Same Name, Different Game: 5 Ugly Facets of the Chinese Workplace

Same Name, Different Game: 5 Ugly Facets of the Chinese Workplace
Apr 26, 2017 By Andrea Scarlatelli ,

Same Name, Different Game: 5 Ugly Facets of the Chinese Workplace

It doesn't take sharp observational skills to notice that China is a very, very different place from whence you came. It doesn't matter where you're from – I happen to come from America, and so use this as a baseline for my own experience – China is completely different from it. This applies to almost all areas of life and many people are not exactly surprised. They come here expecting different food of course, a different language (or ten), different social practices. None of this comes as much of a shock. There is one area, however, in which many expats find themselves taken aback: the workplace. Every office has the same basic feel, right? The same code of ethics, the same unspoken definition of decency, right? Wrong. Read on for some little things that are, if not completely legal all the time, largely accepted in Chinese offices – and that could get you fired if you try them in America.

1) Hiring based on looks
Perhaps one of the biggest and most obvious no-no's in America is not only legal in China, but fuels the multi-million dollar a year plastic surgery trend currently thriving in this country. A plethora of articles have come out in recent years discussing Chinese citizens (a vast majority of them women) surgically altering their looks in order to be more competitive in the workforce. Some jobs, and even college majors, actually have appearance and height requirements in China (such as flight attendants and English majors).

All other jobs simply require a colour photo submission along with your CV – and common knowledge is that the jobs usually go to the prettiest or most handsome candidate with even an iota of qualification (or sometimes not even that – see item #5 on this list). From steel rod leg implants given to increase one's height, to double eyelid surgery done to make one's eyes look bigger, to breast implants to, well, you know, it's all about the looks when hiring. And in America? Just Google "gender discrimination lawsuits" and you'll have some idea of how just how illegal hiring based on looks can be there.

2) Stealing ideas
Intellectual property is a huge deal in America – people want to be recognised and compensated for the hard work and energy they have put into coming up with the next big thing. Not so much in China (fake markets, anyone?). The Chinese workplace is seen as basically one giant, amorphous community, and this includes people's brains  (which explains a lot actually if you stop and think about it).

What one person thinks and says aloud can (and will) be made into a Power Point presentation by another. Never mind who had the brilliant idea or gets the boss' praise, all office workers are the same anyway, right? Well, that is the idea at least. So be sure to guard your ideas carefully if intellectual independence is important to you. Otherwise, you may just wind up seeing your brilliant business approach published without your permission under someone else's name.

3) Smoking in the office
Smoking has been banned in pretty much all work places in America, with the exception being if you happen to work in a strip club. And in fact many cities in China, such as Shanghai, have also banned smoking in the workplace. It is simply that no one really cares or enforces such a law. If one were to blatantly smoke at one's desk in America, or in the hallway, or even the bathroom, you would promptly be fined and perhaps fired if it became a habitual discipline problem.

In China, however, those who point out that smoking is illegal inside the building (usually a member of the cleaning staff) to someone who is smoking inside a prohibited area (usually a guy in a suit) will nine times out of ten simply be screamed at to get back to work and mind their own business. But in all actuality, chances are that no one will actually say anything to someone smoking inside an office building because a) a nation of nicotine addicts cannot be expected to enforce the law themselves and b) the person noticing it probably wants to bum a cigarette off the guy anyway.

4) Paying employees under the table
In all fairness, paying employees company money without paying taxes on them is just as illegal in China as it is in America. And Chinese companies do get in trouble for it when caught. It is just that they are almost never caught because the matter is never looked into systematically – well, either that or the official looking into it has been bribed… with company money that no one is paying taxes on.

One of the most popular examples of this in China is English schools. There are so many English schools either hiring foreigners to teach in their schools or contracting them out to other ones that the government can hardly keep track. So is it really any surprise that a great many of them (I may even go out on a limb here and say the majority of them) simply pay their teachers in cash so they do not have to report their earnings and pay taxes on them? But this doesn't just apply to English schools – there are many, many companies out there paying foreigners for services rendered with cash under the table. It is a win-win situation for both parties (assuming the company does not get caught) so it is doubtful that the practice will stop any time soon.

