superstition is one reason why expats often tend to end up with mobile phone numbers that include the number four, while the Chinese would ask for a different one. It is well known that in China the colour red is symbolic of wealth, prosperity and good fortune. On the other hand, the colour white is used for funerals and therefore not considered auspicious (although modern weddings in China do adopt white dresses for the bride to follow Western fashion). Writing should nevertheless never be in red ink, as some say that traditionally the colour red was used to write criminal’s names, and the names of the deceased were written, painted or engraved in red on gravestones and plaques. A number of superstitions and rituals are connected with the New Year, when the door is open to let the old year go and the new one

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a Chinese name, or for someone called Maria to be named Ma Liya. The right combination of characters is crucial as even foreigners should aim at having a pleasant sounding name and combination of meaning. When I was 16, my Chinese professor gave me a Chinese name, a real Chinese name rather than a phonetic translation, which has accompanied my journey to China throughout the years: Bai Yulan. I later found out that this is the name of a type of magnolia, which is also the flower of the city of Shanghai. This name has been a great conversation starter and Chinese people have often asked me whether my father or mother were Chinese, as they found it very bizarre to meet a Mandarin-speaking Italian girl who had a real Chinese name.

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begin; the character Fu (fortune) is painted or bought as a sign or poster and hung upside-down; specific food is prepared such as fish, which represents togetherness and abundance, and noodles which would be left uncut as a sign of long life. What in many Western countries is called ‘spring cleaning’ and in Italy ‘Easter cleaning’, in China is done before New Year’s day to avoid good fortune getting swept away, and dirt is either taken out from the back door or carried out. Many Chinese beliefs that can be curious from a Western viewpoint are associated with pregnancy, like for instance the fact that pregnant women should not eat dark foods to avoid the baby’s skin becoming dark. This would not be welcome in China as white skin is preferred; the whiter the skin, the more beautiful (meibai). This belief is originally derived from the fact that people who worked outdoors as farmers or manual workers were exposed to the weather and became tanned, so porcelain white skin was a status symbol that denoted aristocrats and wealthy people. Nowadays, most creams and body products sold in China use chemical agents, which are in some cases abrasive and very detrimental to the health of one’s skin, in order make the skin whiter. Internationally renowned companies produce specially targeted products specifically for this markets’ demand. I remember my African friends being very puzzled by finding only whitening deodorant in the supermarket, and my Chinese neighbour making snarly comments about the summer tan I had been working so hard on while on holiday in Italy. Other pregnancy-related superstitions include not complimenting a newborn baby as that might cause the gods to become envious and send bad luck, evil spirits and curses; evil spirits can also be chased away by putting a knife under the bed of the mother-to-be. Women who use glue during pregnancy are believed to increase the likelihood of having a difficult and painful labour; no renovation work should be carried out in the house during pregnancy as it could cause miscarriage or an unhealthy baby; and a baby with big ears is believed to be destined to live longer. One of the traditions I found quite surprising is that in China, after giving birth, the mother is not supposed to get wet (showers or baths) for at least six weeks (but sponge baths are deemed acceptable); also, I was told that striking an animal during pregnancy would cause the baby to look and behave like that specific animal, which I found quite hilarious. Parks Chinese parks are amongst some of my favourite places in the world due to their aesthetic beauty but also because whilst strolling in a park

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one can really get in touch with different aspects of the Chinese culture and lifestyle. I used to love sitting on a bench late on a Sunday morning, chatting with my Chinese neighbours or even with strangers (host country nationals will often approach foreigners with questions, small talk and requests for taking photos together) especially as two of my preferred groups of people in the Middle Kingdom tend to spend time in parks: the very young and the very old. Generally speaking, the latter in China tend to be significantly healthier than their Italian counterparts, and I was quite impressed when I saw how they would regularly exercise in the open-air gyms available in most neighbourhood parks. There were a few things that left me quite perplexed at first, I had never seen people behaving like that and I couldn’t guess the reasons behind their gestures or actions, such as walking backwards in the park (apparently this is good for one’s memory), slapping themselves while standing on the path or on the grass (good for circulation), or hugging trees (to gain positive energy). I find Chinese babies very cute, and they seemed to like me too, as many of them used to extend their chubby arms towards me calling me ‘Auntie’ (ayi) and asking to be cuddled. I loved spending time playing in the park with them and making colourful window stickers in the children’s area near the lake. One Chinese habit that left me a little perplexed (and frankly often concerned for the state of my clothing) is the fact that nappies or diapers are not commonly used for infants: underwear and trousers have a slit in the middle that allows babies to relieve themselves when and where needed. Parents hold their babies in a sitting position up in the air to help the process be less messy, or they crouch down on the ground in the street themselves when a little older. This lack of layering between the baby’s bottom and my arms always made me quite nervous, but it is undoubtedly a very eco-friendly alternative to disposable nappies. Parks tend to be particularly busy over the summer, especially as in many parts of China houses are overcrowded and become uncomfortably hot. It is therefore quite common to see people sitting outside in the streets, or in parks, fanning themselves, smoking cigarettes, chatting lazily with their friends, playing games of majiang on impromptu tables. The Chinese will sometimes gather in parks or squares in the evenings, get a CD player to play music in the open and slow dance or ballroom dance. Others will sit sipping tea or a cold drink with friends, write beautiful calligraphy on the pavement with big brushes dipped in water, fly kites in squares and open spaces or simply stroll down the street. I have often noted how many Chinese children and young adults

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Toilets This might seem an unnecessary and trivial topic, but it is one that does surprise or shock many foreigners, especially those who work in smaller cities or in the countryside. While over the past few years hygienic conditions of toilets around the country have significantly improved, the difference between what one is likely to experience in China and what someone from a European background is used to might cause some difficulties in general adjustment. The majority of toilets in China are of the squatting type (called ‘Turkish style – alla turca’ in Italian) rather than those with seats. Like bathrooms all over the world, these can be very smelly and slippery, so many expatriate friends of mine started wearing long socks throughout the year to tuck their trousers into whilst using the facilities (and always carrying a pack of tissues with them as toilet paper can be rare in public bathrooms). What might be more difficult to adapt to is that cubicles in some cases do not have doors, and therefore other people walking by in the bathroom to reach another toilet can see everyone else along the way relieving themselves. In addition to the uncomfortable and embarrassing lack of privacy, foreigners tend to get stared at. In rural areas I have found bathrooms which consisted of a long gutter, with no cubicles, that people squatted on and where running water helped faeces flow through (the first position in the line is the best for obvious reasons!). In my experience, Chinese people seem to be less modest about their bodies, as it is quite normal to see women hanging out naked in the gym locker room, chatting and drying their hair in changing rooms and spas, while my Western friends and I tried to hide behind

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seem to be able to enjoy themselves and be entertained in simpler ways compared to Italians, which is quite refreshing. One of the most fascinating and enchanting sights in China is that of a group of Chinese people doing taijiquan (or taichi, a type of very slow martial art). In the summer of 1998, a dear friend convinced me to give up some of my beloved sleep, wake at 4.30 a.m. and go to the Tian Tan (the Temple of Heaven). That place is filled with the sheer beauty of the temple complex itself, set on an area of land bigger than the Forbidden City, with buildings, parkland, little bridges and other pavilions laid out to reflect the ancient belief that heaven is round and earth is square. However, what I found even more beautiful was the 100 or so people (mostly elderly) dressed in white, moving in unison while practicing their dance-like taijiquan moves in the morning mist. It was a sight I know I will never forget.

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Bargaining Expatriates in China must negotiate and engage in some serious bargaining if they want to be paying a price that is even remotely close to what they should be paying at market value. I had never asked for discounts in my life before moving to China, not even from those who were doing business with my mother, or had shops near hers in our neighbourhood, who would have been more than happy to give me a discount. However, once in China, I rapidly realized that economic survival would have to involve fierce bargaining, whether in shops, markets, or contract deals as foreigners normally get charged ridiculous prices. In my experience, foreigners who speak fluent Chinese have a better treatment right from the start as host nationals tend to appreciate that they are not in the Middle Kingdom only to do business and exploit the country from a commercial viewpoint, but have at least engaged with the Chinese culture at a deeper level and committed time and effort towards that special relationship. Nonetheless, this does not mean that Chinese-speaking expatriates are not getting ripped off, as prices are normally set at least three or four times the price that would actually be fair for the expatriate to pay. Many foreigners seem to get profoundly offended by the practice of bargaining in China, but I have grown accustomed to it and now see it more as some sort of dance, or a game when both players are moving on the ground in circles around the area they want to reach until they are satisfied with the ground covered. Many foreigners do not understand that bargaining is a game, a process, a cultural practice, a test of one’s patience and perseverance; so they are often unaware of the balance they need to strike between making a reasonable offer and lowering the price. Chinese people will expect negotiations on prices, and they are usually very skilful at managing transactions to achieve the best deal. Like every deal that involves people and money, some individuals are better or more effective than others (see more details on business negotiations in the next chapter), and it is important to learn ‘the Chinese way’ of bargaining, an often fatiguing pantomime that includes small steps to reach a mutually advantageous

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tiny towels, lingerie and clothing. Due to the poor sewage system, there are signs up in many toilets (usually in Chinese) warning not to throw anything (including used toilet paper) down the toilet and asking users to make use of the open baskets instead as a courtesy to the next person, which is likely to result in a bathroom experience quite challenging for one’s sense of sight and smell.

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The laowai stare Nothing can fully prepare foreigners for China, but one of the particular and context related matters we all found quite fun at first and then quite annoying was ‘the staring’. Time and location in this case are crucial factors to determine the extent and depth of what I call ‘the laowai stare’. This is because host country nationals in remote areas with low presence of expatriates might still find the sight of foreigners as something quite surprising and eventful; moreover, being before the mid-1970s a generally closed country to foreign business, China only witnessed the arrival of significant numbers of expatriates over the past 30 years (and only recently over the past 15 years en masse). In the hot Beijing summer of 1997, I was a curvy teenager with long black curly hair but I might as well have been a tri-headed green-skinned half human being by the looks of sheer shock I got by Chinese people who would point their elegant fingers at me muttering ‘laowai, laowai!’. Older Chinese people would often stare at foreigners with gaping mouths in supermarkets, in the streets, on the bus and anywhere the encounter might happen. At first I thought there was something wrong with the way I looked, maybe a tear in my clothing or a big stain, but I then realized that it had more to do with my being an alien than anything else. After some time, the constant stares in the streets started becoming quite annoying to me; when I moved from Shanghai to the UK in 2007 I suddenly became invisible. My newly acquired anonymity in the British street was comforting as nobody really seemed to care about my curls, my clothing, my white skin or my weight, but it also felt quite odd as I went from being something special and worth noticing to someone just like everyone else (see also Part IV). The Chinese fascination with foreigners is advantageous in some cases, as it automatically gives expatriates a special status regardless

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middle ground, smiles, fake indignation (and even anger), calculated walk-outs, ingratiation and humbleness, respect and fierce determination. Once I stopped equating the price in foreign currency and started thinking ‘in Chinese’, and definitely by the end of my first stay in China, I had transformed from a shy and bargaining-averse foreigner to a ruthless and lihai (tough) negotiator. Generally speaking, expatriates are often the target of scams and tricks, in many cases perhaps rightfully so given the utter carelessness and ignorance of many foreigners who go to China completely unprepared. This can be in terms of contract and major business affairs, but also in daily circumstances such as inflated prices, taxi rides longer than necessary, fake goods and so on.

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of their skills, personality and talents. In many cases it is easier for foreigners to get things done in China, enjoy a special treatment, be able to afford small and large luxuries that most of us had only been allowed to dream of in our own countries of origin. In addition, this otherness is often a strong propelling force that fosters communication and social exchange. I was approached quite frequently by young Chinese boys and girls asking ‘Can we be friends?’, eager to practice their English or learn more about the Western world. For some reason, Chinese people like to have their picture taken with foreigners (even more so if the latter have blond or red hair and blue or green eyes), even with complete strangers. I had to pose for hours together with some friends of mine and numerous Chinese tourists and school children while visiting the Beijing zoo back in 1998, where we had gone to admire cuddly pandas. The requests for photos were so enthusiastic that we felt we could not refuse, and only excused ourselves once the long smiles had made our cheeks tired. We noticed that we had had more photos taken than the animals, so my friend, always the entrepreneur, thought of opening a ‘foreigners zoo’ with an entrance fee whereby wild expatriates would be allowed to roam around free and be asked to have their photo taken with visitors. We could have become millionaires back then! One time (I think it was in the summer of 2003) I was grocery shopping with a friend in a newly built large Western-style shopping mall in the outskirts of Shanghai. I had grown accustomed to the ‘laowai stare’ by that time, but my friend had only been in China (Shanghai) for a few months and still found it quite uncomfortable. I remember her reaction of amused surprise tainted with a shade of contempt while walking down the supermarket aisles, which had been caused by the number of curious Chinese customers who would blatantly look in our shopping carts and even pick up items in our trolleys to investigate what these odd foreigners were buying in the grocery section of the mall. The same thing happened at the till, when it is normal for expatriates to be pushed and shoved by people who try to see just how much money these so-called foreign devils carry in their wallets. This behaviour is generally just due to genuine curiosity and a different understanding of people’s private space or matters; needless to say, on a bus or tube journey, it is perfectly normal in China to look over people’s shoulder (especially foreigners) to see what they are reading. Obviously, there are many expatriates who will never even get close to a Chinese supermarket as they will only shop in the delis available in central hotels or send their ayi to buy all necessary items for the household; those expatriates

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Recruitment and Preparation 77

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will also never get on a bus, train or tube as they will have the company car with a dedicated driver to go around in. Finally, I would just like to add a brief note to highlight the fact that, regardless of how bizarre and far from one’s own habits and comfort zone another culture is in its daily embodiments and manifestations, what one person may find disgusting, shocking or absurd is actually normal and ‘home’ to someone else and as such should be respected or at least tolerated, especially in the host country. We have examined the ‘before China’ period and the reasons why people move to China or take on long-term assignments there. This section has helped to establish motivations and expectations that set the scene for the following phase of the expatriation process, which is explored next in dealing with the ‘during China’ stage. In agreement with the findings of a meta-analysis conducted by Mol et al. (2005), my interviews have provided empirical support to the belief that cultural sensitivity and knowledge of the local language are crucial factors affecting expatriates’ performance. On the basis of this, it would then appear useful for expatriates to receive cultural and linguistic training before departure, which would enable them not only to perform more effectively in the workplace, but also to minimize the negative effects of adjustment in a country significantly distant from one’s home culture. Personal traits have also been considered alongside skills, knowledge and experience that could be taken into account during the recruitment and selection of prospective expatriates. Finally, drawing on my own and others’ experiences of the most surprising aspects of Chinese daily life, some practical information on what to expect in everyday situations was provided. This initial description provided a window into the context of adjustment to expatriate everyday life in China. We will now move further into that theme considering other factors that may affect adaptation while abroad, with a particular focus on general adjustment, workplace adjustment and social adjustment.

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Part III In China
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Having considered the antecedents and motivations behind expatriate assignments, pre-departure training and factors to be taken into account while recruiting, selecting and appointing expatriates, we will now explore the next phase of the expatriate journey to China. This Part starts by investigating first impressions of expatriates in the Middle Kingdom, modes of adjustment and cultural adaptation as well as issues of cultural shock. Three meta-categories of expatriate adjustment are detailed in the following section: work, social and general adjustment. A plethora of related factors are identified and analysed through the expatriate’s own voices and experiences in order to improve understanding of what living and working in China means from an individual viewpoint.

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5
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When in China Do as the Chinese Do

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. Chinese proverb

First impressions
Before embarking on the adventure of doing business in China, in my opinion it would be beneficial for expatriates to familiarize themselves a little with Chinese history (at least recent Chinese history) as sociopolitical factors have affected not only Chinese people and their mindset, but also how expatriates have been able to interact and operate within the Chinese context. Every decade in China since the 1960s seems to have been characterized by very different types of expatriates, operating in distinct social and business contexts. Most expats have only read about the Cultural Revolution, which took place from the mid-1960s to the mid1970s, and this time saw very few truly pioneering foreign businesspeople in China. Those early years were difficult for foreigners going to the Middle Kingdom: very little information was available on doing business in China, the linguistic and cultural barriers seemed even higher than today, and the Chinese often ostracized expatriates. On the other hand, the small number of Western players in the country meant great opportunities for most of them. The Middle Kingdom started truly opening up to foreigners in the early 1980s, when the expatriate community was very close-knit, everyone knew everyone, and foreigners were in most cases required to reside in ‘golden ghettos’ of expatriate compounds and hotels. Those with good contacts seemed to have a much better chance of ‘making it’ back in the 1980s or early 1990s than today, as even though there were
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My big move I moved to China in 2002 as a student and then became a working expatriate in 2004. I had previously visited China on two long summer trips to Beijing in 1997 and 1998, so I knew what to expect in terms of general adjustment. However, the lifestyle and atmosphere in Shanghai was significantly different from the one I had experienced in Beijing, as the latter somehow felt more ‘Chinese’ in a number of ways. Many expatriates have pointed out how adjustment is strictly linked to location, and consideration should be given not only to whether to move to China, but where in China one should move to, a decision which will make life as an expatriate more or less comfortable and easy. Beijing is the political capital, and the presence of the Party in the city seems stronger there than anywhere else; also, at the time, there were more original traditional Chinese buildings in Beijing (which I loved) and fewer examples of the modern steel, glass and concrete style of architecture that characterizes the Shanghai skyline. Beijing is often described as more ‘cultural’ with a higher number of artists and intellectuals, while Shanghai is seen as a vibrant business centre with a growing foreign population. I was happy in my first experience of China: I experienced the bliss of independence, I met interesting people from all over the world and I gained precious work experience. Having moved there with a few very good university friends, and having always been very gregarious, establishing a social network was never a problem for me. I did, however, experience occasional bouts of loneliness and melancholy during the first six months in Shanghai: working on Christmas day; missing my friends and family at home; and having to rely completely on my own resources. Inevitably, part of my loneliness was also due to the fact that during the first part of my Shanghai experience, while there as a student, I was assigned to a university campus in Jiading, a satellite suburb of Shanghai, which at the time was poorly linked to the city (it took over an hour by bus to reach the centre; the train line, modern shopping centres and Formula One circuit were yet to be built); it had

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many restrictions in terms of the type of business foreigners were allowed to pursue and fewer regulations to protect their businesses, the limited competition and easier operational context made it possible for entrepreneurial ventures and businesses in general to flourish. The early 1990s saw an increase in foreign business dealings with China and, even though the world had yet to recognize that country’s potential or predict its future developments, more foreigners grew interested in the Middle Kingdom.

When in China Do as the Chinese Do 83

Models of adjustment and cultural shock
Individuals express culture through the values they have (Adler, 1991/2002: 16), which then influence their attitudes about the form of behaviour considered most appropriate in any given situation. Such attitudes, in turn, provide the basis for behaviour by generating norms to be applied to a specific culture. Finally, the circle is completed by considering how individual and group behaviours affect social culture. Adler’s theory thus described has obvious implications that affect expatriates while working in contexts of mixed nationalities as different approaches need to be taken in organizations which often create potential avenues for conflict and differing decisions being made. Misunderstandings of social conventions and culturally specific contexts, inappropriate manners and etiquette can cause conflicts, frustration and even anxiety. Stress-related matters are believed by some researchers to be the main cause of poor adjustment, and Hertz (1981) identifies two phases in the migratory experience that are characterized by stress: (1) the pre-migration phase full of high and positive expectations; (2) a coping stage sub-divided into three distinct phases: the impact (with moments of euphoria, then relaxation, achievement and satisfaction), the rebound (with feelings of disappointment, unhappiness, anger, wanting to return or depression, difficulty in understanding) and the coping (characterized by settlement, more positive and realistic expectations and different levels and degrees of belonging). Amongst the numerous models of cultural shock and adjustment, Oberg (1960) provides a U-shaped curve of adjustment that identifies four stages of cultural shock: honeymoon, crisis, recovery and adjustment. Later research has criticized this model not only because it oversimplifies a very complex and dynamic process (Haslberger, 2005) but also as inaccurate and highly descriptive (Lundstedt, 1963; Church, 1982; Black and Mendenhall, 1991; Ward et al., 1998). Black and Mendenhall (1991) suggested that, in place of a U-curve, some expatriates may experience

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one nightclub, one pub, no supermarkets and no foreigners other than the 24 students with whom I shared the fairly squalid dorm. In spite of these challenges, I was extremely excited to finally be there after having dreamed of this trip throughout my university years, and I was very keen to explore new places, foods and traditions. Things improved greatly when I moved into a house with my then partner, started working and earning a good salary, and began to enjoy the perks of living the expat life in a huge metropolitan city.

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1. The honeymoon phase, which starts before departure and continues during the first phase abroad. 2. The cultural shock stage, whereby those initially exciting cultural differences may cause difficulties, confusion, frustrations and feelings of nostalgia or homesickness. 3. The recovery period, when people start understanding how to operate in the foreign country, socialize with more ease and understand cultural differences. 4. The final stage, during which the foreigner feels like they have a role in the new environment and they feel more ‘at home’ physically, socially and intellectually. However, the process starts again when the expatriate has to leave the foreign assignment. Some of the literature gives an indication of the length of time expatriates take to adjust (Liu, 2005); however, the information provided by my interview subjects shows that the adjustment period for some workers in this phase lasted for one and a half years, while for others, it was only two weeks or less. Some claimed that they felt no need to adjust at all (including interviewees with an educational background in oriental languages and cultures, but also those who had no country specific knowledge prior to their departure), which supports Black and Mendenhall’s (1991) alternative J-curve model of adjustment. In the data collected for this study, there seems to be no correlation between the gender, age, role or planned length of stay and the duration of the honeymoon period. With few exceptions, the majority of expatriates soon experience some level of cultural shock once they start living in China. Of my interviewees, 95 per cent supported the W-curve model of adjustment but reported a more noteworthy shock in the reentry phase, which suggests a modification to the model to highlight a more significant drop in the second curve (see Figure 5.1).

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a J-curve, which represents an upward sloping track of adjustment for those who do not seem to experience culture shock abroad. Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) extended the U-curve hypothesis (first used by Lysgaard in 1955), which involves the process of arrival, followed by cultural shock, recovery and adjustment (Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2005), by making it into a W-curve which also takes into account the repatriation phase of the expatriate process. The W-curve model, which is often also used in relation to international students, identifies four salient stages of cultural adjustment:

When in China Do as the Chinese Do 85

High

Arrival and honeymoon Adjustment

Repatriation

Mood Crisis

Re-entry shock Re-entry crisis

Low

Overseas Time

Home

Figure 5.1

Modified W-curve of adjustment

Culture shock The term ‘cultural shock’ was coined by Oberg (1960) and is used to explain ‘the frustration and confusion that result from being bombarded by uninterpretable cues’ (Adler 1981: 343). Cultural shock can be seen from a psychological perspective as well as from a socio-anthropological point of view, whereby it is considered as part of a process: ‘the period of transition and adjustment during which a person who has been relocated experiences some degree of anxiety, confusion, and disruption related to living in the new culture’ (Befus 1988: 381). Dowling and Welch (2004) suggest that cultural shock varies from person to person and, within certain contexts, is often understudied in the available literature. Befus (1988) does not see culture shock as a necessarily negative aspect of the adaptation experience; however, in the literature this term has generally assumed a negative connotation even though it can also be seen as an important aspect of cultural learning, self-development and personal growth (Adler, 1975). People deal with re-entry culture shock in different ways, which, according to Hall (2004: 293), can be divided into three main categories: 1. The alienated approach (whereby the returnee rejects or is highly critical of the home culture while embracing the foreign one and often forms groups or cliques of other international travellers).

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Re-entry adjustment

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2. The resocialized approach (characterized by returnees quickly getting rid of any influence the time spent within the foreign culture has had). 3. The proactive approach (whereby former expatriates keep a positive attitude towards both visited and home culture).
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It might be useful for expatriates to understand the different models of adjustment and expect some sort of cultural shock not only while in China, but also upon return to their home country (see Part V) in order to be better prepared to manage expectations and react to challenges. Expatriate effectiveness Since Copeland and Griggs (1985) drew attention to expatriate effectiveness, a number of researchers have investigated this matter. One of the early studies conducted by Caligiuri (1997) suggests that expatriate success could be evaluated by measures including the completion of assignments, cross-cultural adjustment and performance. Moreover, Thomas (1998) also described three types of outcomes in relation to expatriate assignments: individual outcomes (which include satisfaction and commitment), organizational outcomes (which include performance and turnover) and finally, adjustment outcomes as suggested in Black, Mendenhall and Oddou’s (1991) model. A survey (GMAC, 2007) shows that 57 per cent of expatriate managers recognized the inability to adjust to the foreign environment as a key factor in unsuccessful assignments. It appears that in order for expatriate effectiveness to be addressed appropriately, both extrinsic factors (related to the external environment) and intrinsic factors (related to the individual) need to be measured and considered. The following sections will investigate a number of salient factors pertinent to the three outcomes above. Adaptation in China In their study of German expatriates in China, Zimmermann, Holman and Sparrow (2003) found the following aspects in relation to the three modes of adjustment mentioned above (social/interaction mode, work mode and general adjustment mode). In terms of interaction adjustment, language, face (mianzi), an indirect style of communication and personalized relationships were the main aspects affecting the expatriate experience, which are believed to require either an assimilation or integration mode. On a work-adjustment level, expatriates used the determination and exploration modes to address those aspects deemed more important within the Chinese context: accepting responsibility and taking initiative, systematic procedures and guanxi (see below for a detailed explanation of

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When in China Do as the Chinese Do 87

this term). Finally, in regards to living conditions, pollution and climate, food and leisure activities, together with cleanliness and manners of the Chinese in public, expatriates seemed to both change and maintain their Western ways to adapt to the host environment.
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Francesco:

Beatrice:

China is like a Rubik’s cube: lots of colours mixed together, and merely understanding which colours there are is not enough in order to have a complete picture: you have to be able to put them together. I myself right now have barely managed to identify all the colours involved (I ended up in the most Chinese and bizarre places and situations ever), but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put them all together. The shock there [in China] was due to the amount of people, mamma mia! It was like an anthill, mamma mia the amount of people! That annoys you a bit because your personal living space is considerably reduced. It always takes me a while to get used to that again [when I go back to China], but you never completely get used to it; it always annoys you a bit. Then you get used to it after a while [some years], but at the beginning, it was the ocean of people [that shocked me] and the poor manners according to our code of conduct: burps, not queuing up … but that was a type of annoyance that I felt when I lived initially as a laowai [foreigner]. As a laowai you act superior, and you walk straight past. Otherwise, [when you don’t act like a foreigner anymore] you end up fighting with them (laughs) but in a Chinese way, which is different.

Many of the people who had studied Chinese while at university did not experience strong culture shock, or at least not the same type experienced by others. Some stated that having studied the language and culture for a number of years, they already knew what to expect, thus making it less difficult to adapt. Also, being able to speak the language made it easier for them to interact with people and the environment. Those students who did have an unexpected first encounter with Chinese society actually recognized that what had surprised them was not cultural shock due to the differences between Italy and China, but the realization of how different contemporary China was from what they had studied in history books and literature. In 1997, during my first visit to China, I myself had thought I was going to experience a beautifully exotic Beijing with scenes ranging

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Breaks and visits In agreement with what is suggested in the relevant literature (see, for instance, Gregersen and Stroh, 1997), the two factors that were identified by my interviewees as a way to facilitate initial adaptation and reduce culture shock for both students and workers include (1) spending a short period of time in China before the full-time assignment is due to begin in order to get a taste of what to expect and what the place is like; and (2) taking breaks from one’s life in China. Three of my interviewees said that their way of being able to tolerate China is to take breaks from it by travelling or going back to Italy as often as they can. In their study of Finnish and American repatriates, Gregersen and Stroh (1997) found that adjustment of the spouse and number of years spent overseas, together with the number of visits made to the home country during the foreign assignment, also have an impact on expatriate adjustment. Massimo: Well, sometimes [when you are in China] you feel the need to get a break from it because of the huge number of differences in terms of behaviours, habits, manners and gestures. After a while you can’t bear it anymore. The mere idea of not being able to cross the road without being almost run over is already annoying (smiles) … my battles against buses, trucks, the fact that I risk my life every day because I get stubborn [about not wanting to accept some Chinese habits], and
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from Mao’s Red Guard soldiers saluting each other as tongzhi ‘comrades’ (which is what our language book reported and taught as a greeting at the time) to the picturesque silks and mysterious atmospheres seen in movies such as The Last Emperor or books like The World of Suzie Wong. Nothing could have prepared me for the utter surprise I experienced after landing in an atrociously humid and hot capital on a mid-August morning under a veiled sun (which I would later discover was an almost constant visual condition due to pollution): the place was very grey in colour, people were dressed in Western clothes and, at first, I didn’t really get a feeling of the reigning communist regime or imperial remnants. China was modern, very ‘Western’, very crowded, not very poetic and miles away from what I had expected. Of course, China is still formally a highly bureaucratic communist country, and while there are indeed amazingly beautiful temples and imperial palaces in Beijing that evoke the old times, the lack of media coverage about China in the late 1990s (the only few news items at the time were covering Deng Xiaoping’s death and the dreaded return of Hong Kong to mainland China) had left me with some very distorted expectations.

