Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Numbers That Explain a Mindset

At a business dinner with a Chinese executive (there are a BUNCH here this week as a part of a trade delegation), a colleague at my company was making idle conversation while we ate.

"So your company is in the Chinese province of Guangdong? How many provinces does China have?"

"Twenty-three," our guest replied.

I looked up from my meal and raised my eyebrows at him.

"Including Taiwan," he added. Not wanting to be drawn into an argument he quickly continued, "That, of course, does not include the Autonomous Regions or city-level provinces like Shanghai."

I thought that sort of thinking was reserved for government types, but I have to keep in mind that this guy was traveling as a part of a Chinese delegation, so I should have expected him to toe the Party Line.

The second interesting number came up when my colleague asked our guest how many children he had. "Only one. Those are the rules," he glumly replied. I could have been the Ugly American and said "I also only have one, but I was FREE to make that choice!", but being the polite businessman that I am I nodded gravely and changed the subject.

But I couldn't help wondering if he ever let his angst with the second number conflict with the pride he had in the first number.

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