旁观者眼中的中国

China in the Eye of the Beholder

CLAREMONT – One of the most glaring, if unremarked, oddities concerning China nowadays is how perceptions of its leaders diverge depending on the observer. In the eyes of the Chinese public, government officials are venal, incompetent, and interested solely in getting lucrative appointments. But Western executives invariably describe Chinese officials as smart, decisive, knowledgeable, and far-sighted – roughly the same adjectives that they once used to describe Bo Xilai, the disgraced Communist Party boss of Chongqing, before he was purged.

It is impossible to reconcile these views. Either the Chinese public is impossible to please, or Western executives are hopelessly wrong. But, given that daily experience places Chinese citizens in an infinitely better position than Western executives to evaluate Chinese officials and their conduct, one would have to conclude that they are almost certainly right. And that means that Westerners who have spent considerable time in China and consider themselves seasoned “China hands” need to ask why they have gotten it so wrong.

One obvious explanation is that Chinese officials are extremely good at seducing Western businessmen with friendly gestures and generous promises. The same officials who lord it over ordinary Chinese people often summon irresistible charm to woo Western investors.

Another selling point for Western executives is that many Chinese officials have engineering backgrounds, in contrast to their Western counterparts, most of whom are lawyers. To businessmen, engineers are practical problem solvers, whereas lawyers are obsessed with procedural complexities and intent on exploiting contractual loopholes. Moreover, most Chinese officials have learned the jargon of Western business, and can speak intelligently about the problems that companies need to solve.

A more subtle reason for Western executives’ perceptions is their subconscious frame of reference when assessing Chinese officials. Senior executives of multinational companies tend to have pre-conceived notions of China as just another developing country, and thus evaluate Chinese officials by comparing them with those in other developing countries.

This unwitting comparison usually comes out in favor of Chinese officials, who are, as a group, better educated, more cosmopolitan, and more focused on business (because the ruling Communist Party uses economic growth and foreign investment as criteria for promoting officials). And, as an organization, the Chinese state is far stronger and more purposive than states are in more typical developing countries.

But, while it may be natural for Western businessmen to compare China with other developing countries, Chinese citizens have much higher standards, because they do not regard theirs as just another developing country. They view China as special, a re-emerging great power bound to join the ranks of the world’s most advanced countries, and the governance practices that their newspapers cite as models are invariably those of rich societies, not developing ones. Indeed, one sure way to insult the Chinese is to tell them they should feel lucky, because they have a better government than the Indians or Brazilians.

A third reason why Western businessmen get China wrong is that their admiration of the Chinese government is a reflection of their frustrations with their own governments. They have grown impatient with the messiness of the democratic process, stifling regulations, high taxes, and media scrutiny. By contrast, in China’s one-party state, they find it is easier to do business with officials who can make quick decisions and implement them almost instantly.

Of course, sometimes these executives do miss the rule of law that prevails in the West. But, compared with Chinese private entrepreneurs, representatives of large Western firms are a privileged group, and are not victimized as frequently by official corruption. As a result, they have little direct appreciation of the worst aspect of one-party rule: a rapacious, legally unrestrained elite.

The most regrettable aspect of Western executives’ misconceptions of the Chinese government is that they are likely to persist, at least among those who have no direct experience with the dark side of the Chinese state. They are successful, intelligent, and have a high degree of confidence in their political judgment. Moreover, Western corporations are hierarchical and autocratic, similar to the Chinese one-party state, so senior executives’ errors of judgment are rarely challenged directly by their underlings.

That is a real pity. Few Western executives understand the political consequences of their misperceptions. Their praise of Chinese officials’ quality and effectiveness is often held up by the Communist Party as an international endorsement of its policies and legitimacy – even if ordinary Chinese know otherwise.

