I came across your blog and really enjoyed reading it. I work at a company in Australia which has many years of business dealings with China.
one thing that I have always wondered is that how can you read Chinese business people are lying or not ? what are the clues ? how do you pick it up ?
thank you in advance!
In this cynical world, with extreme cynicism I'd be heavily tempted to say if his or her lips are moving they are lying! Much like the old jibe about politicians. However lying is normal, it is a normal psychological defence mechanism of humans. You have to differentiate between those raised in China and those outside China too. But lying is completely normal in China as part of a face saving and face giving gesture.
It is a very womanly society, whereby people drop hints via their body language.... its funny because I notice all the hints women tend to drop, which unfortunately makes me fall instantly into the friend zone with women.
I think you have to split this into face saving lies and damned lies, both are interconnected, add in the shame concept which still exists in China (for example it is shameful to receive government welfare or to fail, though of course this is changing).
Face saving lies are simple.
But time for an intermission, as this is an ideal time to insert an mildy amusing joke.
What men and women really mean!
Many foreigners go to China and do not understand the concept of face saving and think everybody in China is a dirty stinking liar and every lie is meant to defraud or harm them. But this is not true.
A face saving lie for instance is simple. For example if you go to somebodies home, somebody who is poor. It's custom to offer them tea (TCGs wild ways means he offers them addictive Korean powdered green tea). If they can't afford tea they won't say I can't afford tea. They will say something like oh we've just run out of tea may I offer you water instead? Societal norms to give face mean you aren't supposed to call them out on this lie. This even happened in Korea when I ended up staying in a Seoul shanty town. 3 beggars approached me (TCG looked like a bum 100+ days on the road with one change of clothing!) And these guys lied to me to save their face... i.e. I was invited to their home... and in doing so was to bring a gift... a massive bottle of Soju. Korean homeless is something to ask to Korean guy I kept finding shanty towns all over Korea something you don't expect.
Or when somebody says I'm fine and they don't act all fine they mean they aren't fine.... as with the above joke. Such lies are easish to spot even for westerners after a spell. ESL teachers in China will often have children turn up late. They'll blame it on SOMETHING other than the real thing. Lots of traffic etc when the roads are deserted etc.
However you're talking about business men and business is war to many Chinese business men and women. Thus the above is just some exposition for you.
We now have damned lies. I.e. to defraud or cause harm. I'm not an expert on spotting lies or anything and you also get some damned masterful liars. Kai Lang for example who appeared on midnight poker. (He was the guy who always wore huge dark sunglasses). He was masterful and nobody could spot his incredible bluffs except when he got to the final and he had ONE hand left to play, it was do or die. He gave himself away by the copious amounts of sweat. The shysters on the Golden Mile in Hong Kong (Nathan Road) are possibly the best liars in the universe. You could plug them into a polygraph and it wouldn't even register. Bloody snakes (which incidentally is probably why people have such a bad impression of Chinese people as all the tourism spots are filled with such shysters who pick on tourists and thus give an uber negative image out).
But to spot damned lies for people raised in China it's easier than outsiders. This is partly due to one thing, that in China lying is normal and with the giving face and receiving face from people very few people will call people out on their lies. As with the tea example.
There are four things to look for:
- Evidence, since lies are often not called out in China. Very few people will actually have backup lies to cover the first lie. Or even better will prepare evidence in support of their lies. Of course this may back fire and you end up digging a gigantic hole. OTOH my bosses in the UK have often had loads of lies to back up the original lies to make the original lie look credible. I used to be pretty bitter to him about this. As pay increases would always be soon. Or shit kid the company isn't making any money. No pay increase. He actually did his homework and created falsified accounts to prove to me. Which I knew were false because everybody tended to club together and add up their bills.
- Body language, again calling people out is not common, thus if they get uber uncomfortable then they maybe lying.
- The first biggie is ad hominem attacks. Where they turn it around and start to attack you for not believing their lies. In the M15 test the UK's KGB yes you read that right KGB. MI5 in their online test said one of the best defences when fingered for being a spy was to turn it around on others. This happened when Mr C attempted to rent a hot food place to me about 5 months ago. He was well dodgy. I wasn't too bothered about such personal attacks sticks and stones and all that. Which then turned into a classic defensive damned lie.
- The second biggie. I can't remember what the word is, it is on the tip of my tongue. I'll remember some day. But it's effectively when somebody tells you. "Trust me." TCG says "never trust anybody who says trust me.
- This will be followed by themselves going on and on about how well respected they are in the community and in their friends and family. My dad is 100% susceptible to this kind of lie as it is a variation of the above. This makes you feel guilty and foolish (apparently) and thus more suceptible to the lies. That you are such a low form of scum that you can't even trust me? When in reality nobody respects them. Mr C again attempted this on me, when it didn't work he put the phone down and phoned my dad overseas and used it on him. My dad then phoned me and told me to trust him. Because the $$$$ up for grabs was huge (think £160,000 a year) I took a chance, and got semi screwed in the process. I got the money back though after threatening him with court action as he thought I'd be ashamed to admit being screwed and thus take it on the chin. My dad has taken this on the chin many times to save his own face. It was quite funny though because he screwed me over for somebody else. That somebody else screwed him back. Which meant he lost both my business and the other person's business too and ended up with nothing. TCG had ample opportunity to gloat, but couldn't be bothered as I'd moved on.