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Some expatriates indicated that an initial stay in Hong Kong (‘which is not really China’ and a place where ‘you get the best of both [Western and Asian] worlds’) is an ideal first step to a move to China, and can provide a softer introduction to the Chinese world as it is still retaining some elements of Western culture due to the British colonization. This ‘China taster’ does not completely cancel out the culture shock experienced once people actually start living in mainland China, but it seems beneficial in terms of managing initial expectations. Giovanni: When I arrived there [in Hong Kong] I found a nice environment of Italians or other foreign friends I could go out with, so going out in the evening and partying was something that happened fairly frequently. Food shocks you a bit at the beginning (laughs), so that was something very different as well. It was the same [having to adapt to different things] on the cultural level with visiting temples, new places; I tried to travel whenever I could. Also the dirtiness of Chinese people, which is so obvious and evident that it is a bit traumatic at the beginning [is something one needs to get used to], so you have to overlook that, but in Hong Kong, that’s less evident. This all changed when I went to XXX [name of a city in mainland China] … but I went to XXX after having spent two years in Hong Kong, so I knew what to expect, and I had also travelled, so I knew a bit of what I was going to find.

When referring to adjustment in China, some interviewees pointed out that it would be important to understand not only ‘why’ people go to China, but also ‘how’ – their approach, expectations and intentions both at the personal and work level. Mario: [Success in China] really depends on how you go there; it depends on what you do there and what you expect. If you
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it’s impossible [not to get fed up]. So the sum of all those little [negative] things from the spitting to the hacking, but so many other things, smells too – I have grown so used to [Chinese]smells – but also the fact that they don’t greet you, that they want to get in the elevator before you get out … there are so many things! Ilaria, you know them well … and [you know that] then one day, you say ‘enough! I can’t stand this any longer.

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Forgetting the old ways Spradley and Phillips (1972) conducted a survey on culture shock and found that difficulties experienced in cultural readjustment often arose from the fact that, in some way, adapting to the new culture is perceived by expatriates as a violation of the norms of their home country. The authors concluded that ‘the more difficult aspects of readjustment involve unlearning the norms and rules acquired during socialisation’ (Spradley and Phillips 1972: 526). This is something that was often mentioned by my interviewees who said that in order to have a positive experience and relationship with China, expatriates should ‘forget their Italian ways’, ‘make tabula rasa of their Italian background, rules and manners and learn from scratch’. Massimo: What I have learned is that you have to be able to get out of your normal dimensions and out of your box. You have to get out because if you apply the rules that are good inside that [Western] box to China, you get nowhere. Because Chinese people know more tricks than the devil and definitely more than us, also technically, and if you go to China as a foreigner and you play the foreigner … you are a loser! And if you don’t try to get access to their world and understand that the world can function according to different foundations and hypotheses, [you are a loser]. This is the essential quality without which you go nowhere [in China]. Yes, you will be able to survive that way [if you apply your Western mentality to China], but if you want to

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go to China because you were told that it has cheap labour [and you can make a lot of money through that], then your experience there turns into a bloodbath. In that case, you’d better stay home, save money, don’t go to China, keep doing your ‘Made in Italy’ … If you decide to go there, you have to have a project, a business plan, the right personnel, which is crucial, and a lot of patience. Only then you can go, otherwise it doesn’t make any sense … Italians are beasts. Sorry to be so blunt about this, but they are really beasts. Meaning that when they go there and see this apparent availability of Chinese people, they think they can take advantage of them and that they will be able to trick the Chinese in any way, shape or form … while in the end, it’s them who get ripped off in every possible way, shape or form.

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be successful you have to forget your Italian background; you will still have to use the Western intelligence and analysis, but you will have to expand the space where you apply those concepts, otherwise it won’t work.
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Also, these deeply rooted differences between the two countries can often cause Italian expatriates to have a love–hate relationship with China. I have to admit that I have never heard anyone describe their experience in China in a bland or watered-down way: it seems that this country manages to involve people deeply either in a positive or negative way, and often both ways simultaneously. Giulio: However you want to deal with it there is always a continuous conflict due to the relationship of love and hate with China. Because you make an effort to get closer, but China in reality never allows you to get too close. Maybe that’s what makes it so fascinating: the fact that you always feel that you can never catch it and conquer it somehow.

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Expatriates in the Middle Kingdom
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The same type of rice feeds a hundred types of different people. Chinese saying

A framework of expatriate typologies in China
Different types of expatriates Shortly after my arrival in China, during my first brief stay in 1997, it became apparent to me that there were very distinct types of expatriates living and operating in the country. The main differences between them did not seem to stem from different nationalities but appeared to be collections of traits generally applicable across cultures. The distinctions became more obvious once I started living in Shanghai in 2002 as a postgraduate student and even more so when I began my career there shortly afterwards. However, the peculiarity of this classification and how topical it is only really struck me once I became an expatriate in the UK and noticed how the typologies that could be identified and applied in China could not be made to fit the expatriate reality in England, which is nonetheless very varied and multicultural. Being conscious of the fact that I approach this matter from a European point of view and from personal experience, I included mention of this in the vignette I used as a prompt for my interviews. Other topics I had included such as national identity were not picked up by many interviewees, but all of them discussed the idea that there are very obvious and distinct types of expatriates living and working in China. Harzing (2001: 369) identified three specific types of expatriates based on the degree of control they require: the ‘bear’ (who is a representative
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Expatriates in the Middle Kingdom 93

Students and workers The first level of discrimination identified amongst expatriates is between students and workers. In a recent review, Szkudlarek (2010) notes how students are the second most researched group of foreign sojourners and returnees. Many of my interviewees, especially those who had been students themselves, stressed how the number of Italian students has increased over the past ten years and how there seems to have been a surge of interest in studying Chinese which, up until 2000, had been somewhat rare and pioneering. Before 2000 15 institutes in Italy offered Chinese language classes: the three historic institutions – the University of Naples (which started Chinese courses in 1868), the University of Rome (1876) and the ISIAO in Rome (1935) – and the other 12 institutes that had enriched the provision of language classes for sinologists from 1960 to 1999. With the beginning of the new millennium, 25 additional institutions in Italy started offering the option of Chinese language studies (Antonucci and Zuccheri, 2010). This increase is a clear reflection of the evolution of China in terms of internationalization as well as economic and cultural development and the fact that the study of the Chinese language was now considered not only in terms of personal curiosity or interest in the ‘exotic’, but also as a growing requirement for cultural, political and business relations. As previously mentioned, those who started studying Chinese before the end of the 20th century often referred to themselves and their colleagues as those who got interested in China ‘for passion’, which somehow seems to have a higher

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of the home office also in charge of monitoring and controlling the foreign branch), the ‘bumble-bee’ (who is good at socializing and networking and flies ‘from plant to plant’ creating cross-pollination between the various offshoots) and the ‘spider’ (who weaves informal networks of control amongst offices). More recently, Caligiuri (2006) suggested four expatriate assignment categories: (1) technical, (2) functional/ tactical, (3) developmental/high potential, and (4) strategic/executive. Interestingly, apart from these role-centred distinctions, the literature on expatriates tends to put all expatriate workers in one group, differentiating them only in terms of nationality, managerial level, age and/or gender; however, these attributes do not seem to be key in the differentiation between types of expatriates in China by the participants in this study. I asked my interviewees to elaborate on this matter and explain who they thought the different existing types of expatriates were, and what characteristics contributed to that classification. Their answers are summarized in Figure 6.1.

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Expatriates in China

Workers

Students

Standard expatriates, self-selected expatriates and entrepreneurs

Become workers Do not pursue a career in relation to China

Do not speak Chinese and/or do not understand the culture

Can speak the language and/or understand the culture

Do not attempt any integration and are likely to fail or be considerably less successful

Try to integrate but have great difficulties or only reach a certain level of productivity

Likely to have better performance and adjustment

Figure 6.1

Framework of expatriate typologies in China

status amongst expatriates in comparison with more ‘calculated’ reasons such as career or business development. Paolo: For example, the foreigners I travel with tend to stay locked in their five-star hotels, and then they go to an Italian restaurant; so forget trying to get them to try a skewer from a street stall, they would never do that. They don’t go there to enrich themselves with China, they go there to make their wallets richer.

Students were deemed (by both businesspeople and ex-students) ‘more pure’ in their interest towards China and ‘more genuine’ in terms of commitment towards adjustment, due to the time and energy invested in studying a complex language and culture. Of those students, some had moved on from their sinologist beginnings, while others had become

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Expatriates in the Middle Kingdom 95

expatriates who applied their linguistic and cultural knowledge to work, remaining employed in China or in China-related jobs. Self-selected and standard expatriates
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The next level of distinction is between entrepreneurs (who are still a minority, see below for more details), standard expatriates sent by their companies at different hierarchical levels and self-selected expatriates. This differentiation is very important because self-selected expatriates tend to be hired in China and, hence, get paid significantly less and have a less luxurious lifestyle. Beatrice: Of course there are different types of expats! And there are two main categories I think: the ones who were sent [to China] by their companies (they go there because it’s a challenge, they get paid loads of money but basically couldn’t care less about getting integrated, they only think about money). I have met a number of those ones. However, there are also those who do go there being sent by their companies, but see it [the assignment in China] also as a cultural experience, and they appreciate that side of things and love getting in contact with different cultures.

There seems to be an erroneous perception (both overt and covert) amongst ex-students who later became self-selected employees (but not only restricted to that category), whereby standard expatriates and entrepreneurs are seen as people who do not care about the foreign country they are living in, refuse to learn the language and, generally speaking, are there for mere business purposes (which often implies a negative and exploitative connotation). Margherita: Of the expatriates I have met, you have the students who go there to study and have a different push and motivation, and above all they approach Chinese society in a different way. Because [moving to China] was their own choice, and if it’s your own choice you don’t go there with resentment, and you are curious to get to know things, to understand, to study, right? Rather than a more positive approach, students have a more open approach and the will to know and see more things. Then you had foreigners who were there because they had been sent by their companies for work reasons and had a completely different

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Massimo:

Emma:

approach, and unfortunately very often – not all of them but most of them – had an approach focussed on exploitation, arrogance, lack of respect. [They would say or think] ‘[Chinese] people are poor; they will give us everything; let’s exploit them as much as we can’. And it’s exploitation on many levels: sexual, economic … they tell themselves ‘I am here; the company gave me a fabulous home … [I can afford to do whatever I want]’. Well those who get sent there are usually high up in the hierarchy, right, so they get treated really well. Do you remember Pudong [a neighbourhood in Shanghai], where there were those beautiful buildings? That’s where many of those expats lived; they were given gorgeous houses that here [in Italy] only billionaires can afford, so they were treated well, they had plenty of money, and they couldn’t care less [about China] as they could afford to buy anything. Students are the most real [amongst expats], but most expats back then [in the 1970s–1980s] – and still now in a way even though now everything is changing – expats back then were every ignorant people who shouldn’t have gone there; people who would have done a better job by staying in Italy. … A banker, for instance, would be selected and sent to China or to Hong Kong, and he would make a tonne of money, but you were gobsmacked about how disinterested he was [in the Chinese world], about the low level of knowledge and the extremely high level of prejudice, common biases and terrifying conformism he had. It’s true that there are foreigners in general but also Italians who speak [Chinese] and integrate [with the culture] because they understand it, but there are also those who come back [to their countries of origin] after ten years in China, and they haven’t understood a thing. Also because after all those years they still can’t say a word [in Chinese], and they don’t know … students are a category on their own because they study the language and get directly in contact [with the Chinese culture]. On the other side of the expatriate continuum, there are diplomats who really live [out of the Chinese context] (laughs). Do you remember how some of them would say ‘Well, yes, maybe one day I’ll go to a Chinese restaurant’? I mean they only ate Italian food locked up in

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In my experience, which was echoed in the data collected during the interviews, there seems to be a strong and emotive divide between the standard expatriates and those who were hired in loco: firstly in terms of salary, benefits and standard of living, but also in relation to the degree of independence in the workplace. The former are seen as living ‘la bella vita’ (the good life) whereas the latter feel or are perceived as being closer to the Chinese reality. Francesco: I have always felt different, but not compared to the Chinese: different from other Westerners, because they have another background, so I can’t compare myself to them. This was difficult to bear. It took about a year. … After a few years, my problem wasn’t with the Chinese environment but with the expat environment. They [standard expats] call you and you have to go out with them as you can’t be antisocial, and they used to go out all the time. But I would start work at 8 a.m. sharp, I had to clock in … they didn’t have to do that because they report to the Italian company and therefore their performance is calculated in terms of achievement of objectives, so they don’t need to clock in at 8 a.m., so they wouldn’t be concerned with being there [in the office] at 8 a.m. So they would go out at night and stay out until very late, while at midnight I would tell them ‘guys [I need to leave], I am waking up at 6 a.m. tomorrow’. These things add up, and after one and a half years, one day you find yourself wet with water up to your ankles waiting for the bus under the pouring rain, and you get a text from one of those expats saying that he just got a new company car … it’s not his fault; he is a good person,

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the embassy all the time. Then there are those expats who work for legal firms, companies etc., who basically integrate at different levels depending on their background and education in Italy. Also, there are those who had already studied the language before they arrived in China, maybe they did a degree in oriental languages or maybe they have another type of education like economics etc., but actually have the desire to grab that opportunity of their stay in China to understand some of it, so they go on a certain path. And there are those who remain completely impermeable to any type of integration with China.

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a good and reliable worker. But it’s the adding up of a lot of things that in the end [became too much to bear]. Entrepreneurs
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Thirteen of the interviewees in this research were self-selected expatriates when they moved to China while five were standard expatriates; out of the whole group, four later became entrepreneurs. Even though current expatriate literature mostly focuses on ‘standard expatriates’ sent overseas by their company, and ‘self-selected expatriates’ have received increasing albeit still limited attention in recent studies, entrepreneurs are greatly neglected. Fernandez and Underwood (2009) recently wrote a book that provides useful introductory guidelines to entrepreneurs based on interviews with 40 business pioneers in China, which stands out from other publications as being based on empirical work (data collected through interviews) and contributing with real experience rather than common generalizations and biases. Having myself worked as a self-selected expatriate in an Italian startup entrepreneurial venture in China, I have been able to witness how difficult it can be to establish a new business in China, and I believe that most of the problems common amongst standard and self-selected expatriates are shared by entrepreneurs. However, even though entrepreneurs share most of the opportunities and challenges described in this book, the personal effort, commitment of resources and risk involved in setting up entrepreneurial ventures in the Middle Kingdom involves additional aspects worth exploring in further detail. Nowadays, it is relatively easy for foreigners to get a business licence to set up a company in China. However, a number of other aspects must be taken into consideration: (a) Preparation. China is no El Dorado, and expatriate entrepreneurs should engage in careful research before plunging into a new venture. China is a country that changes and develops incredibly fast, so whilst opportunities are not as abundant as in the 1980s and 1990s, they are still there today, and are likely to continue to exist for at least the rest of the 2010s. It is important for entrepreneurs to study Chinese history and culture, and most of all to analyse the market carefully. For instance, before setting up a business concerned with making or selling luxury boats and yachts, one would have to look into market segmentation in terms of demographic variables (age, income, location, gender and so on), look at lifestyle and psychographic variables (is there a yachting culture? do wealthy

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Rebecca:

Also we have to consider that there is a huge difference in the Chinese and Western understanding of the concept of time. We have a linear concept of time, and they have a circular one, and this has deep repercussions in business as well. The fact that they always want to keep all their options open is because they need to get the general picture, so even if you have signed off on steps A and B,

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people in China understand and appreciate the yachting life? Is having a yacht perceived as a status symbol?), but also practical issues (are people allowed to own private yachts? Are there enough marinas to sustain this and encourage community development?). Standard business analysis models like PESTEL (looking at the macro-environment in terms of political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal factors that are likely to have an impact on the entrepreneurial venture) and SWOT (considering the company’s present strengths and weaknesses, together with future opportunities and threats in relation to various internal variables but also competitor businesses) will help entrepreneurs consider a number of crucial aspects. Consumer behaviour and geographic variables should also be taken into account. (b) Location. Different areas and cities have different practices that will considerably affect a venture. For instance, Chinese companies, suppliers and clients in large cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangdong have grown increasingly accustomed to Western styles of doing business, rules are generally better followed and facilities are mostly of international standards. Remote locations might have unintelligible dialects (even for those who speak fluent Mandarin), lack common hygiene or office facilities. People from different areas also have dissimilar habits in terms of food, negotiations and business behaviour. (c) Time. Issues of time in China can be very frustrating for expatriates. Western entrepreneurs are often very enthusiastic about their business ideas and keen to conquer China from the very minute they step out of the aeroplane. However, many of the entrepreneurs I met in China indicated how it is useful to live in China and work for another company for one or even two years before even thinking of setting up their own entrepreneurial venture. The experience gained in that initial period of time working for someone else would allow the prospective entrepreneur to learn ‘the Chinese way’, avoid some common mistakes that can be very costly, and start developing guanxi and business networks.

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they might revisit those, while having a linear concept for you that matter is closed once signed off on. (d) Local knowledge. Even though expatriates must strive to learn and understand as much as possible about China in general and the specific environment or industry they want to operate in, none of us will ever be Chinese. A friend once told me that China is like an exceptional woman: one should never take her for granted or assume to have known and experienced every aspect of her personality. To know China is to understand that one can never study or learn enough about that beautiful and complicated civilization. Entrepreneurs should, therefore, invest in local consultants who can facilitate a series of complex processes like dealing with the Party and government officials, navigating through red tape and bureaucracy, helping to establish appropriate and efficient guanxi, negotiating deals, managing human resources and ‘face sensitive’ matters. (e) Human resources management. Once the business is registered and set up, finding the right employees can be very challenging. While working in a Western company, I have witnessed a very high ‘churn’ rate of both foreigners (typically going home after one to three years) and host country nationals. High staff turnover involves various costs: training, salary negotiation, loss of expertise and confidential knowledge. Chinese people tend to be hard working, especially when working on commission or with the incentive of performance-based partnerships. As mentioned by other types of expatriates (see more on this in the workplace adjustment section), a number of cultural practices (such as reticence towards asking questions, poor initiative, weak problem-solving skills, limited creativity and critical thinking) tend to make it difficult for entrepreneurs with little experience of China to effectively manage their staff. More training of the workforce is generally required in the Middle Kingdom to align local practices with foreign requirements, processes and standards. Motivating staff in China can also require careful thinking as the increasing number of foreign enterprises means more competition in hiring the most skilled employees, who often get trained in one company and leave soon thereafter to work in a multinational that can provide more prestige (and hence enrich their ‘face’) and higher wages. Finding the right local human resources and being able to

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Length of stay Another criterion used by some interview participants to differentiate between types of expatriates in China is the amount of time spent there and the year of arrival. This study seems to contradict Haslberger’s suggestion that ‘most expatriates, who go abroad for a few years and then return, tend to increase their levels of adjustment the longer they stay in a country’ (2009: 387). Indeed, according to the data collected for this research, length of assignment does not seem to indicate a better adjustment, which instead tends to be linked with personal disposition (flexibility, openness, curiosity, tenacity), linguistic skills and cultural understanding. Two interviewees have commented on the fact that perhaps it is not worth sending someone to China for only a short two-year

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ensure their loyalty in order to retain them is an incredibly difficult task in China. One of my interviewees, and other entrepreneurs I met in China before, lamented the common practice whereby the most ambitious and skilled Chinese employees within a foreign entrepreneurship not only leave to work for a bigger company, but often take all the knowledge and expertise acquired (and frequently other talented key members of staff) to open a similar business. In order to keep key Chinese staff is often advisable to invest in paying good employees above the average market rate, send local employees on business trips abroad (which tend to be a valued benefit) and offer attractive salary increases or even stock options over time to those who stay for a number of years. (f) Loneliness. Those who wish to open a business in China have to embark on their business adventure knowing they are in it for the long run. This can often be a lonely journey as the fast pace, blurred work–life boundaries and workaholic 24/7 business lifestyle in China leave little time for family and friends. Moreover, the vast majority of standard expatriates in China tend to return to their home countries or get moved to another overseas assignment after two or three years, which results in friendships and relationships amongst expatriates in China often turning into superficial ones. (g) Resilience. Entrepreneurs need this trait everywhere, but China requires a very strong ability to face failure, tolerate stress and endure frustration. The different cultural, linguistic, behavioural and business practices in the Middle Kingdom demand exceptional flexibility, adaptability and open-mindedness together with passion, vision, technical/market expertise and patience.

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assignment as such managers might choose not to integrate because of the effort needed in that cultural and linguistic context. Rebecca: the difference [amongst expats] is also in those who say ‘I’ll only stay there for one or two years, so I don’t need to learn the language; I’ll just go on with a translator’. I don’t know … ‘I’ll go out with the driver or by taxi, so I won’t need that’. You can always live in a hotel and also never have contacts with the Chinese if you chose to do so. Maybe time [makes a difference], how long one thinks of staying there could make the difference.

Other responses also seemed to indicate that the nature of doing business in China requires longer time to establish effective relationships and to adapt to the social and work environment – which is worth considering especially in terms of entrepreneurial ventures and business start-ups. Massimo: As an entrepreneur, when you go to China you marry it [the country] for whatever reason; so going there for only five years doesn’t make any sense. Five years doesn’t make any sense – you either go there for the long run or you don’t go.

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7
Expatriate Adjustment
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When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others build windmills. Chinese proverb

Initial adjustment
China, especially the pre-millennium China and up to 2005, was not only a whole different world from Italy, but another galaxy altogether in terms of daily living, it seemed so distant. Parker and McEvoy (1993) found an inverse relationship exists between cultural toughness (which is defined as the difference between the expatriate’s home and host cultures) and level of adjustment, so that very distant cultures may require higher levels of adjustment. Lack of adjustment is believed to be costly in terms of performance, productivity, client relations and operations efficiency (Mendenhall and Oddou, 1985: 39). Poor adjustment involves other ‘invisible’ costs to the individual worker such as loss of self-esteem and self-confidence and loss of prestige among peers (Mendenhall and Oddou, 1985: 39). A lack of pre-departure training, overconfidence in technical expertise and a previous successful track record for expatriates are considered to be the main reasons behind expatriate failure to adjust. The lack of specific training is, according to Mendenhall and Oddou (1985: 40), rooted in four reasons: 1. 2. 3. 4. A feeling that such training may be ineffective Past dissatisfaction with training programmes Time constraints before the departure Cost
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In an attempt to identify the key factors that constitute expatriate acculturation, the above-mentioned researchers developed a framework comprising four main dimensions in the expatriate adjustment process: (a) The self-oriented dimension (which includes activities to reinforce the expatriates’ self-esteem, self-confidence and mental well-being and hygiene by focussing on ‘reinforcement substitution’, ‘stress reduction’ and ‘technical competence’) (b) The other-oriented dimension (‘relationship development’ and ‘willingness to communicate’) (c) The perceptual dimension (which is the ability to understand why both host nationals and foreigners behave the way they do) (d) The cultural-toughness dimension (which takes into account how it may be particularly difficult to adapt to some cultures) Molinsky (2005) explains how previous studies have shown that adaptive expatriates are perceived by host nationals as more effective, attractive and trustworthy. This, in turn, helps foster efficient relationships, and it appears that making a positive impression on host country nationals can reduce expatriates’ stress and anxiety, increase the success of a business venture and lead to a greater overall sense of well-being. In terms of organizational strategies, Black, Mendenhall and Oddou (1991) suggest that concerns about adjustment should begin before expatriates are sent on their assignment overseas. Pre-departure training about the host country, its culture, and what to expect upon arrival should be undertaken by both organizations and individuals. Adequate selection processes should be designed and implemented in order to avoid as much as possible the negative impact of organizational culture shock. Once in the foreign country, it should be considered that not all policies, methods or procedures implemented in the home country may be applicable in the host country. Therefore, during expatriation organizations and individuals should direct their adjustment concerns towards the expatriation process in general and the employees in particular: jobrelated roles, culture-related social support and the level of managerial independence and discretion in relation to the home branch. From the individual’s point of view, Black, Mendenhall and Oddou (1991) claim that previous overseas work experience, high personal self-efficacy and good relational as well as perceptual skills can prepare expatriates to face different cultures and habits, thus reducing uncertainty and expectation. This book aims to confirm this to a certain extent, but numerous expatriates have noted how China presents a very

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Stefania:

At the beginning it wasn’t a shock, it was funny; the differences were funny. The crowded buses they pushed you in, the subway trains so full that there was someone whose job was to push people inside … it was funny and you laughed; you laughed at people spitting etc., and then at one point … I think it was after three years: I started going

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distinct and challenging context, so it would argue for the necessity to consider country-specific experience, especially as cultural and linguistic differences can be significant between different countries. Given the heterogeneity of the expatriate workforce, it is crucial to consider the details of each individual: their motivation for migration, as well as their particular socio-demographic, cultural, linguistic and psychological characteristics. In order to attempt any form of adjustment to China, it is paramount for foreign workers to exercise flexibility in approaches and beliefs. Lasserre and Schutte state that ‘many managers of Western multi-national companies (MNCs) are inculcated with the belief that Western management concepts are universally accepted and applicable’ (1995: xvi). However, country-specific information and cultural aspects should be carefully considered given that, for example, decision-making in Eastern countries is a slow circular process, while Americans and Europeans (particularly those in Northern countries) prefer linear thinking leading to quick decisions (Lewis, 1997). These two simple concepts have a significant impact not only on business negotiations between Chinese and foreign enterprises, but also on daily organizational processes and policies, and the different formae mentis could clash and cause conflicts between Western expatriates and Chinese colleagues or subordinates, as pointed out by one of my interviewees. It can take time for managers to realize that Western rules and beliefs do not apply to all contexts. Many expatriate managers who have been successful at adapting and integrating with the Chinese culture agree with the researcher on this point. The passage of time does not always ease adjustment however. One of the common themes emerging from the interviews is how often at the beginning (a phase that could last weeks or years according to my participants), differences and cultural clashes are perceived by expatriates as quirky or funny anecdotes, while as time goes by those become very irritating and frustrating. The initial reaction does not seem to be perceived necessarily as a ‘honeymoon period’, whereby things were welcomed enthusiastically and accepted, but rather, in some cases, as something bizarre that they noted and tolerated and often laughed at to begin with.

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Giovanni:

Simona:

Often in China even the most trivial tasks become difficult, as TomcatUSA (2008) explains in his wonderfully and tragically ironic book (and blog), which has become incredibly popular amongst Italian expatriates in China. These anecdotes and problems now seem funny to me because I am not in China anymore, however, I remember how extremely difficult and frustrating things could become even though I was fluent in Mandarin. Now we are here, in an unknown territory, with incomprehensible language and writing, where even buying soap for the dishwasher becomes a heroic mission. Speaking of which, for now we have managed to buy a huge box of salt (hopefully usable in the dishwasher) instead of the oh so desired soap, and a liquid that we think is Finish soap. This is only the third attempt, after long and careful inspection of some unintelligible boxes we think we have finally reached our goal, we think so at least. The point is that we are not in the international Shanghai, where it’s a bit like being in New York. The city assigned to me by destiny is Nanjing, lovely town of 6.5 million people, where the presence of foreigners is still at the beginning in comparison to Shanghai, with the related consequences for the expatriates who, as pioneers, must live their daily lives. …

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slightly mad [about those things] when I started working and thinking that the stay could be definitive. Everything was funny as long as I thought it wasn’t going to be forever. At the beginning you have the exotic phase where you like what’s strange. I mean you like it: eating with chopsticks is cool. Noodles, cartoons and all the other strange things are fun. Then you start thinking ‘well, at the end of the day, the real quality of life here [is not good enough]’ … At one point I really understood that it wasn’t the place for me. Hong Kong is a cool city, but it makes you claustrophobic in a way; there is always a lot of chaos. Real [mainland] China is worse. They are nice and efficient, but they don’t have … I don’t know, even the sense of the city the way we perceive it, or villages [is different in Italy]. [I missed] having a historic city centre where you can have a walk around. They have shopping centres, the sea, you can have fun in the evening, and there are nice clubs, but … I don’t know … it wasn’t a place for me. At the beginning everything was new, everything was different, even catching a bus was an adventure.

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The inability to understand host country nationals, their habits and their mannerisms is likely to negatively affect the expatriates’ work and social life regardless of the amount of time they spend abroad (Fish and Wood, 1994; Varma et al., 2009). The interviewees often spoke of cognitive disequilibrium between what they knew and the new experience: weird things can happen in China as a result of a completely different way of thinking, a new ‘logic’, compared to the one we are used to in European countries. Francesco: I immediately thought ‘these people are insane!’ I mean not insane, but so different … so many things … the shock was seeing these huge differences.

