Guest Spotlight: Chris Devonshire-Ellis – US-China Cultural Differences Show Up At Chinese New Year

by | Feb 19, 2007 | Guest Spotlights

This week’s Guest Spotlight is from Chris Devonshire-Ellis, Senior Partner of Dezan Shira & Associates, a China based business & tax consultancy, and an associate firm to PKF Texas. Their website is Chris can be reached at

Kong Hei Fat Choi ! Or in China’s mainland – Gong Xi Fa Cai !

Those greetings – in South China’s and Hong Kong Cantonese, and Mainland China’s Mandarin respectively – betray an interesting cultural difference between the US and China at times of Festive Greetings. While at Christmas or at Thanksgivings, Americans will wish each other “Seasons Greetings!” and employ more family oriented, peaceful expressions to express good tidings – the Chinese are far more literal and down to earth in their culture. Kong Hei Fay Choi – or of you prefer – Gong Xi Fa Cai – means literally, “Have A Prosperous Year”.

Charged then, in the rise of modern China, with rampant materialism, a ‘greed is good’ mentality, a new consumerism and that sin of sins – a huge trade deficit with the US – it certainly seems that this traditional Chinese New Year greeting is coming true for many Chinese. Should Americans be worried? In terms of festive greetings, the benevolent “Merry Christmas” seems almost naïve in comparison. Is this a reflection of a clash of economies, an example of differing cultures, or is it symbolic of America’s long established wealth leading to complacency, rubbing up against a newer, more aggressive culture determined to get rich at any expense?

As always, it’s a bit of both. Yes, America has become complacent in matters of international trade. “The Chinese are stealing our jobs!” being the politically charged mantra of various enraged senators. Well that’s surely a bit of “Gong Xi Fa Chinese Cai” going on there. However, when one stops to consider that America has known for 20 years the direction China would take – doesn’t it smack a little bit of a lack of US action in preparing for a new global trading partner to rise? Industry could, and should have re-positioned itself to cater for global changes two decades ago, and to cry ‘foul!’ now seems rather churlish – given the euphoria in the US that “Communist China” was finally opening up and that market of 1.2 billion people was going to be there for the taking. Actually, the market was 300 million and it was the US consumer that bought and paid for it.

But for American businesses, all is not lost. It’s not just China that has opened up – it’s pretty much the entire globe. India is posting record FDI figures. So is Pakistan. Much of Eastern Europe is now open for business. Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia – and even tiny North Korea are all on the map as regards being open for investment. American businesses can develop their own “Gong Xi Fa U-S-A ! Cai” as well – selling US products to these markets. General Motors opening up a plant in Chennai (India) or Shanghai is not stealing American jobs. It just servicing the local market. In time, American companies will have fully adapted to globalization and be fully participating in it. But if they do not, and remain rooted in the sour grapes attitude over balance of trade deficits, perceived US job losses and the feeling of how unfair it all is – then that is a self prophesying lament. America’s challenge is to develop its own mantra of getting rich – and that lies not in complacency but in an inherent intellectual ability to recognize that its long held dream has come true. It’s a global economy, and national American businesses need to take their seats very firmly at the global trade dining table – or face the consequences.

Chinese New Year was February 18th. I wish you all – American and Chinese – “Gong Xi Fa Cai!”


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