5) Hiring unqualified people based on personal relationships
In America, most companies require you to disclose if you have had any sort of prior relationship with a job candidate for whom you have the ability of hiring. An example of this occurred recently when a college football coach got fired for having hired a woman with whom he'd had an affair to a coveted position in the athletics department. In China, however, the whole idea of using guanxi, or relationships (business or otherwise), to your advantage in the workplace is such a commonplace thing that no one really bats an eye when the boss hires his nephew for that huge construction contracting job – never mind if the nephew has absolutely no idea about construction.

I will never forget a Chinese friend's complete acceptance when a new girl was hired in her office as a secretary – and told my friend she had never used a computer in her entire life. It turns out this girl had worked in the boss's favourite massage parlour and had apparently done such a bang up job that she was promptly hired as his secretary, despite having zero experience in anything other than "massaging." My friend basically wound up having to do both her job and this ex-masseuse/secretary girl's job – but my friend just took it all in stride. Relationships are funny things, you see…

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Keywords: Working in China guanxi in China different rules Chinese companies business practices China bribery and nepotism China


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No matter where you're from? BS, similar to Cambodia, North Korea

Apr 27, 2017 11:33 Report Abuse



I have seen and heard about a lot of this behaviour. Sometimes you gotta love this country (China); other times you just hate it. I suppose there are good points and bad points.

Apr 27, 2017 06:59 Report Abuse



If you insist on using the word "whence," keep in mind that preceding the word with "from" is redundant. "Whence" implies "from" already. Yeah, this is not exactly news to the rest of us. China is as shallow as a puddle of gutter oil. To be fair, I've seen examples of guanxi in the US, but only in the private sector (and quite possibly the Trump administration). I never heard of there being any physical standards for English majors, though it wouldn't surprise me.

Apr 26, 2017 23:34 Report Abuse


ms cant breath

Ohhhh man I cant breath!!! can anyone see and smell the non-stop ciggarette smoke filling up school i work in, the children breathing it in - no problem! What law against smoking in the workplace, they obviously did NOT get the memo!!!! I dont think an air filter would even make a dent in this!

Sep 01, 2012 05:21 Report Abuse


its me

if ur so sick of chinese workplace why dont u move out of this place...

May 26, 2012 21:27 Report Abuse



Re: #4 In China, companies frequently pay Chinese employees under the table, including cash and any number of benefits and direct payments for necessities like cell phone service. It is not limited to foreign English teacher compensation. Non-taxed bonuses (hong bao?) are common and seemingly de rigueur in China.

May 25, 2012 09:14 Report Abuse



Hey Mr. Chaching.

I'm looking for a job in in the autumn and this sounds good to me. Could you refer me to your boss if I send you my information?

Thanks man

Jun 05, 2012 06:10 Report Abuse



I agree with this comment but not at all. If you are looking around, veery ugly chinese women or man have a job, so in my opinion this is not true . And I saw so many flight atendant also who are ugly. Ugly or beautiful doesn't mean that you must like them, peoples like different and they have different tastes, so if you fon't like a girl or man, the one who hire her or him may like .
About the job with that massage girl, is true, is happen very very often in China. She is a secretary just to do a blow job to the boss... I am foreigner and a company sent to me a kind of this offer , saying that they will pay to me ov er 30,000 rmb per month , and my job will be just to "visit" my boss in his office...... Of course I declined this offer and told them to hire their Chinese stupid girls for this ...

May 25, 2012 01:56 Report Abuse



All this stuff is absolutely true. The sales team at the language school I work at is almost exclusively female and entirely incompetent, bar the least pretty one who is very diligent; the only guy on the team was employed through virtue of the then sales manager being his friend. He's useless too.

We also had an American staff member on the teaching team, who was paid under the table and was working without the proper documentation. Unsurprisingly, he ran out on us after being promised the correct visa and never seeing it materialise. And the school thought they were the ones who were cheated! Ungelievable!

May 24, 2012 21:16 Report Abuse



I don't agree with your comments completely.
as for point 1, different requirements are necessary in different positions, such as nice looks is required in sales people, reception, flight-attendant.
but it is not necessary for tech. positions, cook and so on.

May 24, 2012 18:52 Report Abuse



nice caracter is good for job,but at the biginning everybody only pay attation their appearence

May 26, 2012 06:11 Report Abuse



If Andrea is indeed a gentleman, then props to a guy who has, in the past, chosen to write about pregnancy and childbirth, and nanny-hunting!

May 24, 2012 20:51 Report Abuse