Going East or West?

A Handbook for American and Chinese Business Travelers
by Terri Morgan and Yuzeng Liu


We have chosen not to make substantive changes to our book or rewrite sections to include changes during the 15 years since our original print publication. The stories and insights we present are as current today as they were then. We understand there are those who will never be satisfied with anything that is not up to the second. Our book is not for them. It is for those who appreciate a time-defined perspective and the insights a longer view provides.

The purpose of this book is to provide business people traveling between China and the United States with some cultural insights, travel tips and other useful information. It is not intended to be a comprehensive travel reference; there are many of those available on the market already (and we list some in the resources section). It is also not intended to be an authoritative book on cultural history, protocols, or negotiating strategies; there are many of those on the market as well (we have some sources for these, too). We hope that both Chinese and American business travelers will find it a handy reference and a starting point for additional research.

Most business people do not need another book to tell them how to conduct business. They already know what they want and have clearly-defined business goals. But where do you start when you want to do business on the other side of the Pacific? How do you get there? And what happens (or could happen) when you get there?

In this book, we try to address what is “normal” or common practice, including key similarities and differences. While not strictly intended as a how-to book, we have included suggestions and some do’s and don’ts for both cultures. We have also included many stories and anecdotes throughout this book to illustrate particular points or to represent certain aspects of character. After working through many of the issues presented here ourselves, it seemed like a good thing to share our findings with others. While we have done a bit of research, a great deal of the material, and certainly the inspiration for this book, comes from personal experience and stories we’ve heard from other travelers.

We have defined a point of view in each anecdote based on the notion that if we don’t know what the other person’s point of view is, we cannot begin to understand it. To understand what is “normal” within a culture, you must first have a point of view which defines your perceptions and gives you the ability to interpret your circumstances and surroundings in a meaningful way. Everyone who is part of the culture may not share the points of view or opinions we have included, but we believe they represent some of those typically present in the respective cultures. The answers to the questions Who am I?, How do I identify myself?, How do I relate to others? can be found in each individual’s background and experience. We have tried to present illustrations that would be typical for the culture. We hope everyone will recognize our intention in doing this is solely to foster understanding. Why are we who we are? is a question that comes clearly into focus when we are required to engage someone who is completely outside our “normal” sphere of interaction. Since the other side of the Pacific is way outside “normal” for many Chinese and Americans, we hope this book will provide some insights.

In addition to providing a resource for travelers, another goal for this book is to provide a resource for those who will receive travelers. Many times, we receive guests without knowing how to treat them or how to make them comfortable. Usually, we would offer to treat a guest in the same way as we would like to be treated ourselves. The problem with this is that what I consider polite may not be the same as what you would consider polite.

I was staying in the guest house of a small college in central China. One day, several students came to visit me. I had some cookies and hot water. I offered the cookies and suggested some instant coffee or tea. They all said no, no one wanted anything. Being from the Midwestern US, I wished I’d had something else to offer, supposing they would have preferred soft drinks or some other snack. But I didn’t have anything else and accepted that they did not want what I had. We talked for awhile, then they left. It was not until several months later that I learned I’d made a cultural mistake. On an outing, one of my students mentioned that day. “We all thought you were so rude, impolite and unfriendly to us,” he told me. “Why?” I asked astounded. “Because you only offered one time. You didn’t insist. Don’t you know Chinese people think it’s rude to accept anything the first time it’s offered. You should have asked at least three times.”

From the American point of view, once the person has said no, it would be considered rude to insist too much. Asking “Are you sure you don’t want anything?” would be enough. But from the Chinese point of view, it is not polite to accept anything, especially a gift, if the person does not insist. The insistence is taken to mean that the person really wants to give whatever it is.

This book addresses such issues in the context of what business travelers may encounter. We include everything from getting on and off the plane to general tips on handling contract negotiations. Our goal is to provide some insights to how and what the other person thinks so that both can find greater harmony and develop the understanding needed for truly cooperative efforts.

Copyright © 2000
Wudang Research Association
All rights reserved in all languages

Printed in the United States of America
ISBN 0-9672889-1-6