Because of the Chinese focus on relationships rather than rules, and because of the lingering effects of the Cultural Revolution (which demonstrated to many Chinese people that you can only rely on friends and family), the Chinese value loyalty very highly. This matters to you because (A) it’s important to consider loyalties when proposing a solution to a Chinese boss or client and (B) loyalty will often trump all other considerations when a Chinese person is making a decision.
A thing I heard many times while working in China was that it was easy for a foreigner to be respected, but hard for them to be trusted. In part this was because their loyalty was almost always in question.
When I worked in China, there was an incredibly smart and capable executive at my company who continually protected and promoted an astonishingly foolish and incompetent manager. When I asked about this, and tried to understand why the executive continued to support the incompetent manager in spite of all his failures, and the availability of much better managers, I was told that the incompetent manager’s loyalty to the executive was longstanding and absolute and, because of that, the executive would prefer to keep him around, no matter how badly he performed.
Suggestions For Dealing With The Chinese View Of Loyalty
1. Don’t expect a Chinese person to make a decision that goes against someone who is a loyal ally (e.g. a longstanding friend or a family member). Neither efficiency, nor effectiveness, nor better service, nor higher quality, nor lower price trumps loyalty in the mind of a Chinese person.
2. Understand that, as a foreigner, it may take you a LONG time to demonstrate your loyalty to a Chinese superior.
3. Understand that once you have established your loyalty to a Chinese person, that bond will likely endure for a long time and in the face of many difficulties and failures.