This morning I woke up feeling rather guilty for writing about a "culture of lying," as if lying were unique to this culture and foreign to my own. For examples of extreme dishonesty, all one has to do is look at any recent report in the news media. From business executives to politicians, current events reported in the USA will show examples where people have violated basic principles of honesty and fair dealing. Of course. Thus, one might argue, isn’t it hypocritical of me to point an accusing finger at another culture?
I don’t think so. As I mulled over this question of hypocrisy, I thought again about my friend locked out of his own factory. I thought of the quality manager who was beaten up and had to be hospitalized after he submitted a truthful report that was critical of quality in his factory. I thought of employers who simply fail to pay wages to employees (according to a recent report I heard, there were 38,000 reported incidents of this in Guangzhou last year). I think of the doctor who reported SARS to the media being put under house arrest because of his truthfulness.
In the USA, when it happens we are shocked and appalled. Over here, it’s seen as nothing out of the ordinary. If lying isn’t outright state-sanctioned, then at least it’s tolerated and thus sanctioned as a practical matter. (There are many who would point to rule of law as an essential component as well, but for sake of simplicity I won’t go there . . . .)
So I stick to my guns. Westerners who come to China and engage in business must be prepared for a whole different level of institutionally sanctioned falsehood than what they have been used to in their home culture. That is the bottom line as a practical matter.