Social adjustment
Interpersonal relationships and well-being Many foreigners choose to spend their time with others from the expatriate community without attempting to integrate with the Chinese host nationals. In his model of expatriate coping, Blakeney (2006) distinguishes psychological adjustment from socio-cultural adaptation and proposes that poor performance and lack of success in international assignments are dependent on both variables. This seems to be confirmed by the data collected in this research. Socio-cultural adjustment (related to the ability to integrate or effectively interact with members of the host culture) is often linked to psychological adjustment, which refers to a person’s subjective well-being or satisfaction in their new cultural environment, and has been associated with factors such as emotional states, cognitive perceptions and personal traits (Ward and Kennedy, 1996). Furthermore, the findings of the study conducted by Gregersen and Black in 1996 showed that dissimilar nationalities seemed to have a different reaction to distinct aspects of repatriation adjustment. It is therefore natural for many expatriates, especially those

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My salary will be credited to my account, so sometimes I will need to transfer some money from my account to my wife’s account: I am terrified just by the thought of doing this. How will I explain to the bank what I want to do??? What is the probability of my money transfer resulting in a donation to The Committee For The Safekeeping Of The Yangtze River instead, after long and articulated explanations??? TomcatUSA (2008: 8–9)

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who migrate without being part of an organization and without a family or spouse, to make contact and spend time with expatriates from the same home country. A lack of social and corporate support during the early stages of the assignment can bring feelings of frustration, anxiety, ‘being lost’ and extreme loneliness. Rebecca: When I arrived there, I panicked. Pure panic (laughs). Really, like almost saying ‘HELP I have to get out of the house now [how am I going to manage?] … maybe I’ll stay in a while longer’. There were so many people … China is a bit alienating, but [the feeling] goes away after a while; it goes away after three to four months of continuous stay. If you go there for two months, then you go back home [to Italy], and then you go back there for two more months, it’s not the same thing. … At first I really thought of going back [to Italy for good]. I said to myself ‘Who is forcing me to do this? Nobody made me do this; I proposed this to my company myself. I buried myself with my own hands, why did I do that?’. Then I said to myself ‘I’ll phone my company and say that I’m done with this’, because I could have gone back [to Italy]. But then I’ve always tried to hang in there for another day, another day, another day, and in the end it became two years. Now I think I can hang in there for a bit longer (laughs), I don’t panic anymore.
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Rooney et al. (2009: 4) stress the link between place and identity by explaining that different groups of people with different experiences and histories of a place are likely to have different patterns of place identification that affect their perceptions of change .... Sense of place needs to be recognized as a key resource for enhancing social identities, which in turn protect and enhance employee self-esteem and self-efficacy. Spaces and places A number of interviewees mentioned that they found it difficult to adjust not only to the different spaces within the company (for instance the absence of the social interaction space around a coffee machine), but also to foreign spaces within the cities they were living. Research on

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place identity suggests that places are socially identified with the norms, behaviours and rules that belong to specific spaces (Proshansky et al., 1983, cited in Rooney et al., 2009). I remember saying that I missed ‘the comforting embrace of old European buildings’ while I was in Shanghai and New York, feeling more ‘at home’ in London, Paris and Vienna. Privacy and observation Another type of space, the personal one, is perceived and managed differently in China compared to the practice in Italy. Privacy (and the lack thereof) is one of the aspects of living in China people often find challenging to adapt to. This issue has two levels: the daily encounters and the general system. The latter is often difficult to perceive for expatriates unless they understand the functioning of government in China and the uses of systems of control and monitoring such as units, neighbourhood control systems and the hukou (an household registration system). Unlike Western values, both the traditional Chinese philosophy and socialist ideology see the individual in a collective framework whereby a person is a member of a network of groups, must give priority to duty and common harmony over privacy, and is required to favour external intervention in personal affairs (Li, 1979, cited in Chen, 2002). What Westerners perceive as unacceptably intrusive behaviour (for example being asked by taxi drivers or strangers met in the elevator how much you earn, how much you pay for rent or school fees, your age, whether you are married and why you are in your mid-20s and yet childless) is in fact absolutely acceptable by Chinese standards. Margherita: One of the things that bothered me about Chinese people was how they invade privacy; this was the only thing … like they would look inside your wallet to see how much money you have. … I understood that it wasn’t an individual trait because after you see it done 2000 times, you understand that it is a cultural thing, while if only one person does it then it’s just individual bad manners. But I still got annoyed that they would look inside [my wallet]. When I was with my boyfriend: his room had a window facing out in the internal courtyard in the old style houses. One time, we were in bed, the window was a little ajar, and I remember hearing some noise from outside; I am not sure if it was the mailman or a lady passing by, but they opened the window and started staring at us in
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bed … these things got on my nerves. They do it because sometimes it’s as if they can’t see the boundaries [between what is acceptable and inappropriate]. Access
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While investigating why some people fail to adjust on a social level, I asked my participants whether some expatriates’ inability to adapt and integrate may be due to the fact that foreigners may not have access to the Chinese culture or have little chance to fully understand and participate in the non-expatriate community; all of the interviewees said this was certainly not the case. Massimo: It’s up to foreigners’ education and their background [whether they adapt or not] because if you stay in China and you don’t lock yourself up in your house and only watch foreign channels on TV, even if you just step out of your house … you can’t help but interacting with China, at least in your head, because you witness scenes of daily life. Or, if you are interested, you can also watch Chinese movies which are translated or have subtitles. I think it would be absurd to not integrate with China, but I guess many [foreigners] don’t do that. Habits and etiquette There were a number of other aspects of living in China that some interviewees reported as annoying and difficult to adapt to: mainly social conventions, mannerisms and etiquette. To be honest, these things were what I noticed the most at the beginning of my stay in China, and what annoyed me the most towards the end. Stefania: I don’t like the fact that you always have to argue to defend your rights, even for really basic things, even what we consider as most obvious things, like the fact that in Italy you are free to say no. What if they offer you a drink? What if they offer you a cigarette? [In Italy] you can say no, and that’s that. In China you can’t because then someone gets offended, and another one doesn’t want to do business with you anymore … the fact that there [in China] you don’t have the most basic freedom to say no [really annoyed me].

Manners and different habits were reported as a recurring source of stress and frustration amongst my interviewees, and what I have heard

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Beatrice: [the thing that drove me mad was] them, them: the Chinese! (Laughs) Daily life and some specific circumstances with them [were hard to tolerate]. I used to get mad … when you had to get out of the elevator, for instance, and they all wanted to get in first before people got out. This drove me mad. The same thing on the subway: everyone wanted to get in before letting you get out. I used to get mad at those who smoked in the elevator and were hiding the cigarette pretending that nobody could see it. New beginnings Notwithstanding some aspects of the Chinese culture that may have been challenging to adapt to, other participants recognized the adaptation phase as a time of positive change and growth rather than irritation and conflict. Some even felt a sense of freedom and new beginnings. Emma: obviously I went through an adaptation phase, but it was in a natural way, I never felt I had to change. [China] has changed me in a positive way because it opened my mind; it expanded my horizons and made me grow in terms of

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most frequently being mentioned among the many complaints and in the venting sessions I have shared with other expatriates. Zimmermann, Holman and Sparrow(2003) suggest that perceptions of cleanliness and manners of host country nationals, such as burping and spitting, can affect the expatriates’ personal comfort. However, foreigners in China do not seem to consider that their own behaviour may be perceived as rude by host nationals and seem to take for granted their etiquette as ‘the right’ one. One of the things I found a bit shocking during my first trip to China was seeing people blow their nose without a tissue (i.e. by closing one nostril with a finger and blowing out of the other one in turns, without actually paying much notice to their distance from people walking by in the streets), and I remember being very surprised when a Chinese friend of mine said ‘Well, do you think that carrying snot in your pocket is a lot more hygienic?’. Molinsky and Perunovic (2008) explain that lack of fluency in the foreign language of a new culture can have a significant impact on the perception and evaluation of the expatriates’ behavioural faux pas as well as weak tolerance towards local habits. However, according to the empirical data collected for this study, issues connected with mannerisms seem to affect Italians in China regardless of their linguistic skills.

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Margherita:

When moving to China on their own, people find themselves in a new cultural and social context which allows them to shed what some of my interviewees have described as ‘superstructures’ or ‘social shells’ or ‘cages’ they found themselves carrying while in Italy. Some of them felt free to push the boundaries of their established identity while abroad and ‘re-invented’ themselves or experimented with their identity and roles. Rebecca: I have to admit that on many occasions I opened myself up more to Chinese people than to Italians, which doesn’t seem to make sense; but in Italy I am fairly shy. I do try to overcome this shyness, and being in China I feel that I am somehow in another world, where I can start from scratch, and I am free to be a bit different from who I am in Italy. So, bizarrely, at first, I ended up having more friends in China than in Italy. … The fact that you are an expatriate identifies you a little bit as a rare beast, and people are more interested in you than they are in Italy where you are just like everyone else, so I think that [being an expatriate in China] speeds up the process [of making friends] at the beginning.

A number of interviewees, even those who said they had not had too much difficulty adapting to the host culture and those who had felt at home there, said that in China they often felt treated like ‘a circus monkey’ or ‘a show animal’ or ‘a rare beast’, meaning that they were not treated just as ordinary people, but looked at like some special, curious and rare breed, like something ‘in a zoo’ or ‘in a freak show’. Any foreigner who has lived in China (also in Shanghai or Beijing, but even more so in smaller cities) knows how it feels to be wildly stared at (often with incredulous expressions) or to be pointed at by host nationals as

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understanding what’s there beyond my culture and me. So from that point of view [my experience in China] has enriched me. I value all the people I got to know, and the opportunity to know more cultures within the Chinese one. It has been enriching on a human level without any doubt. At first there was understanding, surprise, observation, and it’s true that on the other hand there were many things foreign to me, but as I mentioned before I never thought, ‘Oh my God that’s disgusting’. I accepted them, and there were also so many beautiful things I was fascinated in.

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Inner/outer circles Even though Italians are the product of many populations such as the Romans, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Germans and the Etruscan, Italy is still traditionally considered to be a fairly homogeneous mono-cultural nation. As many Italian expatriates are not part of an ethnic minority in their home country, it may be that in China they are affected by the fact that ‘Chinese people always stare at you’. As such, they may often be confronted with feelings of separation due to noticeable differences in physical appearance which they, in turn, may feel hamper their ability to integrate and connect to Chinese nationals and comfortably move in the Chinese context. Moving to another country is often difficult from a social point of view because while some might tackle the challenge of having to establish new friendships with enthusiasm, others may see it as a daunting task. Those who try to establish relationships with Chinese people may have great difficulties in making sincere acquaintances as associating with foreigners is often seen as a way of raising one’s status or establishing useful social networks. Silvana: You may get ten Chinese people approaching you in one night who want to have a chat with you, but in the end it’s just because for them it’s cool to be seen hanging out with a foreigner, and that’s it. You are not treated or considered equal [by Chinese people]. I know that they even scam Chinese people, but I think that’s easier to do with foreigners, and I have found myself in situations where I was getting scammed big time, even in my own company, with total ease on their part, with no forewarning, and then they act surprised if you get pissed off (laughs) … the world runs this way there. This is bad, and this bullshit happens; it happens to all of us [foreigners], and I think it’s all part of this big concept about how much

Massimo:

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a laowai (foreigner) as if they were sighting a white tiger. I have been told that in the past four years this is gradually decreasing in large cities, but it is something that expatriates do report find very tiring. When in 2002 I worked up the courage to ask some Chinese friends of mine why Chinese people stare and point at foreigners in the streets even though they have had Westerners around for many years, they looked very surprised and replied: ‘Of course we stare at you; you are different! Don’t you stare and point at Chinese people in Italy?’, and they were even more shocked by my negative response.

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of a stranger you are there to be exploited and with whom they don’t establish a bond. Chinese relationships are highly influenced by Confucian rules and, whilst somewhat formal amongst friends and family members, they are even more so in the business context. Everyone has their own role and place in the hierarchy of relationships and occupies a specific spot in the circle that defines one’s social interactions. Selmer (2005: 70) notes how ‘in China, this distinction between in-group and out-group could be further accentuated because of the language and cultural barriers’. Beatrice: Well in China it’s true that in war, love and business anything is allowed for them. I would suggest positioning yourself [a foreigner] from a Confucian standpoint when establishing relationships with the Chinese, so go in from a trust and friendship point of view because this will neutralize some of the weapons they use because Chinese people will not use those military strategies they usually use while doing business when dealing with a friend. Ok? Because in the Chinese context of the circle [of closer and intimate relationships], if you are part of that circle, a Chinese person will do anything for you. If you are outside of that circle, then they feel no ethical obligation towards you, so if you are outside [of the circle], you are an outsider, a stranger and even in the negotiation you are nobody to them … and we must keep in mind that once you establish guanxi [a ‘relationship’, see below for a more detailed explanation of this concept], that guanxi is forever, so you really become friends, but that takes time; you can’t become friends in a week. You will not get stabbed in the back if you have truly invested in your relationship with the Chinese in a serious way. You will get stabbed in the back if, however, you thought of playing smart, and you thought you could become their best friend in a month [in order to close a deal]. Then you won’t understand some messages like the never saying ‘no’, so you’ll think that things are running smoothly, and you’ll think that having a written contract will prevent you from getting scammed and not treated 100 per cent as a partner … You can try to integrate, but you will never be completely integrated. This doesn’t prevent you from having Chinese friends, but Chinese intimacy is very deep, and it’s very

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unlikely that they will allow you to get down there, in the centre of that circle, very unlikely. You may be able to get inside the circle after many years, but you will never be like one of the family. You will always stay in the outer layer of the circle; you will never reach the centre. Guanxi Pye (1982: 101) refers to guanxi as a special relationship between two people that can be best translated as ‘friendship with implications of continual exchange of favours’. This type of relationship, which is present in many cultures and also in Italy, is in the Chinese context an extremely important bond that holds together the plethora of communities, groups and circles existing in the Chinese territory and crosses the boundaries between work, personal and community lives. It is a form of social capital grounded in trust and mutual obligations. According to Wong (1998), there are four main elements of guanxi: trust, favour, dependence and adaptation. Clearly, establishing good guanxi is not something that can be done in the short term (which seems to be a common misunderstanding cultivated by foreign companies) and truly effective relationships of this type imply commitment and efforts that need to be proved and reiterated throughout the years. Even though the theory behind this concept is easy to understand, in practice it is very difficult for Westerners to fully grasp what needs to be done in order to cultivate guanxi in the appropriate way, who to establish guanxi with and how to negotiate a number of related issues or unspoken rules (e.g. the idea of bribery and being forced into a continuous do ut des mentality and practice) that in many countries are considered unethical if not illegal. In terms of specific adjustment behaviours in China, Zimmermann, Holman and Sparrow (2003) explain that the ability to build guanxi is a crucial aspect of the work adjustment process. There are different levels of guanxi: those with jiaren, family and extended family members who are part of the very core of the Chinese inner circle or relationships; guanxi established with shuren, people who are not family members but still fairly close like classmates, people from the same village or neighbourhood, members of a society; and finally connections with shengren, those who are outsiders in terms of the Chinese circle, strangers generally regarded with indifference or suspicion. Jiaren in China, as in Italy, come first and need to do fairly little to maintain these relationships, as it comes with blood connections. Western strangers, laowai, might on the other hand be required to nurture the relationship through very frequent interactions and exchanges of phone
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calls, gifts, meals and favours. The latter do not need to be reciprocated immediately, but are often ‘banked’ for future use, which is one of the aspects that contribute to the uncomfortable feeling associated with this practice. The Chinese collectivist approach and the concept of guanxi are at the basis of the idea of insiders and outsiders in relation to their ‘circle’ (Varma et al., 2009). It is difficult for Chinese people to welcome foreigners inside their circle due to language difficulties and cultural differences. There is also a large divide existing between the two nationals within the workplace as companies often have differential pay policies which favour expatriate workers over the Chinese (Toh and DeNisi, 2003). While working in China (both in companies and at the university), I remember finding out from Chinese friends of mine that despite having fewer qualifications and less experience than their Chinese counterparts, expatriates (me included) were often paid considerably more than those Chinese colleagues who were performing the same roles. Two of my interviewees also mentioned this discrimination which inevitably makes it difficult for Chinese people to perceive expatriates as ‘one of the group’. When asked whether they had established friendships with the host nationals, 83 per cent of my interviewees said they had, but only with a limited number of Chinese individuals. Those who did not make friends with host country nationals were self-selected but also standard expatriates, males, with different levels of language competency and very different amounts of time spent in loco. My sample of interviewees is too small to be significant in terms of statistic relevance, but the only thing the people without Chinese friends seemed to have in common is that they appeared to be the ones who claimed not to have achieved a good level of socio-cultural integration. One of the expatriates who did not adjust to the local environment said he had only made friends with Chinese people in Hong Kong who could speak English and had been abroad. Olsen and Martins (2009) state that ‘although environmental bubbles undoubtedly exist, most business expatriates in this era must be able to adjust to the host country and interact with its natives’. In my experience, very limited friendship-based interaction exists outside of the office between Italians and Chinese (ex-students and teachers being an exception amongst expatriates in this matter). Sino-Western romantic relationships In addition to the impact of language skills, the second aspect of the expatriation process in China which I have witnessed but the

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Many attribute their interest in the region to their interest, first of all, in Asian women and the lure of the exotic. Their very literal passion contributes to identifying Asian with ‘the feminine,’ and assigning the region and its people attributes that typically are associated with femininity in the West. Casting Asia as ‘feminine’ causes the romanticizing of it and – because women are ‘mysterious’ to the opposite gender, no matter what their origin – contributes to its ineffability. Prasso (2006: 1) From an Italian point of view, it seems that Chinese women appear as the quiet, refined porcelain dolls, submissive, exotic and traditional Asian women seen in classical literature and popular operas. Relationships between male foreigners and female Chinese (very rarely does the opposite occur) is something that can be seen very commonly in China, especially in large cities, and is a frequent topic of conversation between expatriates. Interestingly and surprisingly, both men and women amongst my interviewees seemed to feel very strongly about this matter and talked about it using very powerful language, referring to it as ‘disgusting’, ‘pathetic’, ‘squalid’ and ‘ridiculous’. The general view expressed by the interviewees, and many other expatriates on the matter, is that this is a mutually beneficial relationship established for very different reasons as both parties are seen as exploiting the other in some ways but within a conscious agreement. Silvana: I have a lot of friends in XXX (name of a city in China] who are businessmen and have a Chinese wife or girlfriend.

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importance of which I had neglected in my interview questions is romantic or sexual relationships between Westerners and Chinese nationals. Actually, I had completely ignored this aspect of the expatriate experience in my questions, but the theme emerged spontaneously in 15 out of 18 interviews either while answering one of the questions or in response to my closing request to indicate whether there was something that I had not asked that they thought would be necessary to include in a study about expatriates in China (interestingly 5 of those 15 people approached the topic after I switched off the recorder). All interviewees who commented on this theme did so with a mix of cynical and negative comments, even those with Chinese spouses. Romanticizing China and the Asian continent in general is a common European phenomenon whereby, as described by the anthropologist and journalist Sheridan Prasso:

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Francesco:

Massimo:

Bianca:

Rebecca:

Mario:

There are two types of men: the loser who has never had much success with women because he is an animal, has a bad personality, is rude, treats women like slaves or likes a piece of wood [a non-challenging type of woman] and gets the quiet type of Chinese woman to live a tranquil life. [He thinks:] ‘I have a woman at home, I have taught her how to make a few Italian dishes, and she coos whenever I want; I have a girlfriend, so my bed is full and warm whenever I want, so I am fine’. There are many men like this; the majority are those that Italian or European women wouldn’t even look at, but Chinese women [consider dating those men] because they have money; they allow them to live a comfortable life because they are managers. [Chinese] Girls there … for them love is not a matter of passion like for us Mediterranean people, it’s still true love, but it’s about security, an apartment. Very often [the relationship] is between Italian men and Chinese women rather than the other way round; they [Italian men] think they’ve found love … but actually it’s a Chinese woman who has found a passport … I think that Chinese women are not simple at all; they are not submissive, and they don’t compromise. They are very good on the surface, and they make you believe that you are the only man on the planet, but they are very good at counting [money]. They calculate how much you are worth and how much their relationship with you is worth. This doesn’t mean that they don’t love you, absolutely, but that’s a crucial factor. I don’t mean to be dramatic here, but 80 per cent of those are not love relationships; they are financial relationships, and you are dealing with a brilliant businesswoman who pays and buys in what she can get out of the relationship with you. I get very annoyed when I see the usual laowai going around with two Chinese girls, or even just one but always a lot younger, and this guy is very likely to have a wife in Italy or France or wherever. Any Western woman who moves to China goes insane as a consequence of Western men’s behaviour: any Western man who goes to China becomes a sex maniac (laughs) as he enters sex wonderland … I have never met any man, regardless of whether they had a girlfriend back home or

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Some interviewees mentioned that establishing this type of relationship can expatriate adjustment in a number of aspects: motivation, social and cultural adaptation, work proficiency and lifestyle. The two groups of expatriates that were mentioned by my interviewees as being the most involved in Sino-Italian romantic relationships (although there are rare exceptions) were mature wealthy men and young bachelors. Even though this type of mutually exploitative relationship is very widespread, it is nonetheless not the only cross-national relationship that one is able to establish in China: I have a number of friends and acquaintances that have married Chinese men or women who were motivated by factors unrelated to money or immigration.

Work adjustment
The Chinese saying ‘sharing the same bed and having different dreams’ although perhaps being apropos for the romantic relationships described above, is also an excellent metaphor for the way, within a company, people may work together while having different agendas or directions, especially when the company employs foreigners and host nationals. Some of the most common challenges that expatriates are presented

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not, who hasn’t got it on with Chinese girls, or who has not fallen in ‘love’ with Chinese girls, in an easy going way. Because it’s easier, especially if you take into account that in Western countries men before managing to get sex have to take women out, get flowers and dinner … and you never get there … while in China, you have sex first, and you only need to go to dinner afterwards in case you get hungry (laughs) … it’s easier, right? It’s a different type of relationship because a Chinese girl only wants your salary. I don’t want to sound too cynical here, but Chinese girls don’t love foreigners. Chinese girls love the lifestyle you provide. Look, this is something that I have been told by my Chinese friends as well. … It’s a peer relationship, and I don’t see exploitation on either side: I have never seen Western men as victims of these Chinese female predators the way they are depicted by Western women, and I don’t see Chinese women being exploited either in the way they justify themselves as having no alternative, because they do the exact same thing with rich Chinese men.

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Collectivism China is a typical collective country whereas Western industrialized countries tend to be more individualistic societies. Therefore, Chinese people have a strong sense of psychological dependency on a particular social group both within their family and within the workplace. In this sense, the interests of the group have a heavier weighting against personal gains, and group harmony must be preserved at all times by cultivating collective consciousness, advantage and responsibility. Social unity, social support and cautious action are part of Chinese behaviour inside and outside of the office, and people are likely to consider the welfare of others when implementing coping strategies to deal with negative situations (see, for instance, Hsu et al., 2008). Chinese workers are brought up to suppress self-interest in favour of group solidarity while expecting ‘social benefits’ in exchange for the loyalty and conformity offered. Rebecca: in China you have to reach a consensus, I mean you cannot [impose things] … and I have experienced this myself … you can’t say ‘this is how it’s done. Damn it, you have to do it this way!’ (smiles) They will [formally] agree, but they won’t actually do it. If you have to get something approved, you have to call a meeting, listen to everybody’s opinion, and only then say ‘this is how it must be done’ (laughs). You need a consensus: this is important, and it makes them feel important. Keeping in line with Hofstede’s terminology, China is a society within the large power distance category, which means that people accept a hierarchical order according to which everyone has an assigned place.

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with in the workplace include poor communication with local employees, failure to transfer corporate practices from the home to the host country and lack of adjustment to the overall culture. All of these are believed to contribute to the success or failure of expatriate assignments (Caligiuri, 1997; Littrell et al., 2006). Some of the differences in behaviour and social conventions that manifest themselves in the workplace can often become a hindrance to establishing a common modus operandi or acceptable way of working together. In this section we examine some particular aspects of the Chinese business context in more detail before considering how these may negatively affect expatriate work adjustment. Detailed descriptions of common business-related scenarios conclude the chapter.

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Silvana:

When I went back [to China] the second time to work, I clashed with my colleagues at the university because we had to follow their rules, and their rules stated that in order to teach that subject we had to use that specific book in their department because the head professor had studied on that book. … It was two of us [Italian lecturers], and in the end we won our battle by politely making the professor understand that his Italian wasn’t exceptional after all, and that it was fairly old-style – he spoke like an antique book- and that maybe he could give us a chance for a few months and let us try our book. Because of the fact that it was two of us advocating this and we stood our ground, he gave us the opportunity to use both books [his and ours] side by side and our own materials during the lessons. We reached a compromise, which is fairly impressive in China!

The way business is done in China has changed dramatically over the past ten years, and it continues to change and present challenges. Doing business in China was described by one of my interviewees as ‘life boot camp’ or ‘compulsory military service for business’. The Chinese management style He-he management works on the principle of making the past serve the present and making foreign things serve China. It is a managerial science that brings together the reality of China’s reforms and opening-up to a market economy, useful aspects of foreign managerial thought and practice, and the enduring characteristics of China’s ancient cultural heritage. Huang (2008: 7) In Chinese, the first character he means ‘peace and harmony’, while the second he means ‘unity and co-operation’; this term first appeared in the pre-Qin period (before 221 BC) and was afterwards espoused by

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In their private lives and at work people are very concerned with titles, duties, complicated rituals of acknowledging precedence and long-term maintenance of ties of obligation; members of a group or circle behave in a manner consistent with the expected code of conduct. The subtleties of these rituals and interactions are often unstated, and behaviours are orchestrated in a symphony of innuendos and taken-for-granted cultural knowledge, which is often incomprehensible to expatriates.

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He-he management can be summarized as five interconnected links: objective (forecast and target) – information (gather and process) – credibility (honor commitments) – incentive (reward or punish) – adjust (adapt strategies to changing situations). This approach is rather different from what one finds in modern textbooks on management: organize – plan – command – coordinate – control. Non-verbal communication Even body language can vary at work depending on diverse social and national contexts, or (sub)culture-specific non-verbal communication. For instance, in China laughter is not always a sign of happiness and amusement as it is often used to mask embarrassment or uncertainty about how to react to a certain request. Also, showing one’s teeth is traditionally considered rude in China, which is why many girls cover their mouths while laughing. On the other side of the spectrum, silence, which in many Western countries is perceived as an uncomfortable void to be filled, in Asian

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a number of native philosophies such as Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism as it emphasizes the commonly treasured principles of peace, harmony and unity. He-he management practices are rooted in a number of relevant cultural beliefs: Maoist collectivism, which places more importance on group allegiance rather than individual loyalty; Confucian harmony, modesty and respect for authority, which result in avoidance of conflict, criticism and public disagreement; the understanding and cultivation of guanxi, which often result in (a) social/work relationships based on convenience and reciprocity and (b) problem solving that is more driven by ‘whom do we know who can help us solve this’ rather than ‘what can I do’; and the ‘inner circle mentality’ whereby the preservation of insiders’ interests will always be more importance than the outsiders’ regardless of what is right or fair. This style of management pervades the Chinese workplace and yet is often ignored by expatriates there. One of the interviewees mentioned how, for instance, the negotiation process in China is very difficult to handle for foreigners due to its length but also because of the organizational practices related to it, which have been extensively addressed in academic and practitioner-oriented studies (e.g. Tung, 1982; Graham and Lam, 2003; Busato, 2006). The Chinese style of management is embedded in the local culture but tries to cope with the internationalization of business and the fast-changing environment. Huang (2008: 11) highlights the difference between the Chinese and Western style of management:

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Rebecca:

The most difficult thing is understanding Chinese people’s emotions. I mean, while with us Italians you can immediately understand what we think, I mean we are very passionate, instinctive, we show everything on the outside … I don’t understand the Chinese [facial expressions], I don’t understand if they are angry; I always think that they are angry when they speak – I mean yell … and you think ‘Jeez, what did I say [that made you so angry] ?’ I am always afraid that they are arguing, and that’s because I don’t understand their emotions. That hinders me a lot because even though I have a translator, and I understand a few words that allow me to get a general idea of what is being said … it bothers me that I don’t fully understand what they say because their faces … yes their faces … how do you deal with that? They don’t get red; they don’t … I mean you can’t understand [what they think or feel by their facial expressions] … and very often at work if you are a manager, and if you have to control people, it’s important to be able to read between the lines, and you are hindered when you can’t do that, and that’s a difficult thing, I think.

Differences and sources of conflict In terms of differences of approach in the workplace, many participants commented on the fact that Chinese people are indeed more hard working than Italians, but that the latter are more creative and flexible. The Chinese are often seen as too rigid, with a lack of initiative and creativity. However, another frequent comment made by some interviewees

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cultures is often used and interpreted as a sign of considerate reflection and respect. Strategic silence is also extensively used in negotiation to gain information from expatriates. Italians are renowned for ‘speaking’ with their hands; I only appreciated the extent to which this is true when in Italy for a few months with someone who could not speak the local language. The Chinese also have a number of culturally salient gestures which are charged with specific meaning. For example, pointing at one’s nose tip means ‘me/I’; hand gestures for numbers are different from Western ones; when meeting someone older is polite to lower one’s head slightly to show respect; covering the top of one’s fist with the other hand is used to express thanks, or also good wishes if the gesture is repeated in a back-and-forth manner.

