Saturday, February 19, 2011

'Tis the Season

Chinese New Year: A Time for Networking

Although the official government holidays for the Chinese Lunar New Year extend from February 3rd - 8th, yesterday was the last day for celebrations. Festivities took place across the globe including a red and gold light display on New York’s Empire State Building, a Chinese parade that marched the streets of Copenhagen and incense burning at a Chinatown temple in Jakarta. Most Chinese people view the Spring Festival as a time to unite with family for hearty meals and tasty drinks. They ignite fireworks, distribute lucky money and wish for happiness, prosperity and health in the year to come. Yet, there is another set of practices taking place across the dinner table during this festive time in the business realm.

The end of a year marks a time of reflection. Hundreds of millions of Chinese migrant workers are called home to report on their pursuits and hope to bring news that their efforts have not been in vain. This year, He Puxian – an aspiring singer from Hubei – wrote a song titled “Afraid to go home for the New Year”. Although his parents are encouraging and supportive, the lyrics in the song express his shame and fear of going home with nothing to show for his efforts. This desperation is evident in Shanghai as a large percentage of our 18 million residents come from other Chinese cities and possess a work drive incomparable to some of the most ambitious people I have met in America. To anyone attempting to create a legacy, Chinese New Year is a time for business.

While reflecting on achievements of the passing year, Chinese New Year presents an occasion to show gratitude for successful business relationships and to seek new potential opportunities. This typically occurs while feasting on elaborate meals at fancy restaurants. At one particular dinner I attended, our host broke the seal off a single-malt whiskey that he had aged for 35 years. It was kept on the shelf for so many years that the cork had eroded into the liquor. I made a short toast to our host to demonstrate my gratitude and explain how privileged I felt that he shared this special treat with us. By the end of the night, the four of us had cleared about 10 dishes of food ranging from salmon sashimi to Peking duck and a beautifully prepared nian gao (new year rice cake shaped like a fish and fried in egg), along with three bottles of red wine and the one bottle of whiskey. Of course, there is no such thing as splitting the bill in China, so our host quietly handled the payment.

Source: nathangray
It’s amazing to watch the networking process that occurs during these dinner events; it’s so meticulously played out that I consider it a form of art. Another dinner that I attended on the eve of New Year’s Day had more guests than the previously mentioned occasion and was held at a private clubhouse. The guests attentively listened to introductions that spanned throughout the evening without showing anything more than an inquisitive friendly interest. Casually, friends would make conversation of their professional accomplishments to the group, which slowly revealed character and capabilities of the individuals. Work-related details, professional networks and resources were further discussed one-on-one with interested individuals to determine potential for mutually beneficial ventures.

Underlying intentions of the conversation were not revealed that evening and business cards were not exchanged; however, those who saw potential to share resources for business will obtain contacts through the host. Everything happened so discretely that the business aspect was hardly evident. After all, these people are all friends – friends that know how to maximize their friendship. Towards the end of the night, the host announced that the owner of the clubhouse and surrounding apartments was erecting a new building and looking for residents. It turned out that the dinner had more purpose than I suspected. Although most people at the table weren’t looking for a new apartment, I can bet that after eating a luscious meal and enjoying good company on that special occasion, they will recommend the new apartments to anyone they meet in the housing market.

The initial undertakings of a new year are said to determine what is to follow. Some will celebrate in the name of health, longevity, family and prosperity. Others will create strategic objectives to help them achieve the overall goal of a prosperous new year and build business relationships as early as possible. Thus, to the business-minded people of this country, Chinese New Year is the best time of year for networking.

For more great info on how to engage at these sort of events, check out “The Subtle Art of the Chinese Banquet” and “’Gan Bei’: Business and ritualistic drinking in China” by Nathan H. Gray, Founder of Nathan Gray Consulting for international business and cross cultural management solutions. He is also currently Secretary of the Australian Asian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Vice Chair of the Australian Indonesian Business Council SA branch.

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