HEC Paris students talk with Weiliang Shi, CEO of Huawei France, after his presentation on campus

How the Chinese do business: Understanding China’s rich culture

Ever wondered what it’s really like to do business the Chinese way? As a civilization priding itself on over 5,000 years of history, it hardly comes as a surprise that Chinese business is marked as much by longstanding values as by innovation. HEC Paris MBA students enthusiastically helped organize the recent Chinese Cultural Week, exploring the country’s food, arts, and business norms.



Handicrafts and Music

Chinese Cultural Week kicked off with a Temple Fair and Dinner, the perfect opportunity for students to share and immerse themselves in traditional Chinese festivities. First off, students taught the art of papercutting (jián zhǐ) and calligraphy (máo bǐ zì). Red for luck, gold for fortune – the organizers explained the importance of optimism and aesthetic beauty when decorating homes and public spaces alike in celebration of Lunar New Year.

The evening continued with HEC Paris students showing off their musical talents. We were treated to beautiful performances on the guzheng, a traditional Chinese string instrument. As MBA student Ada Wang (’20) shared later in the week, the Chinese way of socializing and doing business is relationship-based: “It might take several meetings to close a deal with the Chinese, but once that relationship is established, there will be many deals to come.” One key way to initiate warm relations, Ada said, is showing curiosity in one another’s cultures.



Of course, no Chinese cultural celebration would be complete without a buffet displaying the diversity of the country’s culinary tradition. MBA students Marios Michaelides (’20) and Antoine de Mautort  (’20) talked about their experiences in China as foreigners and how easy it was to make friends by sharing a table of delicious food. We were able to experience this ourselves during the student-organized dinner featuring a wide variety of regional cuisines.

The event organizers also brought one of the most heart-warming culinary traditions for celebrating Lunar New Year: making and cooking dumplings over animated group conversations. Ada later talked about the fact that in China, business and personal lives often mix. This explains the possibility for business ideas to originate organically, even in the relaxed atmosphere of an informal meal.



China Business Day delved deeper into current hot topics with a panel discussion on Green Finance and Public-Private Partnerships (PPP). From a presentation on China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative to strengthen relations with Europe to HEC Paris professors’ insights on the impact of market prices on carbon emissions and responsible investing, an eclectic mix of perspectives met and interacted during this dynamic discussion. The president of the Export-Import Bank of China, Zhaohui Fei, also talked about the influence of Chinese classical philosophy, the unity of heaven and man, as an important value supporting the country’s continuous efforts on building sustainable business models relevant to PPPs.

Networking with distinguished guests like Huawei France CEO Weiliang Shi certainly added to the excitement of Chinese Business Day. In his inspiring speech, he not only outlined China’s impact on the digital world, but also captured the can-do attitude of China’s era of innovation, challenging us to ask forward-looking questions like “Why not?” and “What’s next?” in our daily lives, and to dream big for the future.

Set just one week after Lunar New Year, Chinese Cultural Week definitely proved to be an enriching experience, both from a cultural and a business perspective. From taking part in Chinese-style social gatherings, to discussing globally relevant business projects with leading experts, MBA students were able to learn about the importance of harmony and openness in Chinese culture, and about applying those insights to future business endeavours.


Photos courtesy of Qiqi Yang