The art of understanding China

07:39 by Hubert Fromlet, Kalmar


Konsten att förstå Kina

Sammanfattning / Brief summary in Swedish

Ekonomiska bedömningar avseende Kina kräver god förståelse för kinesernas psykologi och politiska värderingar. Det stora problemet med Kina-analyser och kommentarer som görs i vår del av världen är att det mestadels sker utifrån en västerländsk synvinkel och värderingsansats. Detta fenomen leder ofta till felaktiga slutsatser.


It can be observed that more and more analysts comment these days on China. Of course, a lot is written and said about developments in China. Thus, some new knowledge about China can be acquired quite easily. One special problem, however, is not recognized sufficiently in many cases: the frequently existing inadequacy of applying Western logic when attempts are made to explain the Chinese and their (future) actions and reactions.

For this reason, the headline of this blog is set as “the art of understanding China”. Interpreting many Chinese conundrums is indeed an art. However, a substantial number of conundrums are not regarded as such phenomena by most Westerners.

President Trump frequently accuses the Chinese of unfair behavior in international business. This criticism is not unmotivated and has in recent years also been taken up frequently and concretely by the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China. It is therefore urgent that the EU in the foreseeable future can achieve a workable common China strategy – however, in a more gentle way than the U.S. has been and still is applying.

What the Chinese dislike

Achieving an acceptable EU strategy also for the Chinese assumes, however, that the EU looks at China in a kind of diplomatic way and not from a “Europe first position”. President Trump’s “America first position” vis-à-vis China certainly was received by the Chinese as extremely unfriendly. It should not be neglected that the Chinese still are very proud of their long-term history and also the (economic) achievements in the past four decades.

In general terms, attitudes that point at humiliation and arrogance by foreigners are always strongly disliked by the Chinese. History also tells us that the Chinese used to become very upset when American officials regularly argued for a stronger currency (RMB, yuan). An important conclusion: It is not so much what you say it but the way you say it (even if there are issues you never should mention for the Chinese).

Below, I link to a summary of Chinese and Western values and logics. There may be certain moves going on into a new direction, for example in China from repetition to innovation or from unity to individualism. But the link still provides China analysts with nicely applicable guidelines for understanding Chinese logics and behavior. Without doubt, the search for such insight promises to be beneficial                 .

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
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