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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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Easier to ask Forgiveness than ask Permission

By Garreth Humphris
3588 Views | 3 Comments | 1/11/2011 12:47:48 AM
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I was reading Peter's recent post here and thought about an interesting anecdote that a Chinese Lawyer friend shared with me a few years back!

Peter suggested that Nisbett's study of Chinese culture translates well into Dating Chinese Women and I don't necessarily disagree with him or Nisbett.

Certainly from a foreigner's perspective, many Chinese relationships appear to be 'passive/aggressive' at times - I don't necessarily mean that the are violent, but often the Chinese partner can appear 'rational' at one moment and a 'screaming banshee' at the next (to steal John Abbott's analogy from the comments).

It's happened to me on many occasions:

- my girlfriend at the time decides at some point that something is unacceptable, and it is 'hell or high water' - pouting, screaming, slapping. And then the next minute, she is passive and dismissive as if nothing has happened. Go figure!!

- my employees, decide that they need to do something different from the plan, disappear and then come back later and ask for me to 'forget' their indiscretion.

- business partners seem to do totally illogical and irrelevant transactions and expect you to turn a blind eye.

- people know you one day and don't the next!!

I had always put it down to my misunderstanding of some cultural or social norm, and in some ways, it is true, but a friend of mine, a lawyer, explained an area of Chinese Law we were discussing one day with the expression 'In China, it is easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission'.

For me, this simple 'saying' describes many Chinese situations (and probably international ones).

But let me explain the 'Law' part... China has some quite interesting and progressive Laws in place - for example, the Labour Laws have some of the 'best attributes' of Laws from all over the world within them to protect workers' rights - but one way China differs in Law is that it does not necessarily follow 'Law of Precedence'...now I am not a lawyer or even a law commentator so i don't want to get into arguments with people who are! But, in general terms, common law in other parts of the worlds suggests if a previous ruling was upheld in similar circumstances in another court, then the judge is obliged to make a similar ruling in the case they are ruling on!

In China, the process is such that every court case is a distinctly different case and has no previous 'direction' from previous cases. What this means is that the 'outcome' of a court case cannot necessarily be 'surmised' before it is heard - you cannot define which party has a better chance at 'winning' a court case - it depends on the day and how circumstances unfold! It is a 50:50 bet, and you can never say 'the Law is on my side'.

My friend suggested that in many cases, it is better to 'enact the action first, and suffer the retribution later, than to get permission and approval first!'. He argued that the cost and uncertainty is greater if you wait!

Now this is an interesting concept that you see many times in China - the Chinese 'maybe' - the quintessential non-commital answer for everything, the apparent 'lack of responsibility' of people and the belief of 'accident' rather than 'negligence' or 'direct cause' are a couple of examples that come to mind...

Now how does this relate to Love in China??? Thorny question...is it better to marry first and find 'incompatibility' later or discover the 'incompatibility' first and never marry?
Almost a Shakespearean 'Scottish Play' moment - Sword of Damocles anyone???

I was running through the scenarios when 'girlfriends' had apparently 'let me down' in the past, or acts against other foreigners I know, according to my rating system (which I don't suggest for one moment is correct!).

these have been -

- 'dating a foreigner and keeping it 'secret' from everyone because you know they won't approve...but maybe hoping if you marry then it will all be smoothed over with the family in the future.

- starting a business with foreigner and then running a 'competing' business on the side because your Chinese friends probably don't like working with foreigners! But taking all the profits yourself!

- having a boyfriend in which you live with, and a boyfriend in which you visit and hope that either one will marry you, being very careful to keep them separated!

- using your boyfriends ideas, knowledge, connections, money and know-how to construct a business and then 'write them out of it', via paperwork 'technicalities' (but doing this from the inception of the project...the ticking timebomb!)

- buying a house 'jointly' but somehow having it revert to her name at the first sign of 'having it paid for', and finding yourself no-longer dating her because the family say 'no'!

- progressing all the way to marriage (reception booked, family flying in from Europe) and finding out the family said 'no' 3 months before and has 'maintained no' but she has continued anyway.

Are these 'sneakiness and mischief' or are they merely 'taking before asking permission'?

Even if the person is 'honest' and doesn't do these types of 'wild' activities (about 1 in 5 foreigners has this story in China - check-out the stories in the other blogs here!!), then there are other little 'let-downs' that are common...

- your friend doesn't turn up for dinner, leaving you alone, or with a group of friends...they said 'yes' but have no intention of meeting you because they have 'other things' such as 'family' to do, but you don't know it!

- your friend turns up 3 hours late, and wants to leave in 20 minutes.

- your friend says they will organise things, then don't!

- you are expecting to be 'included' because you are 'dating' but are excluded because of 'family' seeing you.

- having to 'hide' when walking down the street because someone will 'see' you with her. Or she'll disappear into a shop or alley to avoid someone seeing you together

- working in a place you know your parent's won't approve (a bar) for 9 years and not telling them!!!

I guess in the past, I've tried to explain things in nice 'culturally sensitive terms' but sometimes you have to get the low-down in the dirt... So today, I've come to the conclusion that it is just easier to 'go native' and ask for forgiveness rather than permission...

Please forgive me!

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(Showing 1 to 3 of 3) 1
#2011-01-11 07:14:01 by chrisfr2 @chrisfr2

>> Dating a chinese pretty girls from nanjing 2months long, going to restaurant, romantic boat on the lake, sending her flowers, nice hotels ... on wednesday she invited to nanjing for week end, she wasn't at station when i arrived in the morning.. didn't answer to phone nor sms, i stayed 4 hours alone at nanjing station and went back to changzhou...
no answers to mails or phones calls 2 weeks long, then a message : "i decided to go to italy to study"
... ... ... for sure she had decided that between wednesday and saturday morning, get her visa and arranged all papers from university... ... ...
this day i learned PIAN ZI !

#2011-01-11 22:21:35 by woaizhongguo @woaizhongguo

Nisbett has some great evidene relevant to your claim that "In China, the process is such that every court case is a distinctly different case and has no previous 'direction' from previous cases." It goes roughly like this. When Asians and Westerners (don't exactly remember which Asians or which Westerners, it's different in different of the experiments reported) are asked about the validity of a particular rule--say, an employee should retire at such and such an age--they agree to the rule in roughly similar percentages. But when the particulars of the case are presented, Asians tend to be ready to overthrow the rule at a much higher rate than Westerners. Lin Yutang has a saying about Chinese and the application of logic, saying that for Chinese, a rule must not only be rational, it must accord with common sense, meaning, I take it, at least that you have to look at the particulars of the circumstance, as you point out, before you can speak definitlvely on any matter--love included!

#2011-01-18 03:41:23 by sunstarent2008 @sunstarent2008

It is amazing that you described all the situation that I went through with a woman from Shanghai, because of our age difference. In six years, she used up a lot of US$dollars that I provided to her...Love is not cheap..

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