Rules For Working In The Chinese Countryside

Everything you thought you knew about China is wrong.

If you live in China long enough, this feeling actually seems to increase, not decrease. Such is the nature of the beast.  


Our hotel is located in a small village in Jiangxi province - not a place known for international practices and standards. Having worked in Shanghai for 3.5 years, I had a taste of how things work in China: the relentless energy and long hours of my Chinese colleagues, the deafening silence when people are pushed for an opinion, the vast sums of money and people involved in every project. Overall, my biggest lesson was absorbing the ever present mantra 'there is no one China, but many Chinas, each over-lapping and interwoven with one another'. These themes should be familiar to anyone who has spent time in the middle Kingdom. Interestingly enough, nearly all of these assumptions appear wrong in my village experience.


If you work in China, you may not think that the business culture of villages, fields and hill farms concern you and your proverbial marketing agency in Shanghai. Just remember, however, that most people in China come from the countryside within the past generation or two; that cultural continuity and family ties remain. Western business practices are a relatively new way of doing things, and bubbling beneath the surface will be an awareness of how things were done traditionally.


I've tried to outline some key musings I have learnt from the past year - in buying a house, land, tendering for builders, dealing with the government and ultimately - maintaining and growing relationships.

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The Handover

With contracts signed and money paid, it was apparent that the families still hadn't moved out from the house. We approached our mayor to delicately enquire what we had done wrong. 'Oh nothing'...'but you haven't handed over yet'. As is the often the case in the countryside, ritual trumps process. With this direction, we asked the venerable Jin Laoshi (teacher) to lead a ceremony for us to take over ownership of the house, and then begin the building work. We invited the families selling, local party leaders, our carpenter Yuzong, and local TV. 

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Falling in love again...

Deciding to buy a house is a huge decision for anyone to make. In the deep end of China's peasant villages, where the local communist party is the bastion of fair play and adjudication, it's tougher than most. There is only so much due diligence you can do before a purchase, and after a while you just have to follow your heart. With sweeping, gorgeous old houses littered around Wuyuan, our hearts were beating loud in our chests at every threshold we crossed.

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Falling in love for the first time

Before we fell in love with the house, there was just Ed and Selina. Before we got to Wuyuan, to Jiangxi province, to old houses, government offices, architects and baijiu-fuelled lunches... it was just us. And for us, this is the story of our life as much as it is a business plan.

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