China Myths and The Negative Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

May 20, 2021

May 20, 2021, REPLAY RECORDING of Debunking the #1 China Myth Meetup Roundtable.


Experts will suggest learning local customs and habits when we endeavor to replicate our business success in another market in a foreign country, perhaps even taking language lessons. Advisors will try to show us how to develop greater cultural awareness, and consultants will design and implement a localization strategy.

Where does this leave you, as the leader and decision-maker?

I generally tend to trust my instincts, as only I know how to prioritize all the considerations "success" entails. I’ve accumulated knowledge, advice, and experience in my journey into China that moderates my thinking and refines my approach.

So, what does hindsight tell me today, and what I would love to have told myself 25 years ago before my first business trip to Greater China?

First of all, knowing how to speak Chinese doesn't mean you know what to say in Chinese.

Second, "forget everything you think you know," which is a direct quote from the Marvel movie Doctor Strange (2016). Dr. Steven Strange is preparing to enter The Sanctum for the first time to meet The Ancient One in his quest to master The Mystic Arts. Mordo (another master) gives him this advice that is soundly appropriate for anyone seeking to improve their fortunes in China.

China Myth Dilemma

In the context of traveling to China as a foreigner to conduct business, you will likely receive plenty of advice and insights from various people and sources. So if most business leaders receive training and guidance to assist with accomplishing their business objectives, the majority should be satisfied with their ROI and outcomes in China.

But the reality is quite the opposite, as most are left disappointed and frustrated compared to their initial expectations and forecasts.


It's the China Myth Dilemma, which allows wrong or out-of-context advice to create "comfortable" (mis-)perceptions that lead to foolish action. In order words, you are gradually causing your demise without realizing the flaws in your thinking and approach.

When we allow what our sources get wrong or out-of-context about China to lead to more severe myopia, our actions and resulting unsatisfactory outcomes (Reality A) can cause a negative, self-fulfilling prophecy loop. What we believe is wrong with China and corrupt about Chinese people causes us to respond accordingly, further straining our goodwill and capacity to develop genuine Guanxi relationships.

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