旁观者眼中的中国

核心提示:在中国公众的眼中,政府官员是贪污、无能、只热衷于升迁。但在西方管理者眼中,中国官员聪敏、果断、博学且有远见。西方管理者的判断在这里显然是错误的,他们很少有人能明白这种错误判断的政治后果。他们对中国官员素质和效率的称赞往往被共产党当成对其政策和合法性的国际认可四处炫耀—— 即使普通中国人知道实情根本不是这个样子的。

发表:2012年8月27日

作者:裴敏欣

当前,与中国相关的最明显但却未被人注意的一个奇怪现象是,不同观察者对该国领导人的看法存在着巨大分歧。在中国公众眼中,政府官员贪污腐化、碌碌无为,只对获得令其有利可图的官职感兴趣。但西方管理者却总是把中国官员描述成聪明、知识渊博、高瞻远瞩、具有决断力,大体上就是他们在前重庆市委书记薄熙来被清洗之前描述他所用的那些形容词。

调和上述两种观点是不可能的。不是中国公众难以取悦,就是西方管理者判断失误。然而,考虑到中国公民的日常经历令其比西方管理者能够更好地对中国官员及其政绩做出评判,人们不得不断定他们的看法几乎当然是正确的。这意味着那些已在中国度过大量时间、自视为经验丰富的”中国通”的西方人需要问问自己为何会判断失误。

一个明显的解释是,中国官员非常善于用友好的举动和慷慨的承诺吸引西方商人。同一批官员在中国老百姓头上作威作福,经常为了讨好西方投资者而展示出令人无法抗拒的魅力。

另一个吸引西方管理者的卖点就是许多中国官员具有工程学背景。而他们的西方同行则多是律师出身。对于商人而言,工程师是更讲究实际的解决问题的人,而律师们往往会被程序上的复杂问题所困扰,并总想找出合同上的漏洞。此外,大部分中国官员掌握了西方商业术语,因而能够深思熟虑地谈论各个公司需要解决的问题。

西方管理者对中国官员产生上述看法的另一个微妙原因是他们在评价中国官员时会下意识地找到参照标准。跨国公司的高管们往往会先入为主地把中国视为另一个发展中国家,因而在评价该国官员时会将其与其他发展中国家的官员相比较。

这一无心的比较通常会得出有利于中国官员的结果。因为整体而言,中国官员接受过更好的教育,更具世界性,对商业也更为关注(因为执政的共产党用经济增长和外国投资作为提拔官员的标准)。而且,作为一个组织而言,中国的国家机构比其他许多发展中国家要强大得多,更有目标。

西方商界人士把中国与其他发展中国家相比较或许是一种自然而然的做法。然而,中国民众所持标准要高得多,因为他们不把自己的国家仅仅当作一个发展中国家。他们把中国视为一个正在重新兴起的特殊大国,认为其必将加入世界最先进国家的行列。而该国媒体引述为典型的管理方法都是发达国家而非发展中国家的一些做法。事实上,侮辱中国人的一个最有效方法就是告诉他们,他们应该感到幸运,因为他们比印度人或巴西人拥有一个更好的政府。

西方商界人士对中国产生错误印象的第三个原因是他们对中国政府的赞美反映出其对自己国家政府的失望。民主程序的混乱状态、令人窒息的规章制度、高额税收和媒体监督已令他们失去了耐心。相反,在中国这个一党统治的国家里,他们发现与官员们打交道更加容易,因为后者能够迅速做出决定并几乎立即加以执行。

当然,这些管理者有时的确想念西方国家盛行的法治精神。但是,与中国的私营企业家相比,大型西方公司的代表们是一个特殊群体,并不经常受到官员腐败之害。因此,他们对于一党专政最黑暗的部分几乎没有直接的感受,那是一个贪婪的、不受法律约束的精英群体。

西方管理者对中国政府产生误解的最遗憾的原因是他们有可能坚持己见,至少那些对中国黑暗面从未有过直接接触的人会如此行事。这些人往往都成功、睿智,同时在政治判断上都极其自信。此外西方企业是等级的、独裁的,也与中国的一党专政相类似,因此高级管理人员的错误判断很少能直接遭到下属的质疑。

这是一个真正的遗憾。很少西方高管能明白他们这些误解的政治后果。他们对中国官员素质和效率的称赞往往被共产党当成对其政策和合法性的国际认可四处炫耀—— 即使普通中国人知道实情根本不是这个样子的。

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