Hierarchy plays a key role in today’s Chinese society, resulting in important cultural differences compared to the Western culture in the professional sphere.
Since 1979 and the start of the open-door policy, China has been progressively opening to the outside world. Nowadays, workers from all around the globe and fields of profession have come to China for business purpose in the world’s second most economically powerful country. Even though China has internationalized at a reckless speed – Shanghai being the perfect illustration – the country has still preserved its unique cultural features. As a result, ways to do business in China differ markedly from other countries, and foreigners need to make sure they understand the basic implied codes of conduct there. This paper will briefly cover the importance of hierarchy in the Chinese society and its consequence in the world of work.
According to Geert Hofstede, a renowned professor and author of one of the most popular frameworks to assess cultural differences, China scores higher (80) than the average (64) in terms of power distance. This dimension covers the inequalities between people within the same society, and the way such differences of treatment are dealt with. This high score is explained by the fact that managers possess a strong power in their relationships with subordinates, and no defense usually exists against power abuse from the former.
Such a high power distance has a high impact on the way business is conducted in China. Indeed, the roles are usually more clearly marked between the leaders and the subordinates. Chinese managers have a lot of authority, and are unlikely to be contradicted. In other words, as a former Western worker in China put it, “In China, the boss is always right. And even when the boss is very wrong, he is still right”. Therefore, leaders’ instructions and company regulations will usually be followed by the letter by subordinates, who are unlikely to challenge the opinions of the formers. Even though this way of conducting business ensures the company is operating smoothly, it can also have negative consequences as employees will lack the incentives to show autonomy as well as a proactive behavior. Moreover, differences in terms of communication are also expected according to people’s rank. For instance, people having the highest status usually expect to be greeted first during a gathering.
Such great power also comes with high responsibilities for managers. Indeed, the latter will be perceived as coaches from their employees, who expect to receive very clear and precise instructions. Moreover, leaders usually have to show great care for their employees and protect them in case of needs.
To summarize, Westerners need to understand the importance of China’s high power distance in order to secure good relationships with partners, managers as well as subordinates. Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten than this vertical hierarchical vision is only one of many cross-cultural differences China has compared to Western countries. If willing to experience it yourself, you can apply for our internship program at Shanghai Metal Corporation, one of the leading businesses in the manufacturing of metalworking industry. We can produce and export the best quality of aluminum, steel and other metal products, keeping an eye on manufacturing efficiency and environmental sustainability.
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