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Rebecca:

Mario:

Silvana:

[Chinese people] have a different work culture; they are more hard working, they take their tea to their desks and wouldn’t even think of hanging in a group by the coffee machine to gossip. That’s something I really miss. Italians use their own initiative at work, but they are lazier [than Chinese], and they moan a lot, a lot; they are always complaining about something. Chinese people are hard workers but they have no initiative. Another difference is that Italians are very approximate: they know what they want, but they don’t tell you how to get there. Chinese people on the other hand, want you to tell them what they have to do from A to Z, and I think Italians and Chinese will never understand each other regarding this issue. … This is a difficulty I faced on a daily basis while working as an intermediary between Italians and Chinese: if there is a comma missing, the Chinese will tell you that there is a comma missing, and Italians would reply that if you do one plus one in your head, you will find that it’s obvious that there is a comma missing, and that they have to just add one. However, the Chinese don’t want to do that [use initiative] because they don’t want to make that effort; they don’t want to have that decisional responsibility. Therefore, it’s your job [to know and manage this as an intermediary] because you know enough of how it works [on both sides] to be able to explain that, and that’s when you know if someone is able to work in China. The Chinese way [of working] is very mechanic and schematic. Italians are flexible, and if they need to do something, they may have some initial difficulties, but they will work out a solution one way or the other; they are keen to try to

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who are familiar with Chinese cultural dynamics is that Italians do not understand the need to give specific instructions to their Chinese colleagues in terms of technical and design specifications or processes and final results. Hence, they generally only provide superficial or approximate information and later get very irritated when tasks are not carried out to their standards. Interestingly, some of those who had been sent to China by their Italian organization without any awareness of the Chinese way of doing business claimed that lack of creativity and initiative were two of the challenges they found most difficult to understand and deal with in the workplace.

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learn new things. Chinese people have difficulties because of the way they have been taught how to approach things by memorizing and executing in a mechanical way, and when they find themselves against an unexpected difficulty, they don’t know how to deal with it. Other common sources of conflict or misunderstanding in the workplace mentioned by my interviewees included the fact that Chinese employees tend: (a) to refrain from saying ‘no’; (b) to avoid conflict; (c) to avoid explicit as well as public criticism and expressions of doubt and misunderstanding; (d) not to go beyond what is clearly indicated in their job specification or work ‘the extra mile’; (e) and to ‘play dumb’ to avoid conflict or responsibilities. Andrea: I couldn’t have foreseen the relationship dynamics between supervisors and colleagues [in China]. It took me a really long time, and I actually think that in the end I only partially managed to build a relationship with the (subordinate) colleagues I had, and there weren’t many, only six Chinese. A Western-style relationship whereby the supervisor and colleagues are more or less on the same level, where everyone is free to voice their opinions, whereby you face and solve problems together, talk things through together and then find the best possible solution is just not applicable there. The approach there [in China] is very top down. No, it’s only top down, and that was very fatiguing for me. I remember that, during the first few months, the meetings I organized every two weeks in order to improve quality etc. were always fairly disappointing. That’s because I used to prepare lots of examples, and I used to book the meeting room for an extra 30minute slot, always hoping that there would be discussions etc. But I’d go there, talk about the problem, and I would ask whether they had understood [what I was talking about] and they [replied ] yes, always yes, always, mei wenti (no problem) always. They always looked at me like that [as if they had understood]. I asked if they needed to see more examples or needed me to get into more details about anything, or if there was something in particular they wanted me to cover in the following meeting [but they said no] … also because amongst my responsibilities I was in charge of people’s professional training and development, but that was very fatiguing for
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Avoiding conflict, which is very common in China and amongst other Asian cultures, can sometimes contribute to the establishment and maintenance of harmonious relationships (Ohbuchi and Atsumi, 2010); however, it may be frustrating for expatriates in China, and could become a costly issue when problems are not identified and resolved (Gao, 1998; Tjosvold, Hui and Sun, 2004). Andrea: A thing that used to drive me insane was that they [the Chinese] don’t admit when they haven’t understood something, or how they strive to cover mistakes up and save face, but I am talking about crazy stuff … For instance, I had discussed the same problem with them five or six times already, and nobody had had the guts to say they hadn’t understood, even though they were still making the same mistakes over and over again. I remember a meeting: I am talking about work here, when I went back and retraced all the times I had addressed the same problem in the previous year with the backup of all the slides [I had used in the previous meetings],

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me. [Those meetings] were often monologues, and then after three months, you’d find out that actually the things you had talked about three months before had not been understood, but nobody would dare to admit that or ask for more explanation or say they didn’t know how to implement that. I think that [this obstacle] cannot be easily overcome; it’s just the way it is (laughs). You can accept it if you are aware of it; if you know that when they say they understand, that it’s probably a lie, or you have to take into account that statistically it may not be true and then act accordingly. Maybe you should spontaneously address the same problem again, even if the feedback you previously received would mean that it’s not necessary [to repeat that same concept], but you should still do that because you know that repeating it one extra time won’t hurt (laughs). Professionally these were the things that shocked me: the rhythm, people who sleep during the lunch break on the table and booked the conference room to sleep … no, they didn’t book it: they just went to the meeting room, pulled down the blinds and … and then one day, I went there to take a peep because I was so curious [of what was happening behind the blinds], and there she [one of the employees] was lying on the table, sound asleep.

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In Japan there is a saying ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’, which somehow echoes the Chinese approach to initiative and speaking up against something both socially and in the workplace. Beatrice: Obviously there are problems related to different modus operandi, and that’s something to take into account at work because you can try to improve, but there are some things that will remain the same, so you need to find ways to achieve the best you can get from them knowing that in any case they are not Italian so there are some things you won’t get, and this notion you need to drill into your head. For example, there is no attitude towards problem solving – absolutely none; there is instead the attitude of waiting for someone else to solve the problem. That’s because [in China] initiative is never rewarded; on the contrary, it’s generally condemned, and there is fear due to the punishments they get when they make mistakes. Given that there are no incentives towards being proactive, the practice of waiting something out is common. … In any case they [Chinese colleagues] must be valued; you should always value them and reward them. Reward them in public to give them face about things they did and said and the skills they have, which will make them have trust in you and make a small step towards you. Then yes, you can achieve things, but don’t start by taking things for granted – take nothing for granted. Nothing. Because if it’s not written in black and white in their rule book, you can’t take it for granted because they are great at following orders, great at following orders, but they are not able to take the initiative. And then at work there were these guys whom I realized were very smart, and very often they would play dumb and

Silvana:

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and once I faced them with hard evidence I asked ‘how is it possible that it’s the seventh time [we have this problem] when we have already talked about it on this date and on that date?’ And still, they replied with just a smile (smiles), and this is the thing that drove me crazy. In the end, I said to myself that maybe according to their culture, it is somehow not acceptable [to speak up about things]; maybe it’s their mind frame. They [follow the principle] that if there is something they don’t know, they’ll try to solve it on their own instead of asking a colleague or their supervisor.

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Cross-cultural business communication has been described as a form of applied ethnography given that individuals trying to communicate observe members of another culture very closely in order to make sense of different cultural schemata (Victor, 1992). Language competency is considered a major component not only in terms of general and social adjustment as mentioned before, but also in relation to the workplace as ‘social barriers connected to language differences, due to their relation with nationalism and ethnicity, are known to have a detrimental effect on communication and co-operation regardless of means to communicate’. Lauring and Selmer (2010:271) recognize the role of language in enhancing group cohesiveness on both the emotional and task level; they point out, however, that the real linguistic challenge goes beyond language skills, which in some cases was a discovery for the interviewees in this study. Andrea: [one of the biggest difficulties at work] was in terms of communication because they didn’t communicate. They spoke English pretty well, so it was [a problem] beyond language, it was a matter of … going back to the point [discussed before] of how mistakes wouldn’t be admitted, or how they … another thing I found difficult to adapt to, which I later understood and addressed accordingly, was that in Italy when assigning someone a task we give that person the final objective and then it’s up to that person to get organized and manage themselves in the mid-term phases. There [in China] I found that you have to break down the task into smaller tasks, so I would give you [Chinese employee] the mini-objective A, after which you’d come to see me to tell me how you did, and then we move on to the mini-objective B, so I can’t give you the final objective E from the start [like I would do in Italy], but I must divide that into five smaller phases. [I realized I had to do this] because we would never get things done otherwise; there was so much waste of time, and so I found that it was

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pretend they didn’t understand to get the upper hand in the end. We [Italians] are too naive. I am already naive on my own compared to them, but in general, we are more naive than they are. Maybe it’s also that poverty made them smarter, but it’s terrible because at some point you say ‘damn, I can’t trust them’. Obviously it’s not applicable to all Chinese people. But you still think that you can’t trust them. Ever.

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difficult for them to just grasp the final objective, they need more direction, and I saw that they themselves preferred to have a more strict control imposed on them. Lockett (1988) has identified four key characteristics of Chinese culture that have a deep impact on organizations and business relations: respect for age and hierarchical position, group orientation, the concept of ‘face’ and the importance of relationships. These aspects echo Confucian principles and affect all social interactions as well as work-related behaviour. In a very recent study concerned with the behavioural strategies that Chinese employees implement with Western and Chinese managers in terms of conflict avoidance, Peng and Tjosvold (2011) found that this issue is strongly related to self-face and other-face which prompt Chinese employees to avoid direct confrontation and instead adopt yielding, outflanking, delay, and passive aggression as alternative approaches. Silvana: I met two [Italian] guys, a couple, who work in factories in China in the clothing field, and they were also saying that the thing that annoyed them the most [about working with Chinese people] was having to explain something three times, or even four or five. When you tell them [the Italians] that this is the natural way of doing things in China, they would reply that they don’t want to work with stupid people, but Chinese people are not stupid; you have to tell them many times because they want to be sure that they are carrying out that task they way you told them to and to do it well, so that they don’t get told off or lose face afterwards because that’s how Chinese people are. [It’s positive] even if you just repeat it in the exact same way; they are very repetitive; I have noticed this with my supervisor in China as well. He would tell me the same thing three or four times, and at first I thought ‘Hey I understood the first time’. And then he would tell me again, and then again the following day, and I would reply, ‘I got it!’, and he didn’t answer. That’s because they are used to this, [they repeat things] to make sure that you understood and that you will complete the task the way they told you to. Chinese people also don’t tell you if they don’t understand because otherwise they lose face, right, and then they get embarrassed. They say yes, yes, yes, and then they don’t understand, so it’s good to repeat things three to four times [just in case they haven’t understood but don’t

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National culture and country-specific values have a significant impact on the style of management applied in the workplace and relationships. A number of studies have considered differences in national cultures; for example, in 2006 Gelfand, Nishii, and Raver (Smith, 2011) proposed a model of tight versus loose national cultures whereby loose cultures are those in which people have more freedom to behave in ways they deem appropriate in a certain context and express disagreement. China is clearly not a loose culture, and people do not publicly disagree with each other (in line with the above-mentioned he-he management style) or question authority. Even though it is believed that major cultural distance can have a negative impact on adjustment (Black, Gregersen and Mendenhall, 1992), Szkudlarek (2009) notes how some studies related to the US contradict these findings (Black and Gregersen, 1991). This is in line with Shimoni, Ronen and Roziner, (2005) who found no correlation between cultural distance and adjustment in their study of expatriates in Israel. Other research has suggested that what influences cultural adjustment may be the particular attributes of the home and host environments rather than cultural distance (Szkudlarek, 2010).

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want to admit that], and also even to make them understand things by showing them. [You can’t expect to do things the Italian way in China] because it’s a failure to begin with, and you don’t get anywhere. You become very frustrated. You, the Italian, become frustrated because you will never manage [to persuade them]. Chinese people won’t say no to you, but nonetheless, they won’t allow you to do things the Italian way. They always manage to lead you back to what they want to do, so you get frustrated in vain, and you don’t get anything in return. However, if you, being Italian, don’t impose your own way of doing things but say ‘Ok that’s fine, ok that’s fine’ [show you appreciate what they came up with], and at the same time, you introduce a bit of what you want, things get better, right? I think that’s a winning solution. Also being more understanding and friendly with Chinese people helps you gain their trust and make them do what you want them to do. Work relationships in China require more time, but once you have established good work relationships with your Chinese superiors or colleagues, you can then do anything you want in China.

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Mianzi (face) The word mianzi, refers to the concept of ‘“face” [which] refers to the respect, pride, and dignity of an individual as a consequence of his or her position in society’ (Tse et al., 1988: 83). This is an absolutely crucial idea within the Chinese cultural context and must be attended to in all relationships, inside and outside of the business arena. Face can be gained, given, lost, cultivated and accrued over time. Losing face is a very serious matter in China, which is not easily forgotten or forgiven, and the intricate nuances in relation to the concept of face can often be missed or underestimated by foreigners. In my opinion, the closest corresponding idea to mianzi in the Italian culture is that of ‘honour’ as understood within the southern subcultures, but this concept still does not fully cover the range of implications and innuendos within the concept of mianzi. In China, one can not only lose face but can also accumulate face or give face, which then becomes a precious currency within the guanxi system of social capital. Trying to restore lost face is very difficult, and I would suggest avoiding any attempts to rectify this problem without the help of a Chinese intermediary. Taking into account mianzi in everyday business practices is very important to maintain group harmony and effective relationships at work. Chinese people are usually fairly tolerant of impolite foreigners as they assume that some Chinese practices might be unknown; however, not all business partners or clients may be equally understanding. Therefore, following the proper practices in regards to mianzi might

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As demonstrated in the quoted interview excerpts, Italian managers often need to change the way they work and manage their team in order to adjust to the new environment. They frequently lack clear predeparture information regarding their role or important aspects of their work, which in the case of Italian organizations is also perhaps due to relatively limited experience in China. ‘Role information’ in a new environment includes role clarity, role discretion, role novelty and role conflict (Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2005). Such information would help expatriates have a better approach towards ‘role innovation’ (Nicholson, 1984: 175), which involves a proactive response and reaction to the environment in the host country and involves expatriates trying to change their ‘role requirements so that they can better match his or her needs, abilities, and identity’. Other aspects that expatriates working in China would need to adjust to in addition to new approaches to performing their tasks are relationship building with colleagues (foreigners and host nationals), together with different corporate and national cultures (Triandis, 1994).

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help expatriates earn respect from host country nationals and facilitate business interactions. For instance, the following should be avoided in order to cause faux pas in terms of face: (a) Criticism and conflict towards colleagues, suppliers, clients or counterparts should never be public; in order to ensure that others save face, and accumulate face, criticism in China is done privately, in a tactful and discreet way. On the other hand, one can give face by publicly praising someone or commending their work in front of others. It is also useful to bear in mind that for some reason face given by foreigners seems to carry particular weight. (b) Saying ‘no’ to something without at least pretending to take it into serious consideration should always be avoided. Saving face is one of the reasons why Chinese people tend to avoid saying ‘no’, and Western expatriates should also restrain from any blatant and bold ‘no’, even in situations where one has not even the remotest intention of agreeing to something. It would then be useful to learn some of the techniques and phrases used by the Chinese in this type of situation, such as asking for more time to consider, presenting an excuse that allows all parties to save face, politely suggesting an alternative or simply remaining silent while sucking air through one’s teeth to give the other a chance to re-think the matter and suggest otherwise. Lying or conveying only partial information is in these cases often seen as an acceptable and preferable way of action in order to preserve face and avoid conflict. When conflict is unavoidable, using an experienced Chinese intermediary can help both parties avoid losing face whilst engaging in open and unpleasant face-losing disagreements. (c) As in business negotiations (see below for more details), ignoring the person with the highest rank during a meeting or greeting lower-ranking workers first can be perceived as rude. Mianzi is also connected to one’s status and hierarchy in a company. This is one reason why it is not generally a good idea for foreigners to send project managers or low level managers to meetings with high ranking Chinese officials or managers; having only one person attending a negotiation meeting can be economical, but it will make the Chinese counterpart lose face as it would indicate that the agreement or contract is not important enough for the foreign boss to attend. This type of error can cause resentment, costly delays and difficulties in business. As mentioned before, hierarchies are very strict in China and delegation of power and decision-making tends

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to be very rare; issues will be taken from the delegation back to the boss if he/she is not present, or generally discussed and agreed collectively before a response is given to the foreign counterparts. Expatriates should therefore be prepared to embark on lengthy processes of approval and implementation, a cycle of meetings, and endure the process even when they might have the impression of wasting time and going backwards instead of making progress. China requires understanding, time and patience. (d) Demoting someone or paying them less than others in the company with fewer experience or qualifications will have an impact on their mianzi. This can become particularly frustrating and may result in inefficient human resources management; expatriates should bear in mind the collective nature of work and everyday practices in China. (e) Giving someone a poor or cheap gift can seriously affect one’s mianzi. In China the practice of gift giving is something commonly implemented and very ingrained within business processes. This often makes expatriates uncomfortable as in many cases the line between gift giving and bribery is quite blurred. As usual, consulting a Chinese colleague or intermediary could be beneficial, and nowadays collective as well as smaller individual gifts are commonly exchanged. In my experience, imported goods are very welcome: crystal objects for the office, books with photos of a different country, foreign foods and drinks. Also, items produced by the foreign company, objects with the company logo and technological gifts tend to be appreciated. If visiting somebody’s house, food and fruit baskets are an appropriate choice. I once spent a ridiculous amount of money (for Chinese standards) to buy a really good bottle of red wine for a Chinese business acquaintance; having gone on a trip to a far-away Western deli to find such quality wine, I was quite pleased with my choice. I had not taken into account that most Chinese people are not used to drinking wine, and good imported wine is often too expensive for an average junior manager/clerk salary, so I was quite shocked when my host looked at the bottle, stated that they didn’t own a corkscrew and gave the bottle back to me with a shrug as they wouldn’t have drunk it anyway. It had been silly of me to assume that they drank wine, had something to open the bottle with, and ultimately that they would have appreciated or enjoyed such gift. The result was that they were probably annoyed by the useless gift, and I was myself fairly insulted by the fact that my expensive high quality Italian wine had been rejected and returned.

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Modesty Modesty and a humble attitude are traditionally praised in the Middle Kingdom, and Chinese people are likely to smirk or giggle at foreigners accepting compliments with a ‘thank you’. After my stay in China, it took me years to get back in the habit of simply accepting compliments, as I had learned to respond in a self-denigrating way to any type of praise (whether about my looks, items I had bought, food that I had cooked or compliments at work). Being keqi (polite and well mannered), avoiding arrogance or self-praise, is a very important aspect of effective business communication in China. Therefore, when complimented on one’s fluency in Chinese for instance, or success in a task, it is ritual to display modesty by muttering something like nali nali (which is difficult to translate accurately but can be interpreted as ‘I’m nowhere near that’), or hai chade yuan (‘still a long way to go’), or even by highlighting somebody else’s positive contribution/role. Even though such practices might be perceived as annoying or unnecessary false modesty and hollow flattery, in my experience host country nationals tend to be greatly impressed by the fact that a foreigner understands and uses their code

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Some gifts should be avoided as much as possible due to superstition: anything in sets of four is believed to bring bad luck; gifts that carry any type of association of death or funerals such as clocks, cut flowers and white objects are also poor choices. Finally, scissors, knives and other sharp objects are not well accepted as they symbolize severing relations. (f) Refusing a guest’s invitation is considered unacceptable, both at work and in private visits. Chinese people are incredibly generous hosts, and they will often go out of their way to make foreigners feel welcome. During the five years spent in China, I received a number of invitations from Chinese business partners, friends and even students to visit their hometown, or even have dinner with their families. Hosting a laowai, or being friends with foreigners, is in most cases a source of mianzi. Therefore, Chinese hosts will invest a lot of money in giving expatriates the best treatment they can provide. For Chinese colleagues and friends of modest background this often means spending more than they should, or more than they can afford, so expatriates should be mindful of requesting things that would be too much of an imposition on a middle-class or working-class Chinese family. Clearly, this is not always the case and expatriates might be guests of extremely wealthy Chinese families who have access to seemingly endless resources.

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of behaviour to follow their patterns of communication and appropriate mannerism. Communication with the head office
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Two interviewees mentioned an issue often encountered by a number of expatriate managers while in China: the management of their relationship with headquarters in Italy. I myself have often had more difficulties dealing with Italian or foreign colleagues than Chinese ones. Issues range from having to work in different time zones to the fact that people operating in the home office do not understand how processes function in China and think that Western structures and policies can be followed abroad in an identical way. Bianca: The thing I found very difficult at work was having a relationship with my colleagues in Italy (laughs). The most difficult side [of my job] has always been the relationship with Italians [in the head office in Italy] who are often very short sighted. They can be very generous, but the generation that is currently managing the entrepreneurial system [in Italy] is very often myopic, and therefore, they think that the rest of the world works the way it does in their homes. No, it doesn’t. So the most difficult part has always been explaining my work to my Italian colleagues and making them understand it.

TomcatUSA (2008: 139) explains: These characters who come visiting from the headquarters carrying the solutions to all your problems are affectionately called ‘The Five Stars People’ by us expats. The nickname comes from the fact that these gentlemen apparently come carrying knowledge of everything in their pockets, pretending to have fully understood the Chinese dynamics, staying at five star hotels where they live for about a week pontificating and dispensing advice, after which they go back home having produced nothing interesting at best. That’s if all goes well, otherwise they can cause unthinkable damages! Mario: [One of the difficulties at work] was the distance between the representative offices in China and the headquarters in the country of origin. This cultural distance, which is also feeding from the physical distance, means that people never really understand what problems exist in China. I mean the Western

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Networks When expatriates move overseas their original networks, culture-based knowledge and boundaries may not be something they can count on any longer. This is likely to bring uncertainty and confusion. In order to reduce this uncertainty, expatriates often become ‘boundary spanners’ (Liu and Shaffer, 2005: 236) crossing the boundary between their companies and the external social environment to seek the information they need (Thomas, 1998). They also become a bridge between the home office and the foreign branch or representative office in China. This is often achieved through informal networks of host country nationals and other expatriates that can facilitate knowledge transfer. Moreover, Liu and Shaffer (2005) in their study of Western expatriates in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, confirmed that the very strong emphasis on relationships in China, based on concepts such as reqing and guanxi, makes it even more important for expatriates to develop their social capital. Social capital is established through connections and exchanges and is made of social resources, contact opportunities, social structure, trust, norms, purposive actions and networks. Adler and Kwon’s (2002) model of social capital identified three determinants (opportunity, motivation and ability) which are believed to influence both adjustment and performance. Work-related social interactions and networks are very important to expatriates, especially those who move to the host country on their own, as they help interaction adjustment but also provide a platform for discussion and mentoring. Some recent studies have considered these links and their relation to both personal and work aspects: Wang (2002) has explored how social networks provide a particular type of support which helps promote expatriate psychological well-being and performance, while Au and Fukuda (2002) suggested that the expatriate’s social network structure can facilitate role benefits and job satisfaction. Some of my interviewees have explained how online social networks (especially business-oriented ones

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managers, or even the Chinese one who works in China, never manage to make people [at the headquarters] understand the specific challenges of that country. Actually, it’s true that you can’t get a good idea of China unless you go there, so they [managers in the headquarters] come up with stupid solutions to problems because they want the Chinese to work things out on their own, but in reality that’s not how it works in China, which sometimes is a positive thing, and that’s a reality you have to get used to.

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like LinkedIn) have also helped in terms of social support in relation to their expatriation and repatriation: Beatrice: You find yourself with very few people you can have a conversation with, but recently I have discovered that there is a world [full of people like me], and I have discovered this through the Internet. Thanks to LinkedIn [an online workbased social network], I have discovered that there are people I can talk to, and it’s amazing because finally I am not alone like a stray dog anymore. Maybe expatriates’ feelings of loneliness are decreasing now because of the existence of these communities where people can get in touch online. Things are changing because paradoxically you can establish a community online when you are not able to establish one in real life, especially for those who travel a lot, and I have noticed a big difference: you feel less alone.

Local networks Balancing out relationships between expatriates and the Chinese, as well as cultivating old and new networks, can be a challenging task. Research shows that expatriates with large and diverse networks experience greater adjustment (Olsen and Martins, 2009). Varma et al. (2009) cite a number of studies that recognize how host country nationals can provide both role information and social support, which would benefit expatriates’ transition and adjustment in terms of work and social life. In agreement with an earlier study by Ashforth and Mael (1989), Toh and DeNisi (2003) found that discrimination between in-groups and outgroups can have a very important effect on organizational co-operation and identity. Furthermore, in a later study (2007), they found that host country nationals can often be the catalyst and ‘best on-site trainers’, by providing the expatriate with crucial information; ‘however, the expatriate cannot expect HCNs [host country nationals] to automatically offer the needed information, since helping expatriates is rarely a formal part of an HCN’s job description’ (Varma et al. 2009: 202). Do ut des (I give that you may give) One of the recurring issues indicated by my interviewees as sources of conflict with Chinese nationals, cause for frustration and sometimes failure in terms of social and interaction adjustment, is the general feeling foreigners get from being ‘used’ by their Chinese counterparts without any ethical concern, not only in the workplace, but also in the

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Massimo: There is a perception very common [amongst expatriates] that I partially agree with, which I think is important and will become more important in the future: we are accepted and tolerated in China as long as we can be of use, but we are there to be totally exploited. I mean Chinese people are like this: on the basis of their famous and very often proclaimed ad nauseam 5000-year-long history, they have this enormous pride. So now that China is rich and we are poor, they say ‘come here, work here, yes you are nice’, but at the end of the day, they only want to exploit you, and then they let go, and they do let you go. Clearly, if you work for a foreign company in China, they pay you well, and you stay there, and then you go back to Italy. You try to cope with it [China] because they pay you a lot when you are out there, but generally speaking this is the relationship between foreigners and Chinese: we are just passing by. Then you realize how China really works: do ut des, it’s all Mario: about profit gain. It doesn’t simply affect you; it’s disgusting. It takes away from you any social impetus because then you end up not giving a rat’s arse about anyone anymore because you understand that they are using you, or they want to be used, and it still doesn’t make any sense. It’s not that I have a negative viewpoint towards them; it’s just the type of relationships that are built there. This relationship building out of convenience is what numerous foreigners also engage in while doing business. What seemed to surprise or cause indignation from my interviewees is that, in their opinion, this type of exploitative relationship is also sought by the Chinese in social acquaintances and friendships where Westerners are allegedly more sincere. Clearly, this is not always the case, but perhaps many foreigners fail to connect social dynamics with the idea of inner/outer circles and expect to build close relationships in a short time.

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social sphere of relationships outside of the business context. A study by Carr et al. (2001) suggests that prestige plays a role in relationships between expatriates and host country nationals, which may also be one of the reasons why many expatriates feel that Chinese people often engage with them socially more for the status they gain from this rather than for the pleasure of meeting with them as individuals.

