The 36 Ancient Chinese Strategies- Strategy One – ‘Fool the emperor to cross the sea’ means “to act in the open while hiding your real intentions”

To function successfully in the Greater China Region, and therefore maximise your business success it is crucial to know how to recognise and respond effectively to the 36 Chinese Strategies. Knowledge of the Chinese negotiating culture, which means how the 36 Chinese Strategies are used, is your greatest asset.

One of the 36 Chinese Strategies used is Strategy One‘Fool the emperor to cross the sea’ 瞒天过海 which means “to act in the open, while hiding your real intentions”.

Strategy OneFool the emperor to cross the sea’ 瞒天过海 is likely to be applied on you when you visit your Chinese counterparts. You will generally be picked up at the airport by your Chinese contact, and then taken out to a restaurant, which often makes you feel more relaxed, and the tendency is lower your guard. You are fed delicious food and probably given too much alcohol. The atmosphere is relaxed and not businesslike at all. The general thinking of a Western businessperson is that the real business will commence the following day, at the first formal meeting, and therefore there is no need to be on guard during the meal the night before. However, for a Chinese businessperson the business meeting commences as soon as you meet them.

Even though Chinese people are very hospitable and often the perfect hosts, when you are in this situation it is important to remember that there is another agenda being played out. The dinner is often used to find out crucial information from you, about you and your company, before you begin the formal meetings the following day. Alternatively, you are presented with a new issue that is likely to worry you and keep you awake the whole night. The next day you will be exhausted and not the sharp negotiator you might otherwise be. So, your Chinese contacts now have the edge on you.

It is common for a Western businessperson to misinterpret social situations when dealing with Chinese businesspeople, because often English words used in a Chinese context can carry a different meaning. An example of this is when a Chinese person uses the word friend”. Chinese people often describe a person as their friend on the first meeting. In a Western context, a friend is a person you have known for a long time, but the idea of calling you a friend in a Chinese context is the signal to commence a business relationship.

We often hear that friendship is important to Chinese people, and we can be misled into believing all the socialising and entertaining that is conducted during business negotiations is for the development of this very important friendship. By fixating on developing the friendship with your Chinese counterpart, you may not see what is really going on within the wider business deal. This can result in saying yes” to something that you should not have said yes to, or discussing the price of the product in question too early in the process. This can put you in an awkward position for the rest of the discussions. Sometimes there can be no coming back from this situation.


What to do when Strategy One Fool the emperor to cross the sea’ 瞒天过海 is applied on you 

Keep in mind that any time you are participating in business discussions with Chinese people you are entering a game where you will probably have some or even all of the 36 Chinese Strategies played out on you. An informal dinner may appear to be unimportant and unrelated to business, however it is all part of the deal. Often when you are invited into a familiar, friendly, and safe place, you may forget that you are in a business situation.

It is important to be aware that even if you feel comfortable with your Chinese business counterparts, you need to remain alert and not let your guard down, regardless of the nature of the social activity. Business with Chinese people does not start the day after you enjoy a meal with them, rather business commences the minute you meet.

For more information on the 36 Chinese Strategies read ‘Tame the Tiger – Negotiating from a position of power’, ‘Deceive the Dragon – Negotiating to retain Power’, ‘Lure the Tiger – Negotiating in confronting circumstances’, ‘Bewilder the Dragon – Negotiating amongst confusion’ and ‘Endure the Tiger – Negotiating to gain ground.’ These books contain practical examples of the 36 Chinese Strategies, which are known to be the essence of Chinese business practices. The books are a great read for people who want t0 understand how to  confidently conduct business with Chinese people, and who are interested in learning strategies to be better negotiators in any environment.

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