Let there be no doubt about one thing: I am a woman!
That however does not necessarily imply that I will always be addressed as "Mrs. Boden". Recently I was invited by the Nanchang government to give a lecture on how to do business with Europe and on what aspects Chinese companies should take into account if they want to go to Europe. I had known it before but I had forgotten about it: when the Chinese think you are very knowledgeable they will address you as 'mister', even when you are a woman. So for about five days I was called 包先生, or 'Mister Boden'. A patriarchal society?
One of the books I published has the title 'The essence of China' (De essentie van China in Dutch). At the time I thought it was a suitable title for a book that contained all basic information that was useful for westerners doing business or working in China. The 'essence' in the title refers to what I see as 'essential knowledge about China' and not to any 'essential characteristics of a culture'. Today I would choose a different title. I am aware of the association with 'cultural essentialist thinking' the title might provoke. It is impossible to outline what 'Chinese culture' or 'European culture' or any culture is. We can only try to understand underlying patterns of cultures. But even the description of 'underlying patterns' is based on a frame of thought or theoretical framework that is not universal. Information helps to gain insight and insight helps to understand each other. Awareness of one's own frame of thought, expectations, ascriptions of values or characteristics to others may be even more important. Cultural boundaries become more and more blurred in this globalizing world, at the same time localization becomes stronger, reflected in the term 'glocalization'. I am trying to contribute to cross cultural understanding, especially when it comes to cross-cultural communication between China and Europe, but it is all so complex. What seems so easy in the beginning turns out to be so extremely complex in the end. Nothing is what is seems to be. Goodwill and fundamental respect and willingness to step away from Eurocentrist or Sinocentrist thinking is an indispensable first step.
Urumqi, 乌鲁木齐, capital of the autonomous regionXinjiang. This is one of the most multi-cultural places I have seen. After a five-hour flight from Shanghai I was still in the same country! The Han-Chinese female taxi driver who took me from the airport to the Xinjiang University 新疆大学 asked me to which ethnical group I belonged. I think this was the first time in my life someone asked me this. Soon I found out that this question is almost like saying hello in Xinjiang. This place is so colored with ethnical groups that it hardly feels like China (and still it does very much in a way). This is the only place in the whole of China were people are not surprised when you speak Chinese as a white person, since 'Russians' are one of the ethnic groups here. The biggest minority group here are the Uyghur 维吾尔, people who speak a language related to Turkish written in Arab, and who are Muslims.
Signs and slogans in the city are written in Chinese, Uyghur, Russian and English. The book and music in the Xinhua bookstore here (there are Xinhua bookstores in every single place in China) is partly in Chinese and partly in Uyghur. With most of the region being desert, this was one of the places that made you realize how big and vast China is.
In 2007 the Chinese insurance company Ping An中国平安 became one of the shareholders of Fortis with 5% shares. Now that Fortis (and the world!) has changed, negotiations are held about the future of Fortis. It is absolutely astonishing that Ping An was 'not invited for the negotations'. After 30 years of dealing with China, apparently we Westerners still haven't learnt about 'face'. How can we ever come to a decent cross cultural cooperation in this globalizing world? Cross cultural training as part of the curriculum at high schools on a global level. Could that be realized? Cross cultural awareness is already a big step. Why is it so difficult?