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Negotiations Negotiation styles vary according to cultural backgrounds and are likely to be influenced by political factors, the level of economic development, legal support and local resources available to those involved in the deal. Not only national cultures, but also corporate and professional cultures influence the way business negotiations are conducted by individuals (Bloor and Dawson, 1994). Collier (1997) reports that professional cultures are often fairly independent from national ones, as different professionals may share common ways they conduct business, construct meaning of specific professional symbols and signifiers, relate and communicate with others. In China, as mentioned before, there are a number of socially meaningful and culturally specific norms or values that have a holistic influence on everyday practices, both inside and outside of the workplace. In every culture, such particular business practices influenced by local customs can become sources of misunderstandings and conflict (Sheer and Chen, 2003). Negotiations in the Middle Kingdom have frequently been highlighted by my interviewees and other expatriates as a difficult and often frustrating aspect of doing business in China. Over the past two decades China has become increasingly ‘Westernized’, host country nationals have had the opportunity to engage in numerous negotiations with foreigners, and researchers as well as practitioners have developed guidelines and resources to improve mutual understanding. However, effective negotiations still appear to be a challenge for individuals operating in China. Kale (1996) highlights how the increased globalization and internationalization of businesses in the late 1990s has greatly influenced negotiation practices; it is, however, unlikely for the impact of national cultures and local practices to be decreasing as a result, especially in the case of China. Notwithstanding the more frequent and more informed cross-cultural exchanges in the business field, it is still crucial for expatriates to understand how the Chinese approach, manage and carry out negotiations. Sheer (2000) reports how, in cross-cultural negotiations with China, various aspects affect negotiations: the international trading culture, Chinese values, and China’s economic, political and managerial environments. Sheer and Chen (2003) have identified five groups of cultural factors are that are relevant and useful in analysing mainland Chinese negotiators’ behaviour in international business negotiations: (a) Communication practices. These include the overt representations and manifestations of meaning, the outer layer of ‘the onion of

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(b)

(c)

(d)

(e)

culture’, including both linguistic and non-verbal communication. For instance, the nature and characteristics of the Chinese language, the different sentence structure, the lack of declinations and conjugations, often make the ambiguity of meaning difficult to understand for those who are not sinologists or use non-professional interpreters or translation. Moreover, the Chinese tendency to avoid saying ‘no’ might also lead to conflict and misunderstanding in negotiations. Adler, Brahm and Graham (1992) highlight the fact that differences in communication style are significant across dissimilar cultures may also affect Sino-Western negotiation processes (Chinese and American negotiations practices, for example, have been repeatedly mentioned as conflicting and challenging to manage). Core cultural values. These obviously are shaped by philosophies such as Confucianism and Taoism. Religions like Buddhism also inform people’s behaviour, as do Christian values and moral codes of conduct influence many aspects of people’s lives in Italy and other Western countries. It is important to recognize that philosophies, literature, political developments, religion and codes of conduct influence society and individuals not only on a personal and social level, but also in the business sphere. For instance, ethical dilemmas, bribery, amoral practices, ‘green’ practices and interpersonal relations may all regarded and implemented differently, as per one’s national, corporate and personal values. Social hierarchies. Operating in a very hierarchical society, expatriates in China must take into account the fact that negotiators are often not able to share their opinion, make decisions and finalize plans at the meeting. The real decision-making process will more commonly happen ‘behind the scenes’ as those in higher hierarchical positions might not be attending the actual meeting, must be briefed by delegates and consensus must be established before any plans are taken forward. The use of titles, formalities, not looking at the interpreter during the meeting but at the relevant party, giving face and the establishment of appropriate guanxi are all related to hierarchy and if not handled appropriately can be of significant hindrance to business negotiations. Business practices. According to Sheer and Chen (2003), these entail pragmatism, materialism and a code of ethics; such practices are clearly strictly influenced and interdependent with the previous groups, but are related to the business sphere of action in particular. System constraints. These include a variety of factors that influence business negotiations: political climate, economic and legal

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development, material resources, infrastructures and so on. For instance, in China the involvement of the Party is part of business deals; also, in remote areas Internet connections, road systems, hygiene facilities can all provide challenges to the establishment or implementation of new business projects. Being able to conduct professional and effective negotiations involves a skill set that not all expatriates and entrepreneurs possess, and in some cases it might be more appropriate for expatriates to recognize one’s limitations in a specific cultural context and use a colleague (preferably a Chinese one joined by a foreigner at his side) or employ a trusted consultant to negotiate and conclude the deal. Kremenyuk (1993) identifies the following as indispensable skills of effective negotiators: competence in the professional culture of negotiation, qualities such as knowledge of process and procedures, awareness of past precedents, and acquaintance with and knowledge of other delegations. In the case of China, I would highlight the importance of experience in loco and of understanding of country-specific values, practices and ‘the Chinese way’. Negotiating in the Middle Kingdom can be very confusing, even for seasoned expatriates, due to lack of understanding of the Chinese dynamics, but also due to the fact that China is changing rapidly and merging its traditional practices with new ones aimed at taking full advantage of the increased volume of foreign business interest in that area of the world. Mario: I had so many arguments [with Chinese businesspeople] … because I would complete a negotiation that had lasted a week, then we would write a letter of agreement … but still there was no way of actually concluding the process: [the Chinese would say] ‘Let’s meet again in ten days and draw the contract’. We would agree after having gone through an exhausting negotiation process … but after ten days they would come up and ask for more discount … I wanted to strangle them! [The negotiation process] is worse than bargaining in the street markets! … you have the impression that you are always missing some information, I know a lot of entrepreneurs who feel like this. I got used to it, but that’s that: you can have as many signed contracts in the drawer as you want, but don’t fool yourself until you actually have the money in your pocket. This is one of the very bad things that used to happen and still happens today to a minor extent. There are no ethics. I don’t know if it’s ignorance or a cultural matter.
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As mentioned in the previous quote, it is often quite difficult to gather all necessary information when negotiating in the Middle Kingdom. This is due to a strategy commonly implemented by the Chinese, who generally do not disclose the main goals they hope to achieve in the deal, and certainly not at the beginning. Foreigners tend to state their objectives clearly from the beginning, whilst the Chinese tend to share their needs bit by bit. Expatriates should engage in research prior to embarking on a deal, to understand what strengths, weaknesses and needs their counterparts are likely to have, and what they might be interested in beyond the actual deal, whether it is technological knowhow, machinery, materials or something else. Chinese negotiators are very skilled, and are likely to focus on ‘decoy goals’, that are not actually important for their company and that they are willing to compromise on, in order to gain bargaining power on other more crucial goals that they hope to gain at a later stage in the negotiation. Foreign negotiators cannot take matters at face value in China, as negotiating there is a game of waiting, understanding more than is said, faking un/interest, time wasting and concessions. This is one of the reasons why negotiations take time in China, months or even years, and expatriates are likely to make more concessions that they had planned due to tiredness, emotional distress and desire to close the deal. Another point raised in the previous testimonial from one of my interviewees is the fact that agreement is not actually binding or definite: it is common in China to go back to reconsider aspects, clauses and particulars that had already been agreed on before. This tends to frustrate expatriates that fear to be stuck in a cyclical process that leads nowhere. The Chinese repeatedly make evasive comments, bluff, exaggerate, stall deals or trap communication in culture-specific innuendos that tend to be either ignored or underestimated by Westerners, which is why it is crucial to always have someone with local expertise and understanding at the negotiating table. As I mentioned before, the real decision-maker within the Chinese delegation might not be attending the meeting, or might be a silent participant. In case of an impasse in the negotiation, it might be advisable for the foreign and Chinese bosses to resolve the issue personally, usually in one or more private meetings constellated by sociable talks aimed at developing a process of trust building and information sharing about one’s family, background, culture, intentions, friendliness and similarly personal matters. Decisions on important aspects during a negotiation process in China frequently happen away from the official

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negotiating table and are matured during break times, in additional side meetings, over dinners or social evenings at the karaoke as these activities are all part of building that connection which is necessary in order to establish a good business relationship in China. Generally speaking, Chinese businesspeople tend to avoid show of emotions, but outbursts of indignation and walkouts are not uncommon in both street market bargaining and top-level negotiations of millionaire contracts. It is all part of the negotiation game, but it must be remembered that those expressed by the Chinese are usually planned display of emotions that are not going to cause others a loss of face. While such shows of dissatisfaction from the foreign delegation can result in concession from the Chinese, they can also be fatal to the overall negotiation if handled in the wrong way and with poor cultural sensitivity. I myself witnessed the complete failure of a potentially very lucrative deal caused by lack of understanding in this matter due to an expatriate’s inappropriate display of negative emotions. In my experience, what makes a negotiation fail in China rarely is a question of price, which however tends to be the main focus of Westerners. Nonetheless, price is a central matter in business negotiations, and foreigners should make themselves familiar with the rules of price compromises and concessions in China and the practice of going back and forth with several counter-offers. In Italy and most Western countries the signature on a contract is synonym with a completed deal. Not so in China. There, a contract is more of a milestone on the road rather than the end of the journey. Contracts, details and deadlines are likely to be changed, which can be frustrating; in some cases, it can however become beneficial to the expatriate as changes to a developing system or product can be later incorporated. The contract in China is in a way a snapshot of what the circumstances, understanding and possibilities were on the day of the signature; foreigners will have to keep working after the signing of the contract in order to ensure that those specifications are understood, followed and implemented. Unlike Western cultures that perceive time and tasks in a linear way, the Chinese have a more holistic and circular approach to the negotiation process, which is one of the reasons why it is acceptable to consider several issues at the same time, re-think points that had been agreed as nothing is decided and settled until everything is. Nowadays, a great number of Western enterprises try to find fortune in China, which creates a climate of great competition; the Chinese are rightfully taking advantage of this situation, and it is essential for expatriates

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who want to be successful in the Middle Kingdom to understand how to develop durable and effective business relations in China. Mario: The fact is that now Chinese people are worse than Arabs; they make a contract with you to buy and spend maybe a million Euros, and then you find out that they did the same with your competitor on the other side of the road.

Graham and Lam (2003) compare American and Chinese ways of negotiating (the former are likely to share numerous of their negotiating skills and techniques with other Western populations) by identifying eight central elements of the process: guanxi (personal connections), zhongjian ren (the intermediary), shehui dengji (social status), renji hexie (interpersonal harmony), zhengti guannian (holistic thinking), jiejian (thrift), mianzi (face) and chiku nailao (endurance and perseverance). Whilst Americans keep non-business-related meetings short and informal, their counterparts draw on intermediaries to start a more formal ‘courting’ business process; members of the American delegation tend to have more negotiating power, lead with business objectives and speak more directly than their counterparts; persuasion in the US tends to be achieved through questioning, and aggressive sales pitches, whilst the Chinese would resort to lengthy explanations that often test the others’ patience; finally, even though establishing a good rapport might take time in the Middle Kingdom, the agreement is aimed not only at the achievement of an immediate and commercially convenient business deal, but also at the forging of a long-term relationship (Graham and Lam, 2003: 4). Business meals In China, business is done not only in the meeting room, but also at the dinner table and on social occasions, the latter often including karaoke television (KTV ). I was terrified the first time I had to attend a business dinner in the Middle Kingdom. Knowing how many rules Italians have about table etiquette (involving body posture, use and placement of cutlery and napkin, turns and timings of eating) I was very concerned about offending my Chinese hosts. So I did the best thing one can do in such situation, given that other expatriates seemed to be oblivious of any meal etiquette and practices: I asked advice from my Chinese friends and colleagues whom I knew had engaged in business meals at this level before. After a few years I learned many more subtle habits and rules, but I wish I had received better guidelines on how to behave before my first business meal in China.

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Meals in China are not just about eating, and they are not something to be quickly got through before resuming business talks. It is important for foreigners to follow proper etiquette whilst inviting guests and choosing the appropriate location. The wrong invitation format, or the wrong response to it, can cause misunderstandings; for instance, rather than readily and enthusiastically accepting an invitation, in China it is polite and shows respect and humbleness to refuse in the first instance and say that one doesn’t want to trouble the host (this also means that expatriates should not be offended by these ritual rejections). The invitation is then repeated once or twice again and accepted. Foreigners who invite people for a meal in China should bear in mind that very often restaurant menus do not have English translations or pictures, so they might want (or need) to take a Chinese-speaking colleague with them to help with ordering. It is also good practice to reciprocate after a business meal, so expatriates should always factor this in when organising business trips to allow sufficient free time in the itinerary. Chinese people eat their meals quite early compared to Mediterranean countries, so it is common practice to have lunch around 11:30–12:00 and start dinner around 18:00. China is sometimes called ‘the country of bureaucracy and etiquette’ as there are many unspoken innuendos in terms of appropriate behaviour, and expatriates often fail to understand these. Etiquette (lijie) helps the Chinese ensure external group harmony. There aren’t as many table etiquette rules and restrictions in China as there are in Italy, but it is still important for foreigners to understand and follow Chinese practices. In many Western countries entertaining work colleagues at one’s home is a common practice, while in China business meals are more generally organized at restaurants. Nevertheless, if expatriates are invited to a Chinese home, they should remember to take off their shoes by the entrance (slippers are often provided for guests) and compliment the host on their home. If the meal is at a restaurant, upon arrival it is often assumed that the hosts will wait at the table, which is often located in a separate ‘VIP’ room. It is common to have individual enclosed rooms for business meetings in restaurants, karaoke bars and tea-houses where attendees can enjoy more freedom and privacy. The host will usually arrive at the venue a bit early to ensure all has been arranged according to plan, but if both parties arrive at the dinner venue at the same time, it is expected that the guest with the highest ranking is invited to enter the room first (a bit like the continental ‘ladies first’, but applied to status and rank rather than gender). It is generally expected for subsequent guests to enter the room in hierarchical order. After the greetings, and exchange of

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business cards with people who are not known to each other, it is customary to stand for a few minutes making small talk or introductions. Due to the strict seating procedures that are linked to ranking, a list of participants and their titles is often required by the host before the meal. The seating plan requires equal consideration. First of all, one shouldn’t be fooled by the round table: it does not imply a King Arthur type of equality in terms of hierarchy and status. The best seats are those facing the door, and the foreign guest of honour will usually sit next to the Chinese boss (or the person with the highest ranking within the Chinese delegation). Then the seats will be assigned following rank, with the lowest ranking guest sitting opposite the guest of honour, with their back to the door. I would suggest waiting to be seated when acting as a guest, or seeking advice from Chinese colleagues when one is hosting the dinner. At the dinner table the napkin, in China, is not to be placed across one’s lap; usually, the napkin is found next to the plate, folded in a fancy and more artistic way, or with one corner of the napkin placed under the plate, as it is custom to leave it hanging off the table diagonally. Common dinner settings include a large plate, small plate and small bowl, a small teacup (without handles), a glass and chopsticks (often with a chopsticks holder). At the beginning and the end of the meal attendees are likely to be given a hot damp, often scented, towel with which to refresh their hands and face (particularly effective and pleasant during the summer). After these are collected by the waiters, the highest ranking person amongst the hosting group will invite people (usually the highest ranking counterpart) to begin enjoying the starters. Etiquette would advise the foreigner to mock-protest and invite the host to eat first; after these initial invitations, waiters and waitresses take over serving of the food (there will be no need to re-enact this ritual with every new dish, even though the most important guest will often be offered first pick). It is important to note that the other people sitting at the table should not start eating too early before the guest of honour or before the host signals for everyone to start. In China dishes are shared and placed in the centre of the table (often on a revolving elevated piece of round glass sometimes called a ‘Lazy Susan’), which is a great opportunity to taste different dishes and rely on ‘safer’ options. In terms of food and manners at the dining table, there are some further rules to remember: (a) Women should avoid wearing clothing that is too revealing. (b) Guests should regularly praise the food they like throughout and at the end of the meal (although may find that any dish that receives

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(c) (d)

(e)

(f)

I find Chinese food, real Chinese food (not what is commonly available in restaurants outside of China), absolutely delicious. However, I have had to endure the sight, and in most cases the taste, of a number of what an Australian friend used to call UCF (Unidentified Chinese Food), or simply things that I would not put in my mouth even if someone paid me a fortune to do so. I tend to be quite adventurous in terms of food, but even I have limits. I have never (knowingly) had any type of larvae or insects; I have avoided dog, but I have to admit that snake is quite tasty (in a soft chicken sort of way) and the related snake blood/bile liquors did not kill me either. Expatriates are able to see all sorts of fried meats in food streets where scorpions, crickets or unidentified meat skewers are quite common, and blocks of solidified blood are also a normal sight in restaurants that serve huoguo (a delicious soup that can be ordered mild or hot and spicy) amongst other delicacies. Foreigners should also bear in mind that in China smoking is allowed basically everywhere and very often at the dinner table. I have unfortunately seen people smoke in elevators, hospital corridors, with infants around and in restaurants. ‘Good’ Chinese women traditionally don’t smoke or drink, but many believe foreign women to be generally more intemperate and such behaviours are more tolerated from them. Practicing one’s chopsticks (kuaizi) skills beforehand might be beneficial for expatriates (there are preferred and more polite ways of holding and using chopsticks, just as with forks) as many restaurants in China may not have Western cutlery. One of the main rules in Chinese table etiquette is not to stick the chopsticks vertically in the bowl of rice or

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enthusiastic praise, will be remembered and subsequently appear at every banquet they attend organized by that host). The Chinese host is likely to engage in the ritual of apologizing for serving a meagre and simple meal, which is again a (generally fake) display of humility. Serving one’s neighbours some of the choicest morsels is considered a sign of respect and/or friendship. Touching food with one’s hands is considered impolite, so expatriates should avoid that as much as possible, and also restrain from picking up food that has fallen on the floor. Foreigners should ‘pace themselves’, as to stop eating in the middle of the meal might suggest to the hosts that they have offended their guests. Refusing food is considered impolite, but it could also be interpreted as ritual refusal. If something is offered that the guest really can’t stomach, generally speaking one should accept, but avoid eating it.

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1. Small dishes of cold appetizers like peanuts (an interesting display of one’s chopsticks skills), pickled vegetables and similar foods that are to be eaten at the very beginning while waiting for the main dishes. 2. The main courses, usually involving meat, fish and some vegetables cut in small pieces (it is very common for meat to be served on the bone). Ordering seafood is often perceived as a sign that the host is willing to ‘invest’ in the business relationship, as it tends to be a bit more expensive. It is quite common to see Chinese people spitting unwanted shells, bones and other bits of unwanted food on the table next to their plate. However, food is usually handled with chopsticks, not hands. Noise (burps, slurps and so on) produced while eating is not considered bad manners as there also seems to be a predilection for chicken feet, bone marrow and other types of food that can be sucked or nibbled off. 3. Soup (which is sometimes served earlier) and starchy food (dumplings, rice or noodles) are usually provided towards the end of the meal, so expatriates should not expect to see these at the beginning or in conjunction with the main courses. Chinese people consider it a waste to fill one’s stomach with starchy food when one can have protein instead.

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noodles, as that is associated with funeral practices. When not in use, chopsticks are laid on the holder next to the plate, or just placed together and aligned on the table in its absence. Chopsticks should not be used to move bowls and plates (even though it might be difficult to reach the desired dish in the centre) and they should not be waived about, pointed at people or banged against plates and bowls; food should not be ‘impaled’ with chopsticks; and it is impolite to use one’s chopsticks to ‘dig’ in common plates searching for the best piece of food. In Chinese meals the order and types of food will vary according to the geographical area, and usually there will be at least one dish per attendee. In formal dinners the meal is usually pre-ordered, and it is very important for the host to show generosity whilst ordering food, so the guests should reassure him/her that the dishes ordered were more than enough. It is good manners not to finish everything on one’s plate (or take the last piece on a dish) to show that the amount was indeed satisfactory, but guests should also avoid leaving too much leftover food on the plate as that would be considered lanfei (a waste). In informal gatherings, it is quite common to have the leftovers as dabao (takeaway in plastic containers). In formal business meals expatriates can generally expect to find dishes in the following order:

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4. Sweets (which often include sweet soups and small cakes with red bean filling) and fruit usually close the meal. Watermelon and other sliced fruit are generally served with toothpicks. Dishes will normally have spoons or chopsticks to be used by those at the table to serve food from the dishes in the centre of the table to their own bowl or plate. However, it is not uncommon for hosts to pick food with their own chopsticks and place it on their guest’s plate. This practice, which has surprised or even disgusted many of the expatriates I have met in China, is actually meant as a great display of friendliness, as the host picks the best mouthful or piece of food for the guest as a treat. Clearly, showing disgust or not eating the food would be extremely impolite. Drinking during business meals Drinking practices are something that foreigners must learn and understand while doing business in China. The habit of toasting is done in a very different way from Western customs. At the beginning of the meal, there usually is a general welcome toast given by the host that involves some auspicious statement for future collaborations; that toast is reciprocated and echoed by the guest of honour. During the meal it is common for individuals to toast a specific person at the table (which will give them face) to show respect by saying a few words (like ‘President Zhu, I toast you, I am glad to be sharing this evening with you’ or some other polite statement) and touching each other’s glasses. While touching glasses, one should drop their own glass a little so that the rim of their glass is lower than the other person’s rim, to show humbleness and respect. If seated at a larger table, raising glasses is also acceptable in place of touching glasses across the table. If seated at different tables, the principal host and guest should go to each other’s tables at some point during the evening to toast each other. This type of toasting will happen throughout the night, and toasts should be reciprocated with people of appropriate rank. Guests should never fill their own glasses; the people sitting next to them should be responsible for this, whether male or female. The infamous ganbei (‘bottoms up’) can constellate the evening, and drunkenness is quite common during business meals in China, so once the drinking starts it is difficult to limit it. If guests stop drinking alcohol during the meal, the Chinese host is likely to think that they have offended the laowai (foreigner) in some way. Foreigners can, however, provide excuses to avoid drinking (such as ‘my doctor requires me

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Topics of conversation Filling a couple of hours with conversation can be challenging, even when using interpreters. First of all, foreigners should never make unpleasant remarks at the dinner table while assuming that nobody speaks their language, as that is often not the case. Also, comments ‘off the record’ should be avoided as in China hardly anything coming from a laowai is really off the record. Business meals and social events are used to establish better relationships to cultivate guanxi, and generally one does not speak of work (or at least not before the fish dish is served, as some say). These occasions might also be a way to meet and impress the top-level managers of large Chinese companies, in case they had been ‘too busy’ to attend previous smaller meetings. Good topics to pursue should be fairly straightforward: travel, holidays, family and traditions, praise of each other’s cultures, history and food, language attempts, references to Chinese literature (I remember impressing my Chinese counterpart by reciting classic poems by Li Bai and Wang Zhihuan) or compliments about the other country in general. Some topics commonly challenged and discussed in the West should however be avoided in China: • Politics in general, critique of political leaders, any satire or criticism towards the government and its policies, treatment of political ‘dissidents’ • Sex and homosexuality • Religious beliefs • Human rights and the death penalty • Tibet and Taiwan

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to avoid alcohol’, or ‘I am allergic to alcohol’) this must however be matched by consistent behaviour before and after the meal. Expatriates should be aware of baijiu, which is a very strong alcoholic drink similar to Italian grappa, which can have a scorching effect on throats (and minds, as many have been known to agree to more than they had planned to under its influence). The meal is usually over when the host stands up or invites people to go back home and rest. Thank you cards or calls after the meals are not necessary, as one gives thanks by reciprocating the invitation. Drivers are often also invited to eat at the restaurant, but in a separate room which must be arranged beforehand. Photographic sessions to commemorate the event and exchanges of small gifts are quite common. The host usually pays the bill in private after everyone else has left.

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• Anything that can be controversial or embarrassing or a way of losing face Karaoke
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I am very biased regarding this topic as I feel a profound dislike towards karaoke and I am not a very good singer to start with. This practice is, however, so widespread in China that I cannot fail to mention it, especially as it is connected to the business world and expatriates are likely to find themselves facing a microphone sooner or later. The Chinese seem to love KTV, or karaoke. Very often, after business meals, the host will invite his or her guests to continue the evening at a karaoke club. There are different levels of classiness and questionable secondary business practices happening in these places, but the evening will mostly involve drinking (again) and singing. Karaoke places in more modern and cosmopolitan cities are likely to have foreign songs, but some only have a Chinese repertoire. I learned a few classic songs in Chinese (my business counterparts tended to be considerably older than me, so modern pop or hip-hop style ones did not really seem appropriate), tried not to butcher a few trusted English ones, braced myself and gave it a go. I still hated it, but it is important to be a good sport in China, act friendly and remember that it is all part of networking, building guanxi and ultimately doing business.

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No Place Like Home
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Make happy those who are near, and those who are far will come. Chinese proverb

Home and away
In cultural anthropology the term ‘liminality’ refers to a transitional or indeterminate state between stages of a person’s life, which may be culturally defined. Liminality can also manifest itself in terms of spaces. I asked my interviewees if they had felt at home in China and what ‘home’ means for them. Ahmed (1999: 330) suggests that home is not a building but the place where people deal with the intricacies of their ‘belonging’ in relation to their surroundings both in a physical and emotional way. Home is here, not a particular place that one simply inhabits, but more than one place: there are too many homes to allow place to secure the roots or routes of one’s destination. It is not simply that the subject does not belong anywhere. The journey between homes provides the subject with the contours of a space of belonging, but a space which expresses the very logic of an interval, the passing through of the subject between apparently fixed moments of departure and arrival. After about one and a half years in China, I myself started struggling with the term ‘home’ and its meaning. I would say ‘going back home’ referring to Italy, but I would also say ‘finally home’ upon return to my apartment in Shanghai. I still have that problem now that I live
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in England, but throughout the years I have learned that in my heart I have two homes, because for me ‘home’ is not only where I live, but also where my loved ones are, which now means Italy and the UK, while back then it meant Italy and China. Ahmed (1999: 330) further explains: In some sense, the narrative of leaving home produces too many homes and hence no Home, too many places in which memories attach themselves through the carving out of inhabitable space, and hence no place in which memory can allow the past to reach the present (in which the ‘I’ could declare itself as having come home). The movement between homes hence allows Home to become a fetish, to become separated from the particular worldly space of living here, through the possibility of some memories and the impossibility of others. In such a narrative journey, then, the space which is most like home, which is most comfortable and familiar, is not the space of inhabitance – I am here – but the very space in which one finds the self as almost, but not quite, at home. I decided to ask my interviewees whether they had ever felt ‘at home’ in China and how they would define the concept of ‘home’. Interestingly, some of the interviewees seemed to differentiate between feeling at home, home and Home (‘with a capital H’, as they said). Some said for example that they felt at home in China, but Home had always been Italy. Also, it should be noted that in Italian the same word (casa) is used to say ‘house’ and ‘home’, which may influence the way people expressed themselves regarding this matter. Only one person said that they had never felt really at home in China, while another said they felt at home ‘maybe at the beginning when I was in Hong Kong [not in mainland China], but I’ve always seen it [the assignment] as a temporary thing, with the check-in bags already packed. I mean it was not [home] with a capital H, but I was OK there; I had my things and my house.’ Peltonen (1999) suggests that as the home unit loses some of its hold in ordering the identity of expatriates, they may acquire more space and freedom for self- reflection. ‘One can even begin to feel everywhere chez soi, “at home” – but the price to be paid is to accept that nowhere will one be fully and truly at home’ (Bauman, 2004: 14). As shown in the Tables 8.1 and 8.2, 83 per cent of the interviewees said they felt at home in China, albeit at different stages (it is worth noting that 53 per cent of those said it happened immediately).
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Expatriates in China Table 8.1 Feeling at home No. of answers 83% 53% 9% 13% 5% 20% 17%

Did you feel at home in China? Yes Immediately After some time After I established friendships Just before leaving When I moved into my own apartment No

Table 8.2

Definitions of ‘home’ No. of answers 33% 28% 28% 11%

Define the concept of ‘home’ It’s where I feel good Where I have the relationships closest to me (‘affetti’) Wherever I am Where I grew up

When I asked them to define the concept of home, they differentiated between four ideas: where they feel good, where the people closest to them are (friends and family), wherever they find themselves at the time and where they grew up. Paolo: Now when I say, ‘I am going back home’ I mean to both XXX [city in Italy] and Shanghai (smiles). … Every time I go back to China now I feel ‘at home’, meaning that I feel at ease, I don’t feel like I am in a foreign country.

Expatriate identity
Identity and in-betweenness The aspects and phases identified within the models of adjustment discussed in the previous chapters leave out issues related to identity. Even though this book focuses on adjustment involved with the expatriation process and matters in relation to identity are not a central concern, some understanding of the relevant concepts seems to be of interest to the expatriation experience. Alvesson, Ashcraft and Thomas (2008: 5) have commented on the broadness of this subject: ‘identity … can be

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Paolo:

Sometimes I used to ask myself: who have I become? What am I doing here [in China]? And I didn’t find an answer. That was when I could no longer stand it [living in China], when things become so difficult and frustrating that the silliest thing [causes a crisis].

The concept of identity has become increasingly debated in many different fields: human and social sciences, sociology and linguistics, cultural anthropology, psychology, politics, history and many more. Many researchers such as Pizzorno (2007) and Rossi (2007) highlight the difficulty in pinpointing the nature of identity and in giving a definition of this rich concept. Historically, identity has moved throughout the centuries from a static exclusive concept to a more transformational idea. In this book, identity is seen as having continuity throughout time without excluding a degree of mutation and development in an ever-evolving mixture between permanency and variation. Connerton (1989: 22) states that ‘our past history is an important source of our conception of ourselves; our self-knowledge, our conception of our own character and potentialities, is to a large extent determined by the way we view our past actions’. Jameson (2007) explains how individual identity can be classified as objective identity (birth certificate, tax returns and other information which is often found on official documents) and subjective identity (a sense of who we are as people). Subjective identity also includes both personal (encompassing unique aspects of oneself such as personality traits, style and spirit) and collective identity (derived from formal or informal membership in groups).

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linked to nearly everything: from mergers, motivation and meaningmaking, to ethnicity, entrepreneurship and emotions, to politics, participation and project teams’. Identity issues have become of particular interest within organizational studies as evidenced by Bartels et al.’s (2007) suggestion that ‘few contexts compare to the modern organisation in terms of their ability to highlight identity issues’. The available literature on identity has developed so significantly that Ybema et al. (2009, inter alia) now refer to ‘identity studies’ as a distinct discipline. In this research, identity is considered as internal and external, continuous and changing, personal and social, conscious and unconscious, and actively and passively formed. Remotti (2010: 33) points out how, in the 20th century, the concept of identity involves the rather static idea of individual ‘substance’ but also that of the socially transforming ‘subject’.

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Paolo:

If you took my experience of China out of my life story then I would be a different person for sure. I have been dealing with China for the past 13 years or so, since 1997, so it’s almost half of my entire life. I could not be the person I am today without China, I couldn’t do what I do and be what I am in every aspect of my life.

