Why is opacity such an important feature of the Chinese business world and society?

Secrecy in China is not only in business, but also in everyday relationships. Based on my experience, most Chinese people deeply distrust any part of their direct environment. Nothing or nobody can be trusted, ever - being law, state or even family members. To stay alive in such world, you have to hold onto your secrets, create or maintain information assimetry to gain advantages.

My understanding is that secrecy is the normal way for business to operate all over the planet, but in China it elevates to dramatic proportion. The generation that went through the cultural revolution saw half of the population going against another, often inside their own families. When that was done, the market opened up and everybody went against each other again but this time to extract money from one another.

This traumatic experience is still vivid everyday in the way the country and businesses are managed. To me, this visceral mistrust is part of what make Chinese people super sharp in business, creating the adrenaline where the country thrive in. They have an uncanny ability to just anticipate the most twisted human scenarios. Sadly, it is also what makes Chinese people life miserable, lost in endless competition and loneliness.

Regarding the article linked in the question, this “open by default” and employee letter is just some poor Google PR, already disastrous in China in the past and still going. Of course negociations between large corporation and government happened behind closed doors. Why will you expect otherwise?

This text was originally published in quora.

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