Chinese Culture Experience

By Varun Saxena

Our trip to China couldn’t be any more timely. The trade war with China is dominating the news. The Trump tariffs on China make the topic of the class, opportunities in the country’s service sector, even more important. After all, the trade war will only accelerate Chinas shift away from manufactured goods in favor of knowledge and technology-driven fields.

It will be exciting to visit the companies leading that charge, such as telecommunications-focused Huawei and insurance group Ping An. Personally, I’m most looking forward to visiting Pfizer in Hong Kong because I’m aiming to work in the healthcare sector after graduation. In addition, Pfizer is the employer of my father (and even my grandfather, who worked for them in Mumbai, India).  

During our pre-departure orientation, professor Zhi Long-Chen, who will lead the upcoming trip, passionately argued that the “threat” from China is being overblown in the U.S., pointing out that the trade deficit is more than 40 percent smaller if measured using a different methodology that measures the value added to final goods and services by both countries.

Understanding the technicalities of policy issues is useful during these charged times, but it was Chen’s personal story that most interested me. He described the intense schooling system. Poor performance on exams meant led other members of his family to a career in the factories, while those with high grades, such as himself, went on to college.

Indeed, classmates discussed the need to balance the two objectives of the trip while in China: to learn about international business and gain a better understand of the country and its complex culture. The orientation shed light on many aspects of Chinese culture, such as its fascinating pictographic script and tonal language system, in which the same syllables can mean different things depending on one’s tone of voice.

Now I am anxious to better understand other aspects on China as well. Although, I have been to many countries in Asia, including Singapore, where most of the people are Chinese, I don’t think my experiences have prepared for me what’s to come, especially given the economic changes that have occurred since I visited the Great Wall as a fifth-grader with my family.

I recently struggled to explain Hindu wedding rituals to my American friends who attended my sister’s wedding in New Delhi. It was a challenge because Indian culture is very “sticky”, dense and multilayered. Chinese culture seems the same way.

Soon I will be in my friends’ shoes. It will be fun.

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