Kim (2001) explains how cross-cultural adaptation results in intercultural transformation, which involves intercultural identity, functional fitness and psychological well-being. Adler (1975) and Bennett (2004) also confirm that transitional experiences can indeed cause a change of identity. This idea is echoed by Peltonen (1998) and Kohonen (2004, 2005) who suggest that expatriate experiences as well as transitional cross-cultural changes could cause a change of selfhood and identity. The conditions surrounding the practice of contemporary management are often linked with the concept of identity, and studies on managerial and expatriate identity often overlap empirically with studies related to organizational identity. Moreover, it seems obvious that the importance of individual constructions of work identities goes beyond the singular and is crucial to organizations, especially those which operate on an international level. Jameson (2007: 202) stresses the importance of understanding not only foreign cultures but also one’s own cultural identity, and suggests that paying attention to understanding one’s own cultural background does not reduce the need to understand the cultural backgrounds of others. The internationalization of business practices has significantly contributed to the creation of a new series of

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Both cultural and social aspects are included in collective identity, the former focussing on a more historical and enduring perspective, the latter being based on a specific time and place (Jameson, 2007). In my idea of a person’s identity, the ‘stable components’ ( Jameson, 2007: 219) of developmental and cultural identity are what stay closer to the ‘core’ of one’s identity, while the variable components of cultural identity together with social identity make up that area of one’s identity that can be more easily affected by change. People’s individual cultural identity is ‘the sense of self derived from formal or informal membership in groups that impart knowledge, beliefs, values, attitudes, traditions, and ways of life’ (Jameson, 2007: 200). It is therefore understandable how adjustment to a new country through a long expatriation process can be a radical experience causing changes (more or less closer to the core) in one’s identity.

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terms related to identity such as cosmopolitan, transnational and global identity. This also involves processes of identification and ‘othering’ as suggested by Ybema et al. (2009: 36): [I]dentities emerge through the articulation of similarities and differences. Enactment involves the discursive separation of ‘self’ from the ‘other’ and it seems that an intrinsic part of the process by which we come to understand who we are is intimately connected to notions of who we are not and, by implication, who others are (and are not). Individual and social identities are inevitably intertwined and inform each other (Alvesson, Ashcraft and Thomas, 2008). Kärreman and Alvesson (2004) specify that the difference between roles and social identities is in the meaningfulness of the latter for the individuals, while the term ‘role’ in this book refers to both concepts. Social identities are acquired through processes of identification (Pratt, 2000) and used to make sense of the environment and how the individual relates to it; they are forms of affiliations with groups that are also charged with emotions and meanings (Pratt, 2000). In a study that is focussed on migrants’ identity, and could, in my opinion, be applied more specifically to expatriate identity as it is still a form of migration, Losi (2010: 11) explains how migrants are not representative of their own original culture, but are individuals who assemble (consciously or unconsciously) different cultures and become ‘hybrids’. Blurring the boundaries My experience in terms of identity is similar to what Paolo described before: China is inextricably intertwined with the fabric of my life and the construction of my self throughout the years. For many years, I was called by friends and family ‘la cinesina’ (‘the little Chinese one’). China and my experience there are a huge part of who I am, the way I relate to people and how I approach problems. The years spent studying Chinese first and living in Shanghai afterwards have shaped my identity in a way comparable only to my relationship with my family. Losi (2010) identifies the migratory experience as having a life of its own, given that the different stages in the human lifecycle (birth, childhood, adolescence, youth, marriage, parenthood and death) are reproduced together with the related rite of passage (detachment/departure, arrival, integration, return); he also sees migrants as being more frail due to their being suspended between two environments as modern real-life Charons who go back and forth between two worlds. In line

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with the data collected by Kohonen (2008: 324) in a study of Finnish expatriate identity and also during the interviews done for this study, the cross-cultural adjustment was regarded as hard or even painful. Sometimes the host culture also seemed seductive and, in some respects, served to fulfil some unarticulated dreams. An emotional involvement with the host culture was detectable, which contributed to the shaping of the interviewees’ personal and work identity. While submerged in the cross-cultural adjustment process, individuals negotiated their identity boundaries and ‘as a result of their identity work, they became more aware of the different cultural scripts as well as of the roots of their own identity. Kohonen (2008: 326) Moving to China meant for many people a change in role and/or status; whether they moved to further their studies or to pursue a career, in most cases the move brought an occupational and self-identity change. A further change in roles and status upon repatriation can often create a problematic discrepancy between past and present identity. Talking about men in exile, Eastmond (1996: 49) writes how they are ‘caught in a paradox which can be expressed as the torment of remembering and the fear of forgetting’, which often seems to also be the case in the expatriate experience for both men and women. Identity boundaries are geographic, cultural and psychological ones: according to the Oxford Dictionary, a boundary is ‘a real or imagined line that marks the limits or edges of something and separates it from other things or places’, and living overseas may make these lines increasingly flexible and malleable. Social identities are flexible because they ‘are contextualised and not stable, despite a common core of key fundamental religious and cultural values that constitute their cultural roots. They shift according to the forces that operate on them’ (Bhachu, 1996a: 99) with the conscious or unconscious adaptation and emulation of foreign cultures. Even though expatriate adjustment is the focus of many studies, Kohonen (2008) points out that ‘the “journey inward” is seldom described’. People often reflect on and negotiate their identity as a reaction or response to an unfamiliar environment, cultural embarrassment or a ‘discursive void’, and this process can be described ‘as a journey both in space (inward/outward) and through time (backward/forward) with openings for new translations’ (Wåhlin, 2006: 274). The data collected in this study supports the idea that culture shock or change in the cultural environment often act as triggers for self-reflection and identity work as ‘individuals involved in any form
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Identity shift and re-adjustment Sussman (2002) argues that repatriation adjustment is more difficult to achieve for those who had a weak national cultural identity before leaving for the foreign assignment, as they seem to be more deeply affected by the foreign experience. More recently, Cox (2004) investigated intercultural identity patterns and categorized them as home-favoured, host-favoured, integrated and disintegrated, and concluded that, of the four patterns, integration of home and host countries’ identities is most likely to bring the lowest levels of experienced depression and social difficulty upon return. However, there is a negative correlation between a host country’s favoured cultural identity and the highest levels of social difficulty at repatriation, which means that the more expatriates adjust to the host country, the more they might find it difficult to re-adjust to their home context. Upon repatriation, many expatriates soon discover that they have not actually returned ‘home’, and that they are not getting the homecoming they had anticipated (Brislin and Van Buren, 1974). The following chapters examine the reasons why expatriates leave their assignments and return to their home country or move to a different destination, and explore expatriate repatriation adjustment in more detail.
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of transition are necessarily involved in identity work’ (Blenkinsopp and Stalker, 2004). A number of recent studies (see, for instance, Watson, 2008) have highlighted the importance of individuals’ work on their own identity. As mentioned previously, this book focuses on individual rather than on organizational matters, and explores how expatriates make sense of their experience through the various adjustment stages. Petriglieri and Petriglieri (2010: 45) state that ‘the concept of identity work describes the activities that individuals undertake to create, maintain and display personal and social identities that sustain a coherent and desirable selfconcept’. The term ‘identity work’ can be explained as the ‘ongoing mental activity that an individual undertakes in constructing an understanding of self that is coherent, distinct and positively valued’ (Alvesson, Ashcraft and Thomas, 2008). Identity work is often done unconsciously within stable contexts but becomes a more conscious process during crises and transitions when identity conflicts trigger uncertainty and selfdoubt (Alvesson and Willmott, 2002; Sveningsson and Alvesson, 2003; Alvesson, Ashcraft and Thomas, 2008). Encounters with others may challenge the understanding of the self (Alvesson and Willmott, 2002), and this is often the case in the expatriate process, whereby individual adjustment and the encountering of (or confrontation with) very distant cultures may bring along feelings of anxiety and raise questions.

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Part IV After China
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Having considered several aspects that affect the expatriate experience abroad, our focus now shifts to the repatriation phase. Many expatriates find this last stage of their foreign assignment very challenging, often even more problematic than adjustment overseas. The challenges related to re-entry adaptation appear to be often underestimated by both organizations and individuals, who seem expect a seamless return ‘home’. However, many of them report to have even experienced a form of culture shock upon return to their country of origin. The next chapter begins by considering motivations and forces that push or cause expatriates to leave China and return to their home country (or move elsewhere). In line with the theoretical framework that was adopted and discussed for expatriate adjustment overseas, repatriation is also explored in terms of general, social and work-related factors. Numerous factors contribute to making this period far more complex than anticipated as most expatriates will have absorbed or internalized some aspects of the foreign culture they lived in for a long period of time and the expatriation experience is likely to have had an impact on their personality, sense-making, identity negotiations, knowledge and career. The interviewees in this study reported a lack of shared experience upon return to their country of origin and highlighted issues faced in re-establishing social relationships with old friends, colleagues and even family members. Many upon return mourn the loss of the lifestyle, stimuli and luxuries they were used to while living abroad. At work, many returning standard expatriates feel undervalued by their organization and report their companies’ failure to utilize their newly acquired knowledge, learn from their experience and follow up on the expected
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career developments. Trying to slide back into old habits, social dynamics and existing job roles is in some cases a source of frustration which needs to be considered and managed accordingly at both an individual and corporate level.
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9
Returning Expatriates
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Falling leaves return to their roots. Chinese proverb

Reasons for leaving China
My goodbye to Shanghai I left Shanghai in July 2007 and moved to the UK with my then husband (the man I had been longing for during that very lonely year spent in Italy while attending my MA and working for the UN, the one I thought destiny had confirmed to be ‘the One’ via a scholarship). Even though at that time I had moved on from the business field to academia and I was not earning as much as the ‘proper’ standard expatriates sent abroad by their companies (expatriate teachers/lecturers in China tend to have a lower social status in comparison to corporate expatriates), I still had a decent lecturing job, nice colleagues and friends (foreigners as well as Chinese people), and I absolutely loved teaching. After five years in Shanghai, I have to admit that there were things getting on my nerves about my life in China, but generally speaking I could have remained there a bit longer, and I knew that there was a lot of money to be earned with international organizations in loco. However, deep inside I knew that my Chinese adventure was not going to last forever, and that I did not want my hypothetical future children to grow up in China. I remember missing the comforting presence of old buildings, the European ‘al fresco’ lifestyle and the familiarity of Western values and manners. The main reason why we left China is that it was a fairly racist country, mostly due to ignorance rather than malicious intent (once a lady in the elevator asked me in all seriousness whether my
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Why do expatriates leave? Personal characteristics which are likely to affect repatriate adjustment the most are age, gender, marital status, education level and self-efficacy (Arman, 2009). However, there are contradictory findings as to whether the aspects above influence the degree of distress experienced by expatriates. According to the data collected in this study, there seems to be no significant link between age, gender, educational level and expatriate adjustment (the self-efficacy criteria wasn’t explicitly investigated or addressed in this study, see Andreason and Kinneer, 2005 for more on this aspect). Moreover, Adler (1981: 352) suggests that ‘successful overseas adapters were assessed as more effective, as more satisfied, and as being in a better mood at the re-entry than were people who adapted

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husband’s skin colour would come off upon showering), and for him finding a good job was very difficult. At the time most job advertisements asked for ‘white-only’ or ‘Caucasian-only’ applicants (which was later rephrased as a more politically correct ‘UK, USA, Canadian, Australian nationals only’) and often required a copy of the passport or a photo to be sent together with the application. During my years in Shanghai I met many qualified black people who had to leave China and try to find a company that would hire them from abroad and send them back to China in order to be able to work there. At that time finding a job there for self-selected black expatriates was close to impossible; the situation has improved over the past six years. We then decided to move to the UK, which I found more congenial than any other place I have lived in before (including Italy). Once again, my heart, rather than logic or smart career planning, had driven my choice of expatriation. Most people I know have left China for one of three reasons: they got tired of living there, their contract expired, or they could no longer find interesting work. However, the data collected for this study provided a richer pool of reasons ranging from illness (both personal or of a family member) to expiry of contracts, job dissatisfaction and social conflict. Some said that the reason why they left had had more to do with lack of prospects than with issues within the country itself. At any rate, as an expatriate friend of mine once said: ‘it’s common to moan about China and criticize it when one is there, but we also become attached to it and defensive; we often feel that only expats are allowed to complain and laugh about China among foreigners’. It is almost as if China somehow becomes like that one screwball relative we all have: only other family members are allowed to criticize him/her; strangers will not be forgiven.

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Mario:

It wasn’t the environment as such that was becoming hard to tolerate, it was the lack of future perspectives. I mean I couldn’t see the prospects anymore, you know. … So I said to myself ‘I don’t care; I will go back to Europe as I want to be in another type of culture, even if this means less money and a worse lifestyle; I want something that’s less inflated but more real’. Because even though it’s cool to say that you are a manager there [in China], in reality, that’s not real life. It’s ‘inflated’ in the sense that it’s an illusion, a bubble, right? Because it seems that you are doing God knows what, and at 24 years old it’s great because I used to go back to Italy while I was living in China doing my first office job, and my friends would say ‘oh I am trying to win a position somewhere’, or ‘I am a shop assistant’, or ‘I work in a call centre there’, and you feel like you are the coolest guy ever [because of your good job in China]. You do this [job] for one year, two years, three years, and then you realize that that’s all there is. [You tell yourself] ‘They can raise my salary, but how much? Only up to a certain amount’. However, [in China] that’s what

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poorly overseas’. However, later studies (see, for instance, Cox, 2004) seem to indicate the opposite, whereby people who were not successful in adapting overseas and who failed to reach a high level of integration with the host country are believed to find it easier to re-adjust to their home culture upon repatriation. The information provided by the empirical data collection in this study seems to tentatively confirm the latter position. Five of the interviewees said they left China because they could not stand the idea of living there anymore: one was ‘fed up with the Chinese’ and, like another, did not like the life of expatriate Westerners in China; one young woman could not imagine ever raising children in China, and two other people said they ‘didn’t like it anymore’ in terms of the quality of personal life and career prospects. Two interviewees said they left for health reasons that they did not want to deal with in China; another returned to Italy due to the serious illness of a close relative; and a woman in her early 30s felt she had ‘reached the maximum limit of time’ after which she felt she would not have had a chance to go back and ‘build a relationship and a family’ in Italy. Another woman left to get married to her boyfriend, while others were forced to leave due to work-related reasons: the completion of contracts and lack of subsequent employment or the pursuit of a specific job in Italy.

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my life was all about, and that wasn’t enough for me anymore. My choice [of going back to Europe] was made from a personal point of view, absolutely, not because I wasn’t happy with my work.
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I asked my participants whether they would consider moving back to live and work in China, either for a limited period of time or permanently. The conditio sine qua non put in place by many was ‘only if they cover me in gold’. The percentile responses are indicated below: • Would go back to work and live in China for one year or less: 8 per cent • Would go back to work and live in China for one to two years: 27 per cent (40 per cent of whom said only if paid a very high salary) • Would go back to work and live in China for two to four years: 11 per cent (50 per cent of these interviewees said only if paid a very high salary) • Would consider moving back to China and living there forever: 38 per cent (one person said only if allowed to spend part of the year in Italy and part of the year in China) • Would never go back: 16 per cent These results seem to be in contrast with the apparent reluctance of expatriates to embark on another foreign assignment as suggested in the literature (Lee and Liu, 2006; Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2009). The data from my interviews shows no significant correlation between the results above and previous length of stay in China, level of linguistic and cultural knowledge, managerial level, age or gender. What is also interesting is that, despite the many negative memories and difficulties reported in relation to their life in China, only 16 per cent of the interviewees said they would never go back to live there.

Home sweet home?
Repatriation adjustment The second part of the W-curve model mentioned in Chapter 5 stresses the importance of adjustment-related matters during the repatriation phase. Even though one may think that going back to one’s home country would require little adjustment or a relatively simple and brief period of re-adaptation, this is not always the case. In an early study, for instance, Adler (1981) found that many expatriates had more difficulty

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adapting to the home country upon repatriation than adapting to foreign countries, which would indeed suggest that ‘even repatriation adjustment is a cross-cultural adjustment process’ (Black and Gregersen, 1991: 674). A number of more recent studies have also shown that repatriation adjustment after an international experience can be far more traumatic than expatriation (see, for example, Caligiuri and Lazarova, 2000; Andreason and Kinneer, 2005). Further research suggests that the better a person adjusts to the host country, the worse the reverse culture shock will be (Bochner, 1986), which is likely to be caused by the fact that a person who adjusts readily is more prone to accepting new ideas, being flexible in terms of adaptation to unfamiliar living conditions and socializing with those from different cultural backgrounds. Upon repatriation that same person may find he or she has significantly changed in terms of personality, frame of mind or habits and now has new ideas or behaviours that conflict with those common in the home country. They are also more likely to miss the international cross-cultural stimuli and dimensions they grew accustomed to while overseas. Notwithstanding the importance of studies related to the repatriation process and the increasing amount of recent research on the topic, this area of inquiry is still believed to lack coherence and systematic consideration both in the academic and managerial context (Bolino, 2007; Lazarova and Cerdin, 2007). Successful repatriation has been defined as: ‘[a process] in which, upon return, the repatriate gains access to a job which recognises any newly acquired international competencies; experiences minimal crosscultural readjustment difficulties; and reports low turnover intentions’ (O’Sullivan, 2002). In recent years, a number of studies have addressed the issue of expatriate loyalty to companies upon return (see, for instance, Lazarova and Cerdin, 2007) in an attempt to understand how best to manage the expatriate repatriation process and minimize ‘the exodus of returning expatriates’ (Abueva, 2000, cited in Lazarova and Cerdin, 2007: 405) whereby returning employees switch organization shortly after their return. In terms of repatriation, the studies available in the literature have traditionally put the burden of solving related issues on the organization (Lazarova and Caligiuri, 2000; Leiba-O’Sullivan, 2002); however, more recent research has considered not only how repatriate turnover may be linked to changing job environments and job opportunities as well as career management from the expatriate’s point of view (Leiba-O’Sullivan, 2002), but it has also considered how these two approaches could be merged (Lazarova and Cerdin, 2007). Some studies (Sanchez, Spector and Cooper, 2000; Stahl and Cerdin, 2004),

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Management of expectations Expectations of what life will be like upon repatriation can significantly affect expatriates’ effective adjustment and Black, Gregersen and Mendenhall (1992) propose that three aspects of the repatriation process have a negative relation to the accuracy of expectations: (1) the situation overseas immediately preceding the return home, (2) the total amount of time spent time away from the home country for career reasons and (3) the magnitude of change in the home country. However, one aspect is believed to be positively related to their adjustment: the frequency and length of visits back to the home country and home office. More recent studies have sought confirmation to Black, Gregersen and Mendenhall’s (1992) proposed framework: for instance, in a study of Finnish repatriates, Suutari and Valimaa (2002) concurred with the idea that repatriation adjustment on the individual level is a very complex and multi-faceted phenomenon, which is negatively related to four aspects: the age of the respondent (contrary to other models), the length of the foreign assignment, the level of issues related to expatriation adjustment abroad and the level of role conflict. However, they also found that the following aspects have a positive impact on expatriate adjustment upon return in the home country: the duration of role negotiations before ending the international assignment and the amount of contact and keeping up-to-date with the home country while overseas. Consistent with what was mentioned before in relation to the expatriation process, it is generally believed that issues related to repatriation adjustment often arise from anxiety experienced upon return and unfulfilled expectations (Gregersen and Stroh, 1997). Some researchers have provided a temporal quantification of the different stages of adjustment; Liu (2005), for instance, claims that the adjustment process generally takes one to one and a half years. This research, however, suggests that the amount of time needed for expatriates to adjust both

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have pointed out that in the current business context the individual is rewarded by the expatriate experience itself rather than by the prospect of a promotion upon repatriation. This would imply that the focus of the investigation is shifted from the organizational to the individual level, as in the current job climate ‘self-reliance, self-awareness, and self-management have become critical if an employee wants his or her career to take a particular direction’ (Lazarova and Cerdin, 2007: 407). In this respect, expatriation is likely to be seen as a means of personal growth and experience to access better roles, but not necessarily within the same company (Sanchez, Spector and Cooper, 2000; Tung, 1988).

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abroad and upon repatriation can vary considerably and cannot be generalized. Within expatriate studies, repatriation adjustment has been analysed on the basis of three broad criteria: work adjustment, socio-cultural adjustment and psychological adjustment (Gregersen and Stroh, 1997; Suutari and Valimaa, 2002; Cox, 2004; Jassawalla, Connolly and Slojkowski, 2004; Andreason and Kinneer, 2005). Work adjustment can include changes in tasks or job level, job description and responsibilities. Such changes may affect expatriates especially when the new conditions seem to be inferior or less beneficial than those they had while abroad. In addition, on the cusp between work and social adjustment for ‘standard’ expatriates there are changes to the organization and relationships to colleagues that may have deteriorated during the assignment, may need to be re-established or strengthened. The second dimension of repatriation adjustment focuses on the sociocultural aspect, which this study suggests may actually have the biggest impact on expatriate managers and involves adjustment to lifestyle, social status and activities, relationships, financial conditions and even to the culture of the home country which may have become unexpectedly ‘foreign’. Thirdly, psychological adjustment includes expectations, experienced stress and perception of loss. Clearly, repatriation adjustment is a very complex matter and many factors can influence it: age, gender, educational level, self-efficacy, marital status, family support, the presence of children, number of years spent overseas, number of visits to the home country during the foreign assignment, personality, level of communication with people in the home country and abroad as well as the level of cultural distance and differences between host and home countries (Gregersen and Stroh, 1997; Cox, 2004; Morgan, Nie and Young, 2004; Jassawalla, Connolly and Slojkowski, 2004; Liu, 2005). Andreason and Kinneer (2005) suggest that people with high levels of self-efficacy adapt more easily; while other studies have found that younger as well as single people, women and high-level educated expatriates seem to experience more distress (Gregersen and Stroh, 1997; Hammer, Hart and Rogan, 1998; Cox, 2004). According to Suutari and Valimaa (2002), antecedents of repatriation adjustment consist of expectations related to different aspects: repatriation itself, issues faced after repatriation, the actual expatriation experience and expatriate cultural identity. In terms of issues faced upon return, once ‘back home’ expatriates often find themselves having to cope with a gap between their expectations and what the reality of repatriation is. According to Snyder and Dinoff (1999: 5) ‘coping is a response aimed at diminishing the physical, emotional, and psychological burden that is

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There are many additional factors of expatriation experience which will affect repatriation experience. Family accompany, number of overseas assignments, time spent overseas, number of home country visits during expatriation, length of last assignment and level of personal communication with friends, coworkers, superiors and family during expatriation, level of up-to-dateness with daily life events of home country are listed as those factors, and in addition, since communication with home country is critical for forming accurate expectations, availability of modern communication technology is also an important factor affecting expatriation experience. Finally, cultural distance between host and home countries is another factor. Also, it is suggested that some conscious expatriate behaviour may help the coping stage both overseas and in the home country. Such behaviours might include efforts to maintain contact with their social, family and work networks, proactivity in career development and maintenance of visibility, as well as keeping up-to-date regarding occurrences and issues in the organization and the home country. Furthermore, instead of counting on their organizations for the management of their adjustment, it is advisable for expatriates to become more accountable and responsible throughout the process (Peltonen, 1997; Andreason and Kinneer, 2005; Liu, 2005). Obviously, this is even more important for those who are not sent abroad by a company but choose to go to China in search of freelance work on their own and for those who start entrepreneurial ventures or work for companies in loco without having a ‘mother branch’ to return to in their country of origin.

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linked to stressful life events and daily hassles’ and coping mechanisms (which can be emotion-focused or problem-focused and generally used simultaneously according to Lazarus, 2006) are not only necessary for expatriates to adjust while in a foreign place, but also after repatriation. Recent research on the topic agrees that problems faced in this last phase of the expatriation experience are significantly linked with frustrated expectations. Such expectations may concern work itself, career prospects and status in the organization; but are also likely to be related to ease of interaction with friends as well as social status, lifestyle and, finally, changes to one’s country (Stroh, Gregersen and Black, 1998, 2000; Suutari and Valimaa, 2002; Andreason and Kinneer, 2005). Arman (2009: 2) offers a summary of the aspects influencing the actual expatriation experience:

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Corporate support According to my interviewees and available research, it would seem that most organizations fail to provide adequate support and neglect the importance of having policies and procedures in place fully equip the returning expatriates. According to the literature (see, for instance, Peltonen, 1997; Jassawalla, Connolly and Slojkowski, 2004), there are three main reasons behind this negligence: first of all, there is a lack of expertise in this process, which implies new unexplored procedural and educational territories and absence of role models or shared business practices. Secondly, organizations avoid these efforts because of the significant and sometimes unaffordable costs attached to them. Finally, there are many false assumptions, which ignore or underestimate the problems expatriates may experience during expatriation and repatriation. Putting support in place During the expatriation process, it would be beneficial to both companies and individuals to assign sponsors, mentors or liaison officers to expatriates while they are overseas in order to provide ongoing and accurate information related to job demands, definitions and changes that have occurred in the organization or country of origin prior to return. In this way expatriates would have more accurate expectations of what to anticipate in terms of their repatriation. While support from one’s organization is clearly very important for expatriates and can affect their experience when it is lacking, it is also important that colleagues or superiors from the headquarters or the home country are able to exhibit an element of understanding or interest in the cultural issues and problems that expatriates may be faced with while overseas both at work and in their personal lives. It is possible that using former expatriates to participate in the selection and training of employees for future expatriation could be a valuable aspect of establishing or running foreign branches that would favour both returning and departing employees and may decrease adjustment and re-adjustment related issues. Finally, career planning both before and after the assignments overseas should be carefully explored with the help of mentors and applied to mid-term but also long-term career plans (Caligiuri and Lazarova, 2000; Lazarova and Caligiuri, 2000; O’Sullivan, 2002; Jassawalla, Connolly and Slojkowski, 2004; Andreason and Kinneer, 2005). Clearly, these suggestions are not universally applicable, particularly for those expatriates hired in loco, the self-selected ones, but it may be nonetheless beneficial to consider such matters more broadly in order to raise awareness in the expatriate community.

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10
Repatriation Adjustment
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Await the clouds to disperse and you’ll see the brightlit moon. Chinese proverb

Re-entry culture shock
Unexpected difficulties Based on the information shared by my interviewees, this study agrees with recent research (see, for instance, Szkudlarek, 2010) reporting that expatriate managers are often more likely to experience an even stronger culture shock upon repatriation than when moving overseas. Lee and Liu (2006) recommend that organizations help expatriates who need assistance coping with the reverse culture shock they are likely to experience. Only one of the interviewees said he had experienced no culture shock upon return to his home country, feeling ‘relief’ instead, and he explained that he had left China because he was ‘sick of it, couldn’t stand it any longer’. The data would therefore suggest a change to the W-curve of adjustment model (see Chapter 5) to allow for a deeper curve on the repatriation side to indicate a longer or more intense stage of difficulty in adaptation. The first and most significant source of shock upon repatriation seems to be the fact that returning expatriates expect to go back to familiar settings and known dynamics, and do not anticipate finding differences so significant as to cause a re-entry culture shock. Giulio: Absolutely, I had a culture shock [upon repatriation]. Absolutely. In everything: socially, in my daily life, food, interpersonal
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relations. I felt that I had gone ahead, but that actually the situation here [in Italy] had lagged behind. Black, Gregersen and Mendenhall (1992) argue that, while both expatriation and repatriation involve a movement between countries, in the former type of adjustment cognitive expectations are based primarily on secondary information which is usually gathered from training, readings and other people’s accounts or on simple stereotypes and biases (which can be positive or negative); this indirect and more superficial type of knowledge is likely to lead to more flexible expectations and adaptation due to the uncertainty regarding what reality will actually be like while overseas. However, repatriation and its related expectations are based on personal knowledge, social and family roots and past experience, which are more likely to lead to more rigid and taken-for-granted expectations. These, in turn, are what may cause a bigger shock and make them unprepared for the changes that have occurred to people, society and the workplace while they were away. Silvana: Lost. I was completely lost. The shock is stronger when you come back than when you go. Lack of shared experience Not being able to fully share their experience with others who could really understand what living in China was like is one of the main issues experienced by returning expatriates. However, it is also true that after repatriation they get inevitably bombarded by questions regarding their life overseas. Copeland and Griggs (1985, cited in Andreason and Kinner, 2005: 115) report that Virtually everyone who returns is shocked by the lack of interest of people at home. Friends say, ‘I’m dying to hear all about Indonesia,’ but soon they switch the subject to last weekend’s football game. Returnees need to talk about their experience – a major event in their lives – yet no one will listen … If you talk about your overseas experience, people don’t know how to relate to you – you don’t fit in. Bianca: In China, I blossomed. I mean China allowed me to start to become what I am; partially because I found [good] people around me, true friends who have later become [an essential part of] my life, and also because that was what I unconsciously

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One interviewee (Mario) explained how he would get annoyed by people’s questions in relation to China given that he knew they would not have been able to really comprehend the experience he was trying to share and the stories he was telling (which I can wholeheartedly empathize with). At the same time, he said he himself ‘couldn’t seem to be able to shut up about China’ and instead kept ‘blabbing on and on about China’ even though he could see that his friends and family were not actually engaged with the conversation or even interested in listening to what he was saying. Andrea: I felt very out of place, and even now that four months have passed [since I moved back to Italy], yes, I feel like a fish out of water. Especially the first month, but afterwards as well, and returning, going back to work in Italy and dealing with colleagues I had already worked with [before China, was difficult]. Now you find yourself looking at things in a completely different way. None of the friends and family I have here has been to China, some only for a very short work trip, and you find yourself trying to explain it, explain all the things you like as well as those you don’t like, but it doesn’t … nobody is able to fully understand you; they actually ask, ‘how can you like China? I mean you told me about the dirt, the rats in the streets; you tell me that you got ill and you were not OK in the hospital, you tell me about the pollution that makes your throat hurt’ … and for them it’s incomprehensible … it’s difficult for them to understand that in reality that’s an experience that gives you a lot on a mental level. Only people who have been there can really get it, and for me the mental point of view is important, introspection

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needed, without having identified what it was, but that was what I needed to become the person I became later, whether in a positive or negative way. Every time I come back to Italy [during my 8 years in China], I get the question ‘how is China’, right? In part, that’s a dear question, meaning that it is asked by those who are dear friends and dear relatives of yours, so you answer with pleasure; but on the other hand, you know that if you say it all it’s going to be too much (smiles), that you would throw too much at them, a quantity of experience so big that it makes it look as if you are trying to show off even though that’s not the case.

