by Zhizhou Zhu

A few months ago I had an interview with a Chinese company, the interviewer asked me questions like: “So are you seeing someone now?” “When do you plan to get married?” so he can make sure that I will be able to make a significant time commitment without family burden. This story shocked my American friends. (“What? That’s illegal!”)

In the Chinese business culture, personal life is not necessarily separated from work. Networking outside work, which includes binge drinking, giving gifts and so on, is one of the most important things you need to do to get ahead in your work. Of course, you may argue that for people who want to make a fortune in New York or become a senator in Washington DC, it is probably equally as important as well.

When personal life and work becomes one, who you are at work is who you are in your personal life. For example, your boss may call you “Johnny” or “Sammy” after work because you are junior in your position, and you will always address your boss as “Director Smith” or “President James” to show respect.

Personal life is one of things that have been largely ignored in the Chinese business culture. With the globalization trend, many Chinese companies have adopted the “western” idea of “privacy”. Questions that are considered private or inappropriate during interviews such as “when are you getting married” “are you a social drinker after work” are being asked less often. Also, companies usually tend to give the privilege of privacy to western workers as they understand the cultural difference. However, the price foreign workers need to pay for not giving up their personal life to work is that they may very rarely be considered an “insider” within the Chinese community.