Whether someone is completely new to China, or an old China hand, this book is equally useful as both a source of necessary learning, or a reminder of how things work in China.
Much of this stuff simply doesn't come naturally to Westerners, and, even after nearly 20 years of travel to China, I occasionally need reminders. The book is a relatively quick and easy read -- it took me a little over an hour -- but it's packed with both theory and practice on what this mysterious guanxi thing is all about and how to navigate one's way through a potentially tricky maze of gestures and obligations.
The writing style is clean and straightforward, but also descriptive and, at times, humorous. Among the gems are statements like "Guanxi is the sweet candy shell that coats some potentially bitter medicine." What he explains is that, while the whole process of building guanxi can seem light and even fun, it is a process that the Chinese take very seriously. Mistakes made during this process can sink a partnership before it even gets off the ground.
People who do business in China need to load this book onto their Kindles and iPads. And if you find yourself sending a newbie to China on behalf of your company, be sure he or she has this book ahead of time. They will need to read it several times before getting on the plane, and probably several more while they are in China.
Andrew Hupert provides the reader not just with practical advice on structuring agreements and contracts, but more importantly, he spells out the warning signs of future conflict. Many behaviors that come natural to the Western business person appear as red flags to their Chinese counterparts, and avoidance of these behaviors are a real key to setting up a partnership for success.
Even the word “conflict” in the title of this book should be an indicator of just how differently the Chinese and Western sides of a partnership approach business. Much of what counts for “conflict” in this book is indeed “conflict” from a Western perspective, but from the Chinese perspective, it is simply part of doing business. While Westerners are accustomed to a fair amount of conflict leading up to the signing of a contract, the general expectation is that this is the point at which conflict ends, and both parties do their best to adhere to the terms of the contract.
While it has now become practically cliché to say that Chinese and Westerners view contracts differently, Hupert opens a door on what the Chinese side is thinking both before and after contract signing, how they constantly assess the performance of both the business and their foreign partner, and how they will maneuver to improve the terms of the deal for themselves. Having this knowledge certainly will not prevent conflict, but understanding what motivates the Chinese side, and having Hupert's advice on how to address Chinese concerns (most of which they will never verbally express) will equip Western business people far better than an entire lifetime of experience in a Western-only business setting.
This 10-chapter book is structured to mirror the life of a Chinese-Western partnership from beginning to end – whether that end is a continuance of the partnership or a dissolution. In each chapter, Hupert provides clear theoretical explanations of how and why Chinese and Western expectations differ, and then he provides case studies that illustrate both successful and unsuccessful ways of dealing with conflict.
There is also a larger, fictional case study about an American partner, Stan, and a Chinese partner, Jimmy who meet in college in the US and establish a business together in Shanghai. Each chapter ends with a telling of the portion of the Stan & Jimmy story that applies to that chapter, and the story is so well-told, that the reader will find it hard to stop reading at the end of any given chapter.
If you're serious about succeeding in business (or any kind of negotiation) in China, you really cannot afford not to have both of Andrew Hupert's books in your e-reader.