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Rebecca:

A number of interviewees have described this feeling, which I have also experienced myself: sometimes one goes ‘back home’ being enriched by the experience in China, with new knowledge, networks and skills, while it feels like things got stuck in a time freeze in Italy, including friends and family. This is a very unpleasant feeling because people can think they ‘don’t fit in’ anymore or get bored of the old/new conditions. Upon return, expatriates often find it difficult to understand their home country, which may have changed throughout the years in important ways during their absence. Andrea: When I got back it became even more difficult. I felt like a fish out of water, almost a stranger amongst my own people. And this feeling hasn’t abandoned me yet. It becomes even stronger when I speak with friends and colleagues about China, and I realize that we have completely different versions of China. On one side there is me: I have lived it; I have loved it and sometimes hated it very deeply (the way it is in any big love relationship). On the other side: they haven’t lived it, and I think they have a completely distorted image of China, very far from reality. I feel not understood, even by the people who are closest to me. Many participants explained how at the beginning of the re-entry stage they had felt lost, how psychologically they were ‘desperate’ or how stressful learning to cope was. Some of them turned to more

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is very important, and there [in China] I found prairies where my mind could run free (smiles). Meaning that you have great opportunities to get inspiration, think, reflect and see things in a different way. When I go back to Italy, I feel different. Like … I have so many things to tell but I don’t know where to start from … [in Italy] I feel like a foreigner in my own country. [In relation to other Italians who didn’t have that type of experience in China] I think I am … generally speaking, I think I am a step above them, even though it’s a horrible thing to say. I don’t know how to explain this; it’s bad to think of it this way; it’s bad, but I feel I have something inside [thanks to the experience in China] that others don’t have; I don’t know how to explain this (laughs). It’s like they stayed behind; they are still. Actually, it’s like they went backwards.

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Andrea:

Mario:

Compared to China, getting to know new people is a lot more difficult [in Italy]. The feeling of not being able to communicate with your own people is a paradox. It’s ironic to feel that the wall that had initially separated you from the Chinese is disintegrating and is collapsing. In order to feel more ‘at home’ … [in Italy] I even went for a haircut in a barber-shop run by Chinese people, and I spent an afternoon checking out a Chinese wholesale shop in XXX [name of a city in Italy]. Of course, I understand that the quality of life is better here [in Italy], but I don’t know how long I will last here … with a good work proposal and a good project I think I would go back! [to China]. I will leave a door open for myself by studying on a Chinese language course, which has now become my main hobby, and if I do not go back [to China] again, I think that nostalgia will stay with me for many years in the future. I managed to stay in Italy for two years [after my return from China]. I felt like a stranger in my own country but not from a work point of view, from a personal one. I mean I would go out with people, and I had no idea of what they were talking about (laughs) I just couldn’t follow their conversations. I had the feeling that I was talking about things that other people couldn’t understand, and they talked about things I didn’t understand. For every topic of conversation, I had to come up with something about China, even if I didn’t want to or tried to make an effort to avoid mentioning China. Also because when I talked about China, people looked at me in a different way.

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experienced expatriates to find information on adjustment or even simply to understand whether the process they were going through had been shared by others. Those who have or had been expatriates for a long time explained how the help of modern technology has facilitated their adjustment both in China and upon repatriation, as nowadays there are a number of blogs set up by expatriates in China and Internet spaces like LinkedIn where people can share their feelings and experiences (e.g. the thread called ‘Dedicated to those who return’ on the ‘Italians in China’ group is particularly well followed and populated with comments). In addition, socio-cultural issues were present for all interviewees both in the workplace and in relationships with others outside of their jobs.

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Issues at work
Post-repatriation career Research (see, for instance, Gomez-Mejia and Balkin, 1987) shows that a majority of expatriates feel dissatisfied with the repatriation process. Martin and Anthony (2006) highlight the importance of effectively managing the post-repatriation process and how organizations should discuss the fit between the newly acquired knowledge and skills of the expatriate and their work upon return. Amongst the different classifications of the type of knowledge involved in international assignments, Oddou (2002) categorizes expatriate assets or knowledge into four categories: cognitive, relational, attitudinal and behavioural. Job adjustment can be further exacerbated when (especially if, contrary to expectations, either implied or explicit) many repatriates go back to their home country and receive jobs with less authority, responsibility and autonomy than they were used to in the foreign assignment. For instance, findings in a more recent study by Bossard and Peterson (2005: 26) showed that expatriates who had returned home were of the opinion that ‘their assignment has helped them for their personal development and growth but not necessarily for career advancement within their company’, which is mirrored by opinions expressed by some of my interviewees. Moreover, in a study conducted in 1997 by Tung and Andersen, reduced responsibility and autonomy on the job upon repatriation was ranked second after career advancement in causes of dissatisfaction and concern. Jassawalla and Sashittal (2009: 773) note how this reduction in power and independence ‘strongly factors into their sense of self-worth and their inferences about the value the firm is placing on them’. Francesco: Coming back is always difficult. I remember days spent sitting at a desk without tasks to accomplish, waiting to speak to the person who had made many promises to me before I left to move abroad. Needless to say, I ended up looking for another job just like many other colleagues who, just like me, didn’t manage effectively their networks of Italian relationships while in China, which would have allowed me a better landing [in Italy] after the end of my adventure [in China]. It was a shock on every level, from the lifestyle that was drastically lowered upon repatriation to the dynamic of the big company [in Italy] to having to re-build a network of friendships after many years spent

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For those expatriates sent abroad by their organization to work for a joint venture or foreign branch of the company, sometimes the home branch can focus more on the results that the expatriate brings to the company rather than the individual, and the company may be so results-oriented as not to know what the expatriates have actually accomplished during their overseas assignment other than their formal targets. Also, the findings from a recent study on repatriation found that standard expatriates perceived their companies’ attitude towards them as ‘out of sight hence out of mind’, that their distance from the home office made them no longer present or central in the consciousness of senior management (Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2009). Andrea: I realized I am not used to Italian inefficiencies anymore, to the coffee breaks that are too long, the lack of pragmatism. At work, I feel that I cannot express myself completely, my potential, because I have too many boundaries being imposed on me. Before [in China], I was far from everyone, and I was a sort of ‘black box’: the Italian branch of the company was only interested in the results; it was my own business how to achieve them. Mentors The use of mentors has been advocated by scholars both before departure and upon repatriation (Crocitto, Sullivan and Carraher, 2005) and having ex-expatriates work as counsellors, advisors or mentors could also help address some of the issues related to lack of shared experience. Even though some express doubts in terms of the real usefulness of mentoring programmes (see Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2009), some companies nonetheless use mentors (from the home or host office) to assist expatriates in order to offer advice in relation to career-related

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abroad and the difficulties my family is experiencing as well with my return. Margherita: [Upon repatriation it was] bad, I felt bad. I was longing for China, for a long time. Because of the disruption, but I don’t know if that was due to the Chinese culture that I was so fascinated by or because of personal reasons. I missed the atmosphere, I missed them [the Chinese], and I missed my life there even though I have never felt at home when I was there in China; I never thought that it was my home.

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Knowledge and expertise It also seems that organizations do not know how to make appropriate use of expatriates’ newly acquired international and cross-cultural knowledge upon repatriation (Solomon, 1995). Further research suggests that adjustment issues in the workplace upon repatriation may occur because the repatriates’ role conception may be influenced by what they experienced during the foreign assignment; therefore, the repatriate’s sense-making interpretations may be flawed given that they may have adopted foreign cultural norms and procedures (Baughn, 1995), as well as a changed concept of appropriate managerial role behaviour (GomezMejia and Balkin, 1987). Oddou, Osland and Blakeney (2009: 183) claim that ‘most firms do not view repatriate knowledge as a valuable resource or competitive advantage at all’, while knowledge transfer should be one of the important aspects to be considered as part of the return on investment for companies that send employees on foreign assignments. Knowledge transfer can be achieved in the form of training, reports, development of new procedures, and organizations should make the most of this knowledge by developing appropriate tools to increase the efficiency of knowledge-sharing (Lazarova and Tarique, 2005) and also to avoid the common issue of expatriate turnover and the loss of such knowledge (Lazarova and Caliguri, 2000). From the individual’s perspective, a recent study of Japanese repatriates found knowledge transfer had increased their commitment and satisfaction (Furuya et al., 2007). A high repatriation failure rate may not only have a negative impact on performance and profit, but may also affect a company’s ability to attract future expatriates (Welch, 1994). In 1989, Harvey conducted a survey showing that the most frequently

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psychosocial matters before they leave, while they are there and after they return (Downes, Thomas and Singley, 2002). Using both home and host mentors during the expatriation phase would be beneficial with regard to maintaining open networks and communication channels with people in the home country while at the same time having easier access to cultural norms, work specifics and behaviours in the host country. During the early days of repatriation, mentors can help expatriates plan and implement the transition from the foreign country to ‘back home’ (Forster, 2000). Two of my interviewees noted how they benefited from taking advantage of an informal mentoring relationship established in China with older and more experienced expatriates; however, nobody mentioned any mentoring implemented upon return.

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Silvana:

[The experience in China] has strengthened my ego from this [work] point of view and made me conscious of my ability to do certain things, and I think that career-wise it gave me a good curriculum [vitae] because when I was job hunting after that [being in China], doors were opened … in Italy, doors are always half open but having had that type of experience [in China] has positively influenced that.

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mentioned reasons why firms do not have repatriation training programs were: a lack of expertise in establishing such programs (47 per cent), cost (36 per cent) and the belief held by senior management that such programs may not actually be needed (35 per cent). Dowling, Welch and Schuler (1999) address the last reason and point out that top management may not consider such repatriation training programmes essential as repatriation issues are often not visible or easily identifiable, and are as expensive for companies and individuals as expatriation-related costs but more easily dismissed as less crucial in comparison. Kohonen (2008: 322) notes how recent studies have stressed the fact that, after their assignment overseas, expatriates may become more loyal to their own career rather than to their company; also, she suggests that ‘expatriates may respond to an ambiguous career situation at home by moving to another company that will value their international experience and skills more highly’. In the matter of careerrelated changes, most interviewees said that the experience in China had enriched their knowledge, had been a valued addition to their CV and had opened doors for them in relation to further career and job opportunities. Others who did not find the experience so important justified their answer by saying that they decided to change the direction of their career spontaneously or could not find a good job upon return to the home country. Kohonen (2008: 321) summarizes previous studies pointing out that ‘contrary to expectations, relatively few international assignments lead to promotion ... nor are all repatriates able to exploit their newly-acquired international knowledge, skills or abilities ...’. Moreover, Haslberger (2009: 380) claims that ‘increases in knowing-how, knowing-why, and knowing-whom that result from an international assignment make those with international experience highly marketable. My experience, together with information shared by my interviewees, would suggest that even though this is true for those who remain to live and work in China, expatriates who return to Italy seem to lose this competitive advantage.

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Changes to habits, lifestyle and stimuli
Living standard and status Dowling and Welch (2005) highlight how for expatriates and their families very often the assignment overseas means a promotion, greater autonomy, more responsibilities as well as prestige and a change in status. The return home can then obviously bring feelings of frustration and disappointment both at work and in their personal lives. One’s lifestyle can influence identity (Giddens, 1991), especially given the dramatic changes to lifestyle experienced by expatriates. I remember being extremely happy to have moved to the UK from China but at the same time mourning the loss of my ‘cool’ social status (being an expatriate in England is not as interesting, privileged or rare as being one in China) but missing even more the economic advantage whereby I could afford to go out for meals every day, have a cleaner and go for blissful massages or shopping sprees more than once a week. In China, contrary to what I had experienced in Italy and my current status in the UK, being labelled as expatriate makes people immediately more privileged individuals both financially and in terms of prestige. Francesco: China is a train that runs super fast, and you have everything there – things that in Italy you couldn’t even dream of in terms of organization because they are ahead of us in many ways. But then you say ‘I want to get off’, but if you get off, it’s over. The day you get off you will ask yourself ‘did I make the right choice in getting off?’ because by then the train is gone. I worked abroad, even for extended periods, for many years, Rebecca: but China has no doubt been the experience that has left the biggest mark on me. When you tell people you know how you used to live (driver, luxury compounds or in my case a hotel suite), it’s easy for them to say ‘of course you are shattered here in Italy!’ Of course, it’s also due to the more modest lifestyle as others have highlighted, but those who lived

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Giulio: I would say that I have been successful in my job in Italy because I have learned some things from the Chinese: apart from the language and the culture and how to do my job, I actually learned an attitude towards life. Pragmatism, pragmatism and how to mediate. How to strive towards mediation and how to establish a dialogue.

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and still live in China know that that’s only part of the story. It’s the professional and social stimuli, the feeling of continuous discovery all laowai speak about which are the real ‘drugs’ that you miss when you go back to your home country.
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Stimuli and job description Apart from a drop in material standard of living, what many expatriates miss about their assignment abroad are the mental challenges, the new opportunities, the stimuli and intense environment they got used to while in China. ‘Expatriate experience is fun and exciting and represents the opportunity to do new things’ (Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2009: 775). On the other hand ‘the return to the banality of expatriates’ day-to-day life in the home office, often to their old job, is a letdown’ (Jassawalla and Sashittal, 2009: 776). Going back to Italy, especially for many standard expatriates who find themselves in their old company and often in their former job, can be suffocating or frustrating. Beatrice: I used to come back [to Italy] quite often, but I always felt like a foreigner here in Italy … I feel good amongst different cultural environments. Italy is too small for me, but not because of arrogance, but because I feel the need for different stimuli and to be in touch with different ways of thinking. Now I like being with a foot in both doors [Italy and China] because I still like living here [in Italy], it feels good, I now have my son here; I bought a house here, but I find it difficult to get along with people, with their mind frame, with the fact that there is a tendency towards laziness and playing along with mediocrity. This is my friend’s fish tank theory (laughs). Basically, the fish tank theory says that each of us, Italians, are a fish born in a beautiful fish tank, Italy, a small fish tank but rich in many beautiful things inside, landscapes, food, weather … and that fish tank feels good to be in; you feel comfortable in there, and most people are born and die in that fish tank; they don’t go to other fish tanks on the outside. Then it happens that one day life takes you out of this tank, and you find yourself in huge spaces. Before then, you were in a small space, and you could only see certain things, but when you get out, you have enormous spaces to look at, observe and try to understand, and all this gives you a mental openness that you couldn’t even have imagined before; especially being from Italy, which to be honest, I think is a very provincial

Andrea:

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Physical adjustment upon repatriation
During their experience in China, many expatriates who become successful in adapting to the host country are likely to adopt some habits and behaviours characteristic of the host nationals. I was interested in knowing whether my interviewees had taken some of those habits back to their country of origin upon repatriation and whether the time spent in China had left any mark on their daily routines or habits. Mario: Then after six months or so you go back to Italy and people see that you are very ‘Chinesized’. Well maybe not actually ‘Chinesized’ because they don’t know how it is there [in China] as much as you didn’t know it before moving there, but they see that you have become more … I mean that you have adopted behaviours that are not typically Italian, and it’s obvious that you live in a place that’s completely different.

New habits When asked what they had kept of the Chinese culture and lifestyle after repatriation, the most frequent answer was ‘drinking tea’ (leaves and berries in hot water rather than tea in a sachet with sugar and sometimes lemon the way it is drunk in Italy); many also mentioned food and the use of chopsticks, language and drinking hot water. There were also one-off mentions of doing calligraphy, practising taiqi, listening to Chinese music, taking one’s shoes off when entering a home and using Chinese ritual procedures in church. ‘Drinking hot water’ caused laughs when the participants reminisced on how shocking it was the first time they were given a glass of hot water during a meeting with no tea leaves or coffee (Riccardo: ‘I thought: are these people insane?’). General re-adaptation Physical adjustment seems an obvious factor to be included in the list of those affecting expatriates’ general adjustment upon return to the

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place. Then after some time, you go back to the old fish tank, but at that point you find it small and suffocating, so there comes a time when you don’t want … when you go back in there, and even if you like it overall, you don’t want to live there anymore. You want to get out and return to the bigger fish tank or see other things, and this is the fish tank metaphor that explains how I felt coming back [to Italy].

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Massimo:

Andrea:

When I went back to Rome in 1976 after five months of continuous stay in China, it felt like being on Mars for at least two weeks … meaning that … it’s different now [having gone back and forth for 35 years], but back then having lived in Beijing for five months in winter and spring, with sand storms, everything was grey or sometimes brownish, everyone was dressed alike, we know what women were like … well you don’t know [because you are too young to have experienced that], and you can only now see that in old movies, but you know how it was anyway: Western music was banned, etc. … Then I arrived in Rome in late spring, with its explosion of colours, smells, noises … it was paralysing, and that was an incredible experience. You see as foreign the places where you grew up, and it’s a feeling that I couldn’t have anticipated experiencing, but you live there, and you walk through the places that should be your home, where you have always lived; I have always lived in xxxx [name of a city in Italy], but you don’t perceive them as belonging to you anymore, and you start always comparing them with the places you had got used to [in China].

Changes to individual selves
Repatriation identity matters Adler (1981) found that for many people the process of readjustment to their country of origin is even more difficult than the initial adjustment to living abroad. Recent research has also recognized how repatriates face a number of difficulties and a high level of uncertainty when they have to deal with changes of income, status and lifestyle upon repatriation (Suutari and Brewster, 2003). Yet three decades after Adler’s study

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home country, especially in the case of nations very different from each other like Italy and China. A number of aspects were mentioned by my interviewees in relation to physical adjustment: dietary issues, climate and pollution, architecture and city landscapes, number of people in the streets, public services and clothing. Due to the rapid globalization of the Chinese culture and lifestyle, the differences between the two countries seemed even more apparent for those who experienced China during the Cultural Revolution or before the year 2000, rather than for those who moved to China during the 21st century.

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Bianca:

After many years [from the time I first arrived in China] of trying to deny it [that China is part of me] and then getting involved deeper again with China, I understood that China and its history are a fundamental part of my being. I am part Chinese. Which is crazy to say, but it’s true! (Laughs) and I have to deal with it.

Andreason and Kinneer (2005: 115) claim that ‘when expatriates return, they are not really the same persons’. Based on my experience and data collected from the interviews, it seems that the issues experienced upon repatriation can be divided into the six categories explored in the following section which, combined, summarize the experience of expatriate repatriation adjustment in this study. National identity I have never had a particularly strong national identity, but I remember feeling very Italian while in China and commenting on daily matters while metaphorically wrapping the Italian tri-coloured flag around myself: ‘I will not wear longjohn pants under my trousers no matter how cold it is here! I’d rather freeze than be seen wearing a pair of those; I am Italian after all’, or ‘I will not drink that; that’s not coffee; it tastes like the juice of dirty socks! I am Italian; I need real coffee’. Bauman (2004: 22) explains how, unlike other aspects of social identity, national identity demands ‘unequivocal allegiance and exclusive fidelity’, it does ‘not recognise competition, let alone an opposition’ and is confirmed by our identity cards and passports. Hong et al. (2003: 453) suggest that ‘the influence of a given cultural attribute becomes noticeable when we can compare people who possess that trait and are affected by it to people who are not’, which describes how very often people become aware of their cultural boundaries or identity traits once confronted with dissimilar or conflicting ones. In 2002, Poncini argued that studies relating to multicultural business environments should not consider people as ‘representatives of homogenous national cultures’ (Jameson, 2007: 203). I recognize that

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(1981), Italian organizations still do not seem to pay enough attention to the repatriation process and often underestimate the negative impact that re-entry culture shock can have on both personal and corporate lives. In China we inevitably, either voluntarily or not, renegotiate the terms of identity boundaries through our interactions with the country and its people.

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Andrea:

[my identity has changed through the expatriation process] because when I was abroad I felt a lot more Italian, but when I go back to Italy, it becomes common to go against Italy and criticize it.

Actually, most expatriates are very critical towards Italy, its government and infrastructures, and many interviewees commented on the fact that repatriation was sometimes difficult because they felt ‘embarrassed of being Italian’ while abroad, especially in relation to politics. Also, Italy’s provincialism and lack of efficient services was mentioned a number of times as something that they felt difficult to re-adapt to. Kim (1995: 180) suggests that if the adjustment process is successful, the person develops an intercultural identity that goes beyond national cultures, past and present: ‘the original cultural identity begins to lose its distinctiveness and rigidity while an expanded and more flexible definition of self emerge’. The experience of living and working abroad is for many expatriates pivotal in the development of their identity. Upon return, expatriates very often no longer entirely identify with the identity they had established before the foreign assignment; this seems

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equating culture with national boundaries would be limiting so I have strived to avoid oversimplifications and generalizations. I do, however, think that national identity is still an important factor in multicultural business communication, notwithstanding the fact that being from the same country does not imply homogeneity, and matters in relation to this aspect should be taken into account while simultaneously avoiding national biases and stereotypes. I had never thought of defining myself as ‘Italian’ before moving out of Italy: it’s only in China that I became more conscious of my national cultural identity. However, not many interviewees picked up on this theme in the vignette I wrote for them or dismissed it as an ‘obvious’ aspect of expatriation. During the conversations, however, there were many of ‘us Italians’ as opposed to ‘the Chinese/them’ and implicit recognition of national identity. Adler (1991/2002) suggests that when expatriates are experiencing culture shock overseas they often idealize their home country and tend to focus or remember only the positive aspects and stories associated with their country and home. This often results in false memories and inaccurate expectations that can create two types of mental gaps: the gap between the way the home country was before the expatriate left and upon return, and the gap between their rose-tinted idealized memories and the actual reality.

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to be especially the case for those whose Chinese experience coincided with first or early work experiences. Silvana: I am different now, and I have understood some things about Italians. I don’t think it’s China in particular. I think that when you live abroad everything changes; I mean that you realize that not everything has necessarily to be like the way it is in Italy or the way we see it or the way we do it. You understand that there are other ways of living, other ways of seeing things, and you start questioning yourself, and you give yourself new dimensions.

According to Franke and Nicholson (2002: 31), the ideal expatriate candidate is a person ‘with a mix of promise and experience, in their early to mid phase of their careers’, who is often still developing or modifying their work (and perhaps personal) identity. When entering a new environment, identity can be challenged and identity negotiation is common due to new experiences and environment. Using a phenomenological approach, Kristjánsdóttir (2009) interviewed nine US expatriates in France and uncovered changes in identity in one of the few studies that examines the expatriate experience as a whole, before departure, during the assignment and after their return. Collier (2005) suggests that sharing common ground and similar social context is an integral part of the identity formation process; the lack of such commonality can therefore bring about changes in one’s identity. Bianca: [my experience in China] has changed me. It has affected me in a negative way because it has delayed a series of processes that usually happen between the age of 20 and 30 when you live with your family or anyway near your family, so I came back here [to Italy at the age of 30], and I had to face parents who still thought I was 19 on one side, and on the other side friends who had left you being in one way and didn’t know what you had become, so they were a bit like that as well.

Personal changes When I asked if and how the expatriate experience had transformed them as individuals, my interviewees reported a number of changes: they said they had become stronger and more confident; gained important skills, knowledge and experience; learned to develop higher levels of tolerance and flexibility; and also gained a feeling of self-esteem

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Stefania:

This I think is the reason why others stayed in China and I didn’t, or why people still go there and I don’t: because I would have had to change so much of myself that I decided to leave instead.

Others were balancing and negotiating their identity throughout their assignment and upon return. For some interviewees the culture shock or negative impact experienced at repatriation seems to have been mitigated by frequent visits back to Italy during the assignment in China, but that is often not the case. Kohonen (2008: 327) explains that for many expatriates an international assignment is a more profound experience than has hitherto been realized … While they are abroad, expatriates are cut-off from the identity-regulating discourses of the home company. The social networks that previously supported their self-concept are left behind. New work roles and cultural contexts provide managers with a different kind of social feedback that tends to encourage change. It is at this point that existential questions concerning identity (who am I?) and social identification (where do I belong?) begin to surface. Mario: [The experience in China gave me] growth from a personal point of view because those were fairly formative years for me: I mean you live alone for the first time; you are in an international environment for the first time, so that’s where you develop from the work point of view but also socially.

The most common responses referred to the fact that, thanks to their expatriation experience in China, they felt ‘enriched’ from a personal point of view, that their horizons had expanded and that they had acquired the skill of approaching life and looking at things in a different way. In terms of changes to selves implemented in order to adapt to the host culture,

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and accomplishment. However, some of the interviewees’ narratives suggested that even though they had experienced some marginal changes (i.e. more flexibility and tolerance, skills), they were identity non-shifters (Kohonen, 2008) who kept the majority of their identity intact notwithstanding their level of adjustment to the host country. In one case, it was perceived that staying in China would have required changes to identity that the person was not prepared to make, which was the reason behind the interviewee’s departure:

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Rebecca:

Andrea:

I have become more tolerant with more of a sense of humour. I definitely have more of a sense of humour. I mean … at the beginning, two years ago, I would get so desperate (laughs). I was so desperate it was ridiculous. Now I can laugh about things. I can laugh about things that are absolutely absurd (laughs), and they really make me laugh. I have been forced to become very flexible and see the humorous side of things, due to stronger external forces, in order to adapt to the context (laughs) … because if you don’t become flexible, you live China in a bad way (laughs) and then your mental and physical sanity will suffer from it. Change, yes, changes [to the self] yes, I am a much more flexible person for sure, a lot more pragmatic, and this also links back to what we said before about understanding what’s important and what’s not [in life through the experience of living in China]. Changes … also seeing reality, Italy, in a different way … and then it becomes a bit too tight for you.

Another aspect mentioned by a number of interviewees is the fact that after having experienced or witnessed how less affluent people live in China, or even what true poverty looks like, people’s perception of what is important in life has changed leaving them with a feeling of realization of what is needed and superfluous or what is really worth complaining about. Andrea: Well for sure it [the experience in China] has allowed me to mature a lot; the fact that anyway I was living alone in a different country of which I don’t know the language, having to make do, be creative, be patient, so obviously [I gained] a significant level of maturity, and I remember the first time I came back [to Italy] after eight months [spent in China], and it felt like ten years had elapsed [from my departure]. It has

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two interviewees mentioned ‘sense of humour’, while another one commented that, ‘you need to be able to laugh about stuff and move on’. The literature indicates humour as one of the possible effective coping strategies to reduce depression and stress as well as promote psychological well-being (Ward and Kennedy, 2001). In this instance, ‘humour’ is not framed as ‘structured fun’ within the organization (see Warren, 2005a), but rather as an individual coping mechanism that may help people deal with the everyday absurdities of living in China.

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While many of the changes described by the respondents could be framed as positive personal developments, some more ‘negative’ changes were also reported. A third of the participants (both males and females) said that the experience in China had changed them because they had been forced to ‘become harder’, ‘have a more violent approach’, ‘become ruthless’ or ‘bad’ and ‘more aggressive’ in order to be able to keep up with the challenges of the new social context and relationship dynamics. They explained that while sensitivity had helped them in terms of cultural understanding, it was, at the same time, a quality that they had had to manage because ‘you have to let things slide past you in China, because if you take on everything that happens in life and in the organization, you won’t be able to deal with it’ (Marco) and ‘you need to learn how to accept things that here [in Italy] seem intolerable and painful, but there [in China] those are things you have to push through’ (Caterina). This concludes the study’s exploration of a number of issues faced by expatriates upon return (during the ‘After China’ stage). As per the adjustment process abroad, the three main categories identified during the interviews can be broadly classified as general, social and workrelated re-entry adjustment. This study confirms that the cultural shock and adjustment associated with re-entry is in most cases more challenging to deal with for expatriates even though it tends to be significantly underestimated by both companies and individuals. The following final chapter reflects on my relationship with China and the research project, offering some general conclusions and a highlighting this study’s contribution to the field.

