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Showing posts from January, 2007

Is Culture a Dangerous Concept?

Culture has become a very popular word. When cooperation is bad, we assume cultural differences. When we feel threatened by the power of others, we emphasise our cultural identity. When business negotiations in China fail, it is their culture that made us lose the deal and problems in mergers between companies are the consequence of a failing cultural integration process. Culture explains everything.

The problem of this popular use of the term 'culture' is its highly defensive nature. By blaming the culture, we do not have to take the responsibilty for the conflicts we engage in, the mistakes we make in negotiations and our inability to merge two companies into a new organisation. Culture is to blame.

But what is culture? Is it some solid thing that obstructs our path? Can it be seen? Can it be destroyed or changed? There are no simple answers to such questions, but it is evident that culture - in the form of concepts, rules, recipes, ideas - does shape what people (are able to…

Chinezen kijken (Chinese-watching)

Bespreking van

Bettine Vriesekoop, Bij de Chinees: Gewoonten en Gebruiken in China, Amsterdam: Thomas Rap, 2006.

Toen Bettine Vriesekoop in 1981 voor het eerst in China kwam om daar van de Chinezen nog beter te leren tafeltennissen dan zij al deed, viel ze van de ene verbazing in de andere. Vaak voelde zij zich er niet op haar gemak en volledig op zichzelf teruggeworpen. Zij had ontdekt dat China een moeilijk land was voor een Hollander, Europeaan, Westerling. Het land bleef haar echter fascineren. Zij ging Chinees studeren, ging er later als correspondent van NRC-Handelsblad zelfs wonen.

In 'Bij de Chinees' laat ze de lezer delen in het inzicht dat zij inmiddels in het gedrag van de Chinezen heeft ontwikkeld. Daarbij combineert ze haar eigen ervaringen van meer dan twintig jaar geleden met haar recente ervaringen, interviews met Nederlandse zakenlieden en inzichten uit de Chinese filosofie. Deze combinatie, luchtig gestructureerd rondom acht thema's - acht omdat dit in Chi…

Chinese Culture

Image
Is China a Collectivist Country?

One of the standard images of the difference between 'Western' culture and 'Chinese' culture is in terms of the dimension collectivism-individualism. The Netherlands would be highly individualistic in these terms and China would be collectivistic. On the basis of this difference it has often been predicted that Chinese will be better team players and cooperate in groups more easily than the Dutch, the Swedes, the Americans. From my own observation, this is not true. (See also http://www.cbiz.cn/NEWS/showarticle.asp?id=2227)
What we often see in Chinese groups - in school, in business - is a very high level of competition between individuals. We also see a a lot of opportunism and low trust. It seems as if each individual person wants to become number one, a process that blocks open communication and cooperation. This very individualistic behaviour seems to be linked to the special type of collectivism in China, sometimes labeled 've…