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April 3, 2004

Revering the Big Men


by Sascha Matuszak

Many Chinese revere Hitler. This may seem unfathomably irrational to Europeans, especially when coupled with the intense dislike most Chinese have for all things Japanese, but it fits in with the Revere the Big Man Effect that dominates vast aspects of Chinese culture.

A RBME is usually followed closely by a RBCE -- Revere the Big Culture Effect. Hence the "German Race" is held up as an example of one of the few races on the planet worthy of prolonged admiration, for having produced a Big Man worthy of reverence and a whole slew of gadgets and machinery equally worthy of reverence. Add to this the fact that the "German Race" can trace its history back a couple millennia -- back to those hairy tribesman that were forced West by a chain reaction that (I was told) began with the high speed departure of not-so-hairy barbarians from lands commandeered by Tang Dynasty armies – and you have a nation Chinese feel comfortable admiring.

France has a culture Chinese find especially comforting. No cuisine can match the magnificence, mystery and diversity of China, but the French have spent a few hundred years giving it their best shot. Chinese acknowledge these efforts sagely. French also are a philosophical people, not in the gloomy, gothic "stone walls in winter" way the Germans are, but more in a "waves lapping at the boat as we drink fine red" way. Very compatible with crafted gardens of pebbles and plum blossoms, calligraphy lessons, flowing tea and poetry contests. "The French," says my avant garde Chinese buddy, " are the closest thing the West has to Chinese." This is a commonly held view, and should be considered fact, by virtue of sheer numbers of people willing to testify that it is, indeed, so.

In the Realm of Face, an Italian suit is a serious jowl inflator. Italian accessories of all kinds greatly enhance the presence of any Big Boss. If his minions possess Italian accessories as well, then the Big Boss is truly Big. Again, a culture that can trace its origins back a few centuries, with several RBMEs to its credit, is worthy of consideration in China. "Italian noodles" or pasta as they like to call it in Europe, are delicious, demonstrating the ability of cultured Europeans to master tricky Asian recipes, and even enhance them a bit.

Now Europe tends to blur a bit around the southwest and northeast borders of France and the eastern and southeastern borders of Germany. Assuredly, Sarajevo has a Chinese noodle shop, as do Gdansk and Sevilla – but for taxi cab drivers, Europe consists of Three Big countries and several smaller ones. Refer to RBME and RBCE for insight as to why this is so.

The nation(s) of England/Great Britain/United Kingdom/assorted satellites is (are) deservedly considered apart from, yet stubbornly attached to Europe. This collection of people’s "consideration" of what the US deems a "bad idea," and the US reaction to consideration vis a vis obedience speaks volumes to Chinese consumers, students and Big Bosses. Therefore Burberry will be bought by Bosses and minions in ever increasing numbers and Oxford will gradually replace Harvard. For the time being …

China’s business climate is clearly absurd to all rational Westerners, but what patterns can be gleaned by crack Orientalist-cryptographers denote the following:

  1. Chinese do business based more on personal relationships than on professional ones

  2. Huge contracts involving massive engines and the livelihoods of small towns are handed out according to "fact" #1

  3. "fact" #1 has been a fact for some time in Asia and no amount of MBA training and/or consulting from American firms seems capable of changing this

Therefore it is clear that China and Europe are destined for a beautiful friendship in which France supplies Airbus parts and nuclear plants, Germany supplies Heidelberg printing machinery and … gadgets and Italy and England will keep the Chinese Big Bosses clothed and fed.

In return, Europe is allowed to bask in China’s glory.

(Nod to Neal Stephenson and his excellent novel, Crytptonomicon.)

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  • Sascha Matuszak is a freelance writer living in Chengdu.

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