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also changed the way I see relationships with people and life itself. I mean: what I miss the most now is a simple life, which I had there, a life without a car, eating simpler things or whatever you find there, without frills and without the superfluous. That’s the thing that [I noticed the most] … and now it bothers me when I see that many people consider important things that really don’t deserve any consideration.

Part V Conclusion
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This chapter draws the book to its conclusion by summarizing the theoretical, empirical and methodological contributions of this study in relation to the data presented in the previous chapters. This section also provides some considerations for future research developments and recommendations to those operating in the Chinese business field. I also conclude my personal Chinese tale by presenting some final reflections on my experiences both of living in China and writing this book.

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11
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Contributions, Considerations and Reflections

You can’t catch a cub without going into the tiger’s den. Chinese proverb

Looking back on the journey
This study enriches previous work on expatriate adjustment particularly through the presentation of empirical material derived from both the interviews and my autoethnographic account, but also in the specificity of the selected group (Italian expatriates in China), who had not been investigated before in a modern context through academic lens of an author who experienced expatriation in China first hand. Analysis of the available literature related to this topic was undertaken repeatedly, before, during and after the interviews with expatriates. The iterative character of the literature review allowed me to take advantage of both older and more recent publications while appreciating the currency of this research topic. Previous research examined during that review called for more empirical research on expatriates involving non-American participants (Mol et al., 2005) and further research on the importance of cross-cultural training (Littrell et al., 2006) and language competence (Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2005). This study is a modest attempt to respond to those calls. The findings in this study highlight several aspects related to expatriation that both contribute to the academic literature on cross-cultural relations and which may also be of practical interest for companies or individuals deciding to do business in China. In the first instance, this book has addressed the neglected social and business experience of Italian expatriates in China. Moreover, and more importantly, the findings of this study underscore the emerging literature on expatriate adjustment
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Research on cross-cultural training (CCT) was popular in the past and is now receiving renewed attention. Specifically, cross-cultural researchers have been examining issues surrounding expatriation since the 1960s and 1970s. Although the popularity of this research topic briefly waned in the 1980s, the increased globalization of the economy that began in the 1990s has caused cross-cultural research on expatriate employment to surge. Littrell et al. (2006: 356) Even though the effects of training have been proven to be inconsistent throughout the literature to date (see Selmer, 2006a inter alia) and the costs not inconsiderable, the need for such processes was passionately advocated by every single one of my interviewees and, in my experience, I feel that such training is crucial especially for those who do not have a previous professional or educational background in Chinese studies. Bizarrely, given the increasing number of sinology students entering the

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and highlight the importance of considering more fully expatriate experience, by differentiating between meta-categories of expatriates (standard, self-selected and entrepreneurs) as well as examining all phases of the expatriation and repatriation processes. Based on data gathered during the interviews, this study has provided a framework of expatriate typologies which highlights the importance of linguistic and cultural competence as a discriminating factor that can contribute to a more targeted and specific identification and anticipation of an individual’s needs and issues. Lauring and Selmer (2010) recently pointed out the importance of language in international management, suggesting that there is still a limited number of empirical investigations which aim to investigate such issues (Harzing and Feely, 2008; Holden, 2002; Moore, 2005; Welch and Piekkari, 2006; Welch, Welch and Piekkari, 2005). The descriptions of my own experience in China and the interviewees’ opinions regarding language competency as a crucial component of expatriate adjustment and success, places this study within the constellation of sources available on this topic. By using the context-rich voices of returning expatriates as well as my own experience to explore the complex process of expatriation in its entirety, this study provides a more comprehensive explanation of its relevant aspects. In terms of matters arising in the pre-departure stage, this research shows how numerous foreign companies seem to be continuing to underestimate the benefits that can derive from developing linguistic and cultural awareness.

Contributions, Considerations and Reflections 195

business market and their value for organizations, this group does not seem to have received enough attention in the business expatriate literature. Since several studies have suggested that an expatriate’s success in a foreign country is largely decided by his or her cross-cultural adjustment to the new culture Mendenhall, Kuhlmann and Stahl (2001); Caligiuri, Tarique and Jacobs, 2009), it seems therefore crucial for organizations, self-selected expatriates and entrepreneurs to take this into account before starting work overseas. The second phase of the expatriate process deals with what individuals experience once in loco and considers initial reactions as well as later adjustment. The experience shared by my interviewees mirrors most of the findings suggested by the relevant literature with reference to the many facets of general, work and social adjustment and provides further detailed exploration of the expatriation process through empirical data in conjunction with academic sources. Matters related to adjustment, liminality, feelings of home and identity negotiations all link the second phase of the expatriate process with the repatriation stage. As discussed before, recent studies have started addressing the issues expatriates face upon return to their home country. This study suggests that re-entry cultural shock and difficulties in adjustment upon repatriation affect expatriates regardless of age, gender and length of time spent in China. Additionally, data collected during the interviews showed that the most challenging aspect of the repatriation stage of the expatriation process is social and family reintegration, which was deemed more disruptive and frustrating than work-related problems. If the implementation of organizational and individual coping strategies could be fostered during expatriation as well as upon return, such strategies could significantly moderate repatriation adjustment. Given that the data collected in this study suggests that individuals experienced the most significant level of culture shock in relation to social matters, it would seem particularly important for expatriates to make an effort to stay in contact with their social and work-related networks both home and overseas, especially with possible future supervisors who may offer them good job opportunities upon return. Moreover, after the expatriate’s return, it might be beneficial for organizations as well as individuals to make a conscious effort to maintain quality of interaction with colleagues and flexibility in the re-adaptation process. In addition, the development or participation in programmes that target expatriates and their specific needs may prove advantageous to both individuals and organizations. This could also be achieved by utilizing repatriates as trainers or mentors as well as personal and career counsellors.

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The data collected for this study suggests that the following factors should be considered throughout the expatriation process:
Table 11.1 Important factors throughout the expatriate process
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Pre-departure

• Pre-assignment trips to familiarize the expatriate with the new environment • Motivation • Expectations • Selection and recruitment criteria • Linguistic and cultural training • Educational and cultural background • • • • • • • • • Physical adjustment Culture shock Language competence Cultural understanding Modus operandi in the workplace Expatriates typology and traits Mentoring Length and location of continuous stay Interpersonal relationships and social networks (within/outside the workplace) • Manners, etiquette and social conventions • Changes to individual identity • • • • • • • Reason for departure Re-entry culture shock Physical adjustment Career expectations and work-related issues Social adjustment Changes to lifestyle, habits and stimuli Mentoring

During the assignment

Upon repatriation

Any piece of research and the way in which investigations are approached and carried out are inevitably shaped by the chosen methodology, especially in the case of studies focussing on, or incorporating, autoethnography. In the preface I briefly located my ontological and epistemological assumptions within the ‘interpretive’ paradigm as the main aim of this project was to understand issues related to expatriate adjustment through the context-specific meanings developed by the social actors rather than via formulation of general principles or laws. Looking back at my research journey, the methods chosen for this investigation (qualitative interviews and autoethnography) have proven to be the right choice as they provided scope for the iterative identification and development of main as well as secondary themes, and the exploration

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Contributions, Considerations and Reflections 197

of nuances and taken-for-granted meanings. This study can also be considered as promoting autoethnography and the use of visual aids (in this case as stimuli to elicit information) in cross-cultural research; while both methods are becoming increasingly popular in social sciences, their use is still fairly scarce in business management research.

Roads not taken and future avenues
While the findings of this research offer some interesting insights into how expatriates adjust during long assignments abroad and how they experience the expatriation process before, during and after their foreign experience, this investigation, as every research project does, has some limitations to be considered in evaluating its findings. Focussing on the themes and content emerging from this research, the following paragraphs highlight some of the main limitations of this study and possible future explorations around this topic. First of all, I am conscious of the closeness of this research topic to my life and the related biases I inevitably carry with me. I have incorporated my experience into this study through the use of autoethnography, and even though I have strived to manifest my biases through reflexivity, some ‘projection’ may still be present (Agar, 1980/1996). While I see autoethnography as a key strength of this research, my familiarity with the field has invariably affected the ways in which I have viewed the issues related to expatriation and repatriation. Before starting this academic project, I had had a prolonged experience in the field; in addition, over the years, I had enjoyed innumerable conversations with members of the expatriate community in China regarding workplace, social issues, problems they had been faced with upon return and their understanding of relations with the Chinese community. These conversations, and my own experience, highlighted certain aspects of expatriation-repatriation process which contributed to the development of the research topic and aims. At the same time, I believe that my familiarity with the field also allowed me to reach a community which, because of problems in terms of ease of access (Takeuchi, 2010), is often under-investigated. Being familiar with the setting, I was further able to establish a high level of trust with my interviewees. I never was (or attempted to be seen as) a professional stranger in the field (Agar, 1980/1996) and instead took advantage of being considered ‘one of the gang’. However, in reality, I felt myself an ‘ex-insider’ belonging at times to a liminal space (Czarniawska and Mazza, 2003) as when I started this project I had not been an expatriate in China for some years. Assuming multiple roles,

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as researcher, ex-insider and one of the gang, made me especially aware of my own home perspectives (Martin, 2002), and I have tried to make this manifest throughout the study, especially during the presentation of the findings. My educational and cultural background meant that I was already very familiar with the Chinese environment before the start of my life as an expatriate. This, in turn, inevitably made me ‘side’ with a specific group of expatriates: ex-students who had a good degree of linguistic and cultural awareness and those who had moved to China before its economic boom. Moreover, even though there are commonalities among expatriates involved in the process, we are all different in our interpretations, experiences, emotional responses and career choices which makes an exhaustive qualitative study impossible to conduct. Finally, looking at possibilities for future research, the majority of studies consider the influence of host country nationals on expatriates but not vice versa (Black, Mendenhall and Oddou, 1991; Toh and DeNisi, 2007; Takeuchi, 2010; Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2005). I think it would be fair, interesting and useful to investigate expatriation through the eyes of the host country nationals, even though for a Western researcher gaining access (and sincere responses) in China may prove to be very difficult due to the in/out circle dynamics and cultural obstacles. In these matters, collaborative research between Chinese and Western academic colleagues would prove interesting and valuable. I have experienced prima facie a number of factors involved with the presence of Western managers in China that have sometimes positively, but mostly negatively, affected the lives of Chinese employees. For example, inequality and dissonance in terms of remuneration, seniority, promotion and responsibility; on the other hand, the arrival of multinational corporations, Sino-Western joint ventures and foreign capital has seen more numerous job opportunities and in some cases wages that are far superior than the average market rate in China. Unfortunately, many foreigners have lived up to their old ‘barbarians’ appellative by showing arrogance, ignorance and intolerance towards the ancient Chinese civilization and its influence on current ways of thinking, living and understanding the world. This has resulted in clashes and misunderstanding in the workplace, together with many expatriates trying to force their way of doing business on to Chinese companies without trying to understand or appreciate local practices nor negotiate a middle ground. Another aspect I believe would be worth addressing in future research, is the lack of investigation of the potentially critical dimension of moving to China with one’s spouse or family and how that can affect expatriates’ adjustment whether by mitigating or exacerbating culture shock

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Contributions, Considerations and Reflections 199

and adaptation issues – a topic which is gaining an increasing amount of interest in current expatriate research (Takeuchi, 2010). None of the people I interviewed had children at the time of their stay in China and only one was married (the spouse, however, lived in Italy and the impact of this was not investigated in the interview). There is little available research on family adjustment as a unit (Haslberger and Brewster, 2008) and a number of studies (see, for instance, Andreason and Kinneer, 2005) have found that the reverse culture shock experienced by family members upon return can greatly influence the ability of repatriates to resume their responsibilities and levels of performance. Throughout the years spent in China, I have become aware of a number of issues related to the move of the family unit as a whole, among them but not limited to are: the use of Chinese ayi as nannies for foreign children and their impact on their bilingualism, cross-cultural communication skills and ‘international’ frame of mind; the positive and negative impact on expatriate children of moving from one country to another during formative years, together with studying in international schools; the difference in networks and social lives for married couples; the effect of romantic affairs with host country nationals on married people, especially male expatriates; the need for a higher level of organization and planning before departure; spousal lifestyle and career expectations. As I mentioned before, I think that it would be very useful to investigate foreign entrepreneurs in China in a more specific and systematic way. They often move there as a ‘one man business’, receive limited support from embassies and governmental institutions aimed at the promotion of trade and commerce, and cannot rely on resources and expertise from home companies. A further empirically based and academically rigorous comparison between the issues encountered by entrepreneurs and other expatriates would be advisable. It would also be interesting to explore further some of the issues raised above through a more specifically gendered lens. The experience of female expatriates as seen in the testimonies shared by expatriates interviewed in this study would suggest that women’s experience in China is likely to be influenced by a number of specific issues such as gender discrimination in the workplace, relationships with male foreign counterparts, issues related to one’s physicality in terms of both location and the body and matters specific to reproduction, identity and work-life balance, particularly to the creation or management of a family abroad. Furthermore, I would agree that more research is needed on the expatriation process as a whole while at the same time considering multiple stakeholders (Zimmerman, Holman and Sparrow, 2003; Takeuchi, 2010).

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It would be advisable to conduct expatriate studies with a more holistic approach in terms of the influence of cultural and linguistic factors as well as an exploration that takes into account increased diversity and individual perspectives on gender, performance, communication, localized work practices, training, recruitment, social and general adjustment.

Final reflections
This book has been the result of a very personal and emotional voyage for me literally and metaphorically, both in my life in China and through the research journey, and producing it has enriched me as a practitioner, a lecturer and a researcher. I hope that this research will be of interest and use in both the academic world and the business battlefield, where expatriates will hopefully become increasingly better prepared for their foreign assignments in China, more aware of cultural issues that rule the international business world, and forewarned of what to expect upon return to their home country. I miss China sometimes. I’ve been away since July 2007, and I have not returned even for a holiday. I want to go back, but at the same time I don’t. I sometimes dream of China. I dream of being there, eating jiaozi (dumplings), discovering hidden dusty treasures in one of the antiques markets, talking with cab drivers during impossibly long traffic jams and chatting with the Chinese shop owners in the street where I used to live. I dream of the magical atmosphere of Chinese parks early in the morning when people do taiqi and hug trees, of calligraphy lessons and of old men playing cards or majiang while fanning themselves during a muggy summer evening. I dream of the luxuries I used to enjoy while there: my masseur, the expensive and exotic ‘all you can eat’ restaurants, cocktails in glamorous bars on the Bund, playing fashion designer at the fabric market. I also dream of the early days: being a student in a classroom without heating and my hands shaking so badly that I couldn’t write characters, meeting people from all over the world, finding love, losing friends, melancholy, adventure and fascination. I dream of scrolls, red chops and Chinese libraries with knowledge inscribed on thin, almost transparent, rice paper. I dream of the elderly gentlemen I met in a forest tracing poems with fine white salt on the dark brown ground, and the people dipping giant paintbrushes in buckets of water under the pavilions at Beihai to write characters that would quickly evaporate and disappear from the hot stone pavement. I kept dreaming in Chinese for the first five or six months after moving to the UK, and I felt somewhat robbed when that stopped. Then I started

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forgetting the pronunciation of this character, and the meaning of that one, and stopped being bothered with the horrible quality of Chinese take away food in my town. China for me will never be just an experience, or a job, or certificates. My self has been shaped by the presence of China in my life since I was 16 years old, and now, 18 years later, I somehow mourn its loss. I still love it, but I know that if I were to return I would have to face the old issues, frustrations and unfulfilled desires. It took me a long time to understand what I feel in relation to China, and perhaps I had to go through other processes in my life in order to fully understand it. Leaving China for me was like divorce, like leaving the man you have lived with for a long time, the one whose habits and idiosyncrasies you have grown to understand and be fond of, even the really annoying ones. However, you know you had to get away, because no matter how much you love him and how much you try to make it work, he is just not the right one for you. Sometimes you miss him, and you keep thinking about all the hopes and plans you had made with him that are now just memories of what could have been. Due to your shared history and all the years spent together, due to the laughter and the tears, somehow meeting casually with that person after your separation is painful. Even though you were the one who left and walked away, you still love him and know you will never be just friends. Going back to China as a tourist somehow feels wrong, I was never just a tourist; but I am not married to China anymore. We don’t belong to each other, we are becoming familiar strangers. However, I have been told that revisiting old loves can be an incredibly touching, fun, sweet and sour experience, so with this in mind it remains one road that I may yet want to investigate.

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Index
A access, and social adjustment, 110 adaptation, in China, 86–8 breaks/visits, 88–90 adjustment expatriate, see expatriate adjustment lack of, 103 models of, 83–5 psychological, 169 repatriation, 159 social, see social adjustment socio-cultural, 107, 169 work, 119–20, 169 Adler’s theory, 83 Ahmed, S., 152, 153 assignments, expatriates categories, 93 outcomes in, 86 overseas, 178 B bad expatriate, 44 Baijiu, 150 bargaining, 74–5 Baumgarten, K. E. E., 60 The Big Five, 58 boundaries defined, 157 identities and, 157–9 boundary spanners, 136 Boxer Rebellion, 8 breaks, and adaptation, 88–90 Buddhism, 140 buses (gonggongqiche), 64 business cards, 69 business meals, 144–9 order of dishes in, 148–9 Byzantine Empire, 7 C career, and migration to China, 37–8 Christianity, 6 chuzuche, see taxis (chuzuche) collective identity, 155–6 collectivism, 120–1 Maoist, 122 colonialism, 52 communication cross-cultural, 11, 128 with head office, 135–6 language as vehicle of, see language non-verbal, 122–3 practices, 139–40 communism, 52 company, setting up human resources management and, 100–1 issues of time and, 99–100 local knowledge and, 100 location for, 99 loneliness and, 101 preparation for, 98–9 resilience, 101 conflicts, 132 avoidance, 126 sources of, 123–31, 137–8 confucianism, 129, 140 principles of, 6 conversation topics, 150–1 corporate resistance and female expatriate careers, 59 corporate support, 171 criticism, 132 cross-cultural communication defined, 128 and expatriate adjustment, 11 cross-cultural international business, 16–17 cross-cultural knowledge upon repatriation, 179–81 cross-cultural skills, expatriates, 59 cross-cultural training, 51–3 analysis of, 45–6 defined, 51 cultural identity, 156 culturally salient words, 43

237

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238

Index defined, 18–19 degree of, 19 dimensions of, 19 factors influencing, 23, 54 language proficiency, 23–4 literature, themes in, 20 models, 83–5 modes of, 21 negotiations and, see negotiations networks and, 136–7 pre-departure training, 24–5 process, dimensions in, 104 and selection of expatriate, see recruitment, expatriates social, see social adjustment stress-related matters and, 83 work, see work adjustment expatriate bubble, 44 Expatriate Performance Management (EPM) systems, 10 expatriates, 92–102 adjustment, see expatriate adjustment assignments, outcomes in, 86 bad, 44 and bargaining, 74–5 cross-cultural skills, 59 daily aspects of, 63 defined, 10 effectiveness of, 59, 86 entrepreneurs, 98–101 experience, 9–11 failures, causes of, 11 identity, 154–9 knowledge, categories of, 177 leaving China, causes for, 163–6 length of stay, 101–2 lifestyle, 181–2 overseas assignment, 178 personal traits, 58–62 recruitment, see recruitment, expatriates self-selected/self-initiated, 31 social status, 181–2 standard, 31, 95–8 sub-cultural identity among, 35–7 success variables, 56–7 typologies, framework of, 92–101 expatriation, holistic approach to, 14–16

D Deng Xiaoping, 4 discrimination gender-based, in expatriates recruitment, 59 between students and workers, 93–5 discursive void, 158 ditie, see metro (ditie) diversity, and international business, 6 drinks, 67–8 during business meals, 149–50 E eating manners, 146–7 economy, role of China in, 3–4 emotions, 69 English, proficiency in, 42 entrepreneurs, 98–101 standard expatriates vs., 95–8 EPM systems, see Expatriate Performance Management (EPM) systems etiquette (lijie), 145 and social adjustment, 110–11 expatriate adjustment, 11, 18–27, 103–51 barrier for, 48 collectivism, 120–1 conversation topics, 150–1

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Cultural Revolution, 81 cultural shock, 84, 85–6 re-entry, repatriation adjustment and, 172–6 source of, 172 survey on, 90–1 cultural-toughness dimension, expatriate adjustment process, 104 cultural values, 130 core, 140 culture categories, 12 characteristics of, 129 defined, 12 and international business, see International business and language, in workplace, 49–51 levels of, 12–13 and values, 130

Index expectations, management of, 168–70 experience, expatriates and recruitment, 54–8 shared, lack of, 173–6 export, statistics on, 5 F face (mianzi), 131–4 faux pas, causes of, 132–4 The Five Stars People, 135 flexibility, expatriates, 59, 61 food, 67–8, see also business meals foreign companies, 4–5 investment by, report on, 4 forma mentis, 41, 45 G gender discrimination, in recruitment, 59 Global Relocation Trends report, 58 surveys, 11 gonggongqiche, see buses (gonggongqiche) greetings, 68–70 guanxi, 14, 86–7, 100, 115–16 defined, 115 elements of, 115 levels of, 115 role in Chinese culture, 14 H habits, and social adjustment, 110–11 hard seats, trains, 65 hard sleepers, trains, 65–6 he-he management practice, 121–2 history, 81–2 holistic perspective, expatriation, 14–16 home and away, 152–4 feeling at, 154 homophily, 6 honeymoon phase, cultural adjustment, 84 host language, purposes of, 45 human resources management, 100–1 huoche, see trains (huoche)

239

J J-curve, cultural adjustment, 84 jiaren, 115 Joint Venture law, 4 K karaoke, 151 keqi, 134 kinship, 69 knowledge, expatriates categories of, 177 of Chinese language, 45

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I identity, expatriates, 154–9 and boundaries, 157–9 collective, 155–6 cultural, 156 and in-betweenness, 154–7 literature on, 155 objective, 155 repatriation adjustment, 159 repatriation adjustment and, 184–5 subjective, 155 identity work, 159 IJVs, see international joint ventures (IJVs) import, statistics on, 5 inner/outer circles, and social adjustment, 113–15 instrumental language, 47 integrated language, 47 international business, 3–27 cross-cultural, 16–17 cultural influence on, 12–13 diversity and, 6 expatriate adjustment, 11 expatriate experience, 9–11 history of, 6–7 international joint ventures (IJVs), 4 interpersonal relationships, 107–8 interpersonal skills, expatriates, 57 Italia e Cina (Bertuccioli and Masini), 6 Italy investments, in China, 5–9 small and mediumsized enterprises (SMEs), 6 study of Chinese in, 35

240

Index May Fourth Movement, 8 meals, business, 144–9 drinking during, 149–50 order of dishes in, 148–9 mentors, 178–9 metro (ditie), 64–5 mianzi (face), 131–4 role in Chinese culture, 14 migration, to China for career, 37–8 causes of, 34–5 for money, 37–8 motivation for, 31–2 passion for, 37 phases, stress and, 83 MNCs, see multinational companies (MNCs) modesty, 134–5 money, and migration to China, 37 Mongolian Empire (Yuan Dynasty), establishment of, 7 Moscow, 9 motivation for migration in China, 31–2 and personal traits, 58 staff, 100–1 multinational companies (MNCs) training by, 41 multinationals, 10, see also international business N nali nali, 134 national culture, 12 national identity, 185–7 negotiations, 139–50 business meals, 144–9 international business, cultural factors in analysis, 139–40 networks, social and expatriate adjustment, 136–7 local, 137 noise pollution, 64 non-verbal communication, 122–3 O objective identity, 155 observation, and social adjustment, 109–10 open door policy, 4

knowledge, expatriates – continued cross-cultural, upon repatriation, 179–81 local, and setting up a company, 100 and recruitment, 54–8 L language, 39–53 competency, 128 and cross-cultural relations, 15 and culture, in workplace, 49–51 defined, 24, 41 English, 42 fluency, trust and, 51 host, purposes of, 45 instrumental, 47 integrated, 47 knowledge of, 45 local, learning of, 39–42 pre-departure training, see pre-departure training proficiency, expatriates, 23–4 translators, 42–9 as vehicle of communication, 49 the laowai stare, 75–7 Lazy Susan, 146 learning challenges in, 43 need of, 8 lifestyle, 181–2 lijie, see etiquette (lijie) liminality, defined, 152 LinkedIn, 176 literature, 7 on expatriate adjustment, 20 on expatriate management, 17 and expatriation, 14 on identity, 155 on translation, 48–9 local knowledge and setting up company, 100 local language, see also language learning of, 39–42 location, for setting up company, 99 loneliness, and setting up company, 101 luck, 70–1 M Maoist collectivism, 122 Mao Zedong, 8–9

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Index openness, expatriates, 59, 61 Opium War, 7–8 organizational culture, 12 other-oriented dimension, expatriate adjustment process, 104 outcomes, in expatriate assignments, 86 P parks, 71–3 passion, for migration to China, 37 Peltonen, T., 153 perceptual dimension, expatriate adjustment process, 19, 104 personal space, 70 personal traits, expatriates, 58–62, see also specific traits physical adjustment, repatriation and, 183–4 new habits and, 183 pioneers, 35–7 places, and social adjustment, 108–9 pollution, 63 noise, 64 pre-departure training, 15, 24–5, 49 stress and, 54 pregnancy, and superstitions, 71 privacy, and social adjustment, 109–10 psychological adjustment, 169 Q Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, 7 R recovery period, cultural adjustment, 84 recruitment, expatriates, 25–6, 54–77 approaches to, 59 experience and, 54–8 gender-based discrimination in, 59 knowledge and, 54–8 process of, 54–5 skills and, 54–8 relationship dimension, expatriate adjustment, 19 repatriation adjustment, 159, 166–8, 172–90 analysis, criteria for, 169 cross-cultural knowledge and, 179–81 culture shock and, 172–6

241

S selection, expatriates, see recruitment, expatriates ‘self-centred’ individuals, 21–2 self dimension, expatriate adjustment, 19 self-oriented dimension, expatriate adjustment process, 104 self-selected/self-initiated expatriates, 31, 56, 95–8 ‘sinomania’ phenomenon, 7 Sino-western romantic relationships, 116–19 skills, expatriates cross-cultural, 59 interpersonal, 57 and recruitment, 54–8 small and mediumsized enterprises (SMEs), 6, 43 social adjustment, 107–19 access and, 110 etiquette and, 110–11 guanxi, 115–16 habits and, 110–11 inner/outer circles, 113–15 interpersonal relationships, 107–8 observation and, 109–10 privacy and, 109–10 sino-western romantic relationships, 116–19 spaces/places, 108–9 well-being, 107–8

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defined, 167 and identity, 184–5 lifestyle, 181–2 mentors, use of, 178–9 and national identity, 185–7 personal changes and, 187–90 personal characteristics affecting, 164 physical, 183–4 post-repatriation career, 177–8 social status, 181–2 stimuli, 182–3 resilience, and setting up company, 101 Ricci, Matteo, 7 Ripa, Matteo, 7 role information, 131

242

Index translation, literature on, 48–9 translators, 42–9 transportation, China, 63–7 buses, 64 metro, 64–5 and pollution level, 63–4 taxis, 66–7 trains, 65–6 treaty of Versailles, 8 trust, language fluency and, 51 U UCF (Unidentified Chinese Food), 147 United Nations, 9 United States pollution level in, 63 V Vagueness, Chinese language, 43 visits, and adaptation, 88–90 W W-curve, cultural adjustment, 84–5, 172 well-being, 107–8 women discrimination, in recruitment, 59 names, in Chinese, 69–70 work adjustment, 119–20, 169 workers students and, discrimination between, 93–5 workplace language and culture in, 49–51 sources of conflicts in, 123–31 Y Yuan Dynasty, see mongolian Empire (Yuan Dynasty), establishment of Z zhengzhu naicha (pearl milk tea), 68 zhongguo, China as, 3 Zhu Rongji, 4 Zongli Yamen, 8

T taijiquan, 73 Taoism, 140 taxis (chuzuche), 66–7 tea, in China, 68 technology, 47 time issues, and setting up company, 99–100 toilets, in China, 73–4 topics, conversation, 150–1 traffic, 63 training cross-cultural, 45–6, 51–3 importance of, 52 lack of, causes of, 103 measures, 41 by multinational companies, 41 pre-departure, 15, 24–5 trains (huoche), 65–6 traits, expatriates, see personal traits, expatriates

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social identities, 157, 158 social status, expatriates, 181–2 socio-cultural adjustment, 107, 169 soft seats, trains, 65 soft sleepers, trains, 66 spaces, and social adjustment, 108–9 spring cleaning, 71 standard expatriates, 31 vs. entrepreneurs, 95–8 stimuli, 182–3 stress and expatriate adjustment, 83 and phases in migratory experience, 83 and pre-departure training, 54 students and workers, discrimination between, 93–5 sub-cultural identity, expatriates, 35–7 subjective identity, 155 subways, 64–5 superstitions, 70–1 and pregnancy, 71 survival spoken Chinese, 47

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