Roots

Since 2001, I always lived in 2nd-tier cities….Although not the Beijing’s or Shanghai’s or Guangzhou’s, still very large cities in China. Still humungous and I don’t think I ever lived in a place with less than 7 million people.When you watch the evening news and hear about the China rise and development, you’re usually hearing about the larger tier, prosperous cities (1st to 2nd-tier).  This is where I lived, this is where the bulk of international commerce happens and this is where the large chunk of expats live.

The countryside is an all-together different beast.  A couple of observations…

Roots: 

In the States you may meet someone from a different city or state, discuss it for a bit and even hold it as a point of interest.  But after a while, it’s just a sidepiece of info, doesn’t really affect you one way or the other where they are from or if you’re living and working in a place that’s not your home.

To Chinese, being in your hometown or “who is from what area” is a much bigger deal than we make of it in the West.  The Chinese act very different when they’re away from their home area and when they are in their home area, there is a confidence and boldness you won’t see when they are “outside”.  The people in a city treat you differently if you’re from that city and much worse if you’re an outsider (as long as it’s not a mega-tier city).

To most foreigners, “China is China”.  But not to the Chinese.  They are very tribal, very area-focused.  I remember when my wife and I left Jiangsu and moved to Guangdong in 2004, the atmosphere, the level of feeling welcomed, the attitude of locals to non-Guandongese – this was the first time I had a taste of this concept.

That is one of the reasons in the larger cities; you get a feeling that nobody regards each other.  Some folks come across timid and soft-spoken others come across rude and uncivilized.  It’s because they are not “home”.  They are not close to their roots.  When these same folks are home, they most likely act a world different.

Experience: 

You see more elderly folks in the countryside who are working and going to a job.  In the cities, whenever I would go out in public, a restaurant, stay in a hotel while traveling, the airports, the average aged looked to be about 25 to 30 and not a soul had any authority to fix any problem, handle any complaint, take charge of any situation.  The places seemed like they were ran by kids and the service and the assurance you would receive from the staff at knowing what they were doing, reflected as such.

In the countryside elderly folks still work in factories, restaurants and even positions more white-collar.  These are not the mainline export factories, but smaller factories for local business.

Employee Turnover:

In the city, this is huge issue and it seems to increase every time I turn around.  My own company has had it’s bouts with this.  You see it at restaurants you frequent, the bank, the hair cut place ( I hate saying I went to a hair salon…but they didn’t really have manly barbers where I was in China).  Folks come and they go – this is city life in China.  In the rural areas, folks stay put.  This is primarily due to a shortage of jobs, but also the folks are simply content.  The rural areas are not that expensive, the young adults don’t have to scratch and claw to afford rent or a mortgage and they also have the family unit giving them support.

Baimi Town in North Jiangsu

Case in point, my wife’s cousin, is in upper management at a factory and he’s been there going on 7 years.  He makes roughly US$500.00 a month and just seems content.  His mother works at the same factory, it’s his uncle’s family, it’s in his hometown.  In China, you always think of extreme nepotism, but at US$500 a month, this obviously isn’t the case.

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The three above points are a few reasons why when you are working offshore and working with a supplier via the internet, email , skype, phone QQ…whatever the case may be, many times the supplier seems aloof or seem like he or she doesn’t have a strong grasp on what they are doing.

More times than not, when you are importing and especially for those of you in the promotional product or ad specialty industries, you deal with a supplier or factory on the eastern seaboard.  And the sales person with whom you are dealing, deals with the fears and the unknown circumstances of being away from their home and being away from those roots.

They’re managing being out of a small town, in the countryside and living and working in the mega cities.  Development is going at a million miles an hour and they are caught up in the rat race.  Not only do they deal with adapting to working in manufacturing but also working away from their hometown.

If this young salesperson, usually at an age from 23 to 28, is dealing with importers, they’re dealing with a culture and a people they know next to nothing about…  it’s a miracle there are not more problems in manufacturing than there already are.

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  • Change on the grand scale, millions of people trying to fit in while trying to fit out their lives with more…
    I knew this would be a great site to come to and learn from, I am not disappointed at all…Billy

    • Much obliged Mr. Delaney.  When folks consider the epic “Rise of China” many times the effect on the individual person isn’t considered.  How is this effecting the elderly who have seen the nation go through a humungous metamorphosis?  What is the young couple going through after hours who work 55 hours on a production line?  

      In my line of work, having a better understanding of the people, leads to more success and smoother navigation in getting your merchandise from factory to your customer. Having the cold-hearted corporate attitude (ie, “no excuses, get it done”), leads to a lot of head scratching when the goods aren’t what you were expecting.  

  • These are some interesting insights on China Jacob. I love to immerse myself in other cultures. I find people from other countries very interesting and different; but good-hearted, loving people at the core. China is on my short list to visit : )

    • Take the opportunity to visit as soon as you can.  I’m fortunate to have lived there when I did; I saw the country go through different phases while I was there and some of the aspects in those earlier years (simplicity, lack of automobiles, air of “romance”), are now hard to find and pinpoint.  

      Thanks for the encouragement and for visiting the blog, Mark – hope to see more of you.  

  • How interesting! I didn’t know about some of those aspects of Chinese culture. I think your blog is going to be very enlightening.

    • Thanks Erin;  it’s definitely an aspect of the culture of “modern” China.  My wife’s grandmother and her generation didn’t leave their hometown area, so this new migration, whether white or blue collar, has an extreme effect.  Appreciate the nice comment on the blog.  

  • Rachael Tiow

    Jacob, thank you for providing such helpful insights to the Chinese culture. As a Chinese who was born in Malaysia, I still get asked, “Which part of China are your ancestors from?” It is embarrassing that I do not know, but I am glad I speak my chinese dialect, Hakka. 

    • Rachel, I’m happy to stopped by and looking forward to getting to know you.  It’s great when we are connected to our own roots as well as planting new seeds and laying new foundations for our future.  Hopefully you can teach me some Hakka! 🙂 Talk to you real soon.