Previously I worked in China for over 5 years. During this time I at one time worked for a local company where I was the only foreigner who had ever been employed in the organization. The experience showed me how vast differences exist between what is expected and accepted as normal in Chinese culture vs. Western culture. For example, when I was negotiating my contract with the boss in the period before I was employed, the boss with obvious great pride pointed out a section in the contract which they had newly inserted for my benefit. The section stated that if the boss ever attacked me violently then I had the right to leave the company. I’m not joking about this! Workers in China have very few rights – and even the rights that exist by law are not enforced.
One Monday I showed up for work (I was the CEO) and I noticed that my deputy was not around. I asked my secretary as to the deputy’s whereabouts and got the answer that the owner (my boss) had sent a fax (yes, didn’t even have the courtesy to call) on Saturday afternoon saying “due to work requirements [name of deputy] is required to transfer to work at the branch in Wuxi – please report to the HR office in Wuxi on Monday morning”. My deputy only had two choices, either quit and be unemployed or pack a suitcase on the spot and get on the the next train to Wuxi. Wuxi was about 2,000 km away and no, the owner wouldn’t pay for a plane ticket. My deputy did what any other Chinese would have done, i.e. said goodbye to family and friends and got on the train.
The sad thing is, this sort of behavior by bosses is the norm in China. At one company conference (remember that I was the only foreigner), I saw 70 year old employees stand up at the end of a presentation and yell at the top of their voices “long live [bosses name]. Under the expert guidance of boss [name], we will succeed!”. I was stunned – I had studied about what the Chinese endured under the cultural revolution (i.e. having to show undying faith towards the party), and this behavior was straight from those times.
North Korea is a chip off China’s block, and so when their great leader Kim Jong Il died it was no surprise to me that the whole country stopped and we were flooded with hundreds of images of people wailing and crying uncontrollably. To most Westerners it would have appeared false and contrived – of which of course it was. However I understood that those people had to make such a display lest they be labelled as “unpatriotic and unloving” to Kim Jong Il. Today I read confirmation that indeed the people were forced to show grief. You can read the article here. In summary, those people who didn’t show ‘sufficient’ grief have been sentenced to six months in a labor camp.
It disgusts me that still today we have fellow human beings living in such dictatorships. This old system is absolutely corrupt and past it’s use-by date. Sigh. How do we change the world?