'It is Impossible to Become an Expert on the Asian Region without Accepting the Eastern Specifics'
Valentina Morozova, professor, Department of Asian and African Studies, speaks on the Asian countries' sociocultural specifics influence on business negotiations and tells how to teach students the methods of interactions with Chinese partners.
Interaction with Asian countries is becoming more active from year to year, but not all companies manage to effectively establish relationships with Asian partners. One of the obstacles is ignorance and misunderstanding of the eastern specifics, which entails the impossibility of effective negotiations and further development of relations. Professor Valentina Morozova, a specialist in Chinese business ethics, conducts a research seminar in intercultural communication for master students at the programme 'Business and Politics in Modern Asia'. In her interview to students Professor Morozova shares her experience of interaction with Chinese partners, tells how the master students study the sociocultural specifics of eastern cultures and points on issues that come from ignorance of this specifics.
– Professor Morozova, could you please introduce yourself: what is your academic background and scientific interests?
– Let’s start with some history. I was born in a region bordering with China, and it influenced not only my career vector, but in general – all spheres of my life. It is Transbaikal region that I obtained my alma masters at the Transbaikal state university (Oriental studies department) – one of the largest universities in the Russian Far East.Chinese culture is evident almost in all spheres in Russian borderland. First of all, I was wondering if there are any rules or principles of Russia-China cross-cultural cooperation (including business and politics), and if traditional Chinese culture still matters. That is why my PhD (2007) was related to the traditional values of Chinese culture and their modern interpretation. Later, I began to reflect about the way Chinese sociocultural elements are incorporated into business and politics. How, in broad terms Russian and Chinese cultures interact with each other and if it is possible to systematize these processes and make recommendations for regional business and politics to get as many benefits as possible.
I also was interested, if there any differences between Russia-China cooperation in borderland and such a cooperation in central Russian regions. In this context we were conducting research together with colleagues from the Institute of Far Eastern Studies (Russian Academy of Sciences) and it was a great experience for me in administrative and scientific work. Taking into account all of the above, I was eager to implement theoretical foundations in the field of practical solutions. The case helped as in 2013.
I received a government grant, which resulted in a doctoral dissertation "Regional culture in the sociocultural space of Russian and Chinese borderland". Then I got an excellent chance for working in International Department of Transbaikal State University (2015-2017), which implements international activities with more than 30 Asian educational organizations, and it was an excellent practice of cooperation with Chinese partners. And, of course, one of my greatest experiences in cross-cultural communication was in 2016 during the organization of the ASEF Summer University, when more than 40 representatives of different cultures met altogether at the university platform.
So, all these years it was also important for me to have an opportunity for conducting constant field research abroad (particularly, in China) and Transbaikal region as the border region gave me such an opportunity. Being the visiting professor in Heilongjiang International University I was communicating with Chinese colleagues and exchanging educational and scientific experience. By this time, it became clear to me that in China there is cultural politics, and there is political culture. These are two different phenomena, but without understanding the traditional foundations of Chinese civilization, we cannot understand neither one nor another. Now I smilingly say that I spent half my life on the Russian side, and another half of my life on the Chinese side of the Russian-Chinese border. But they say that a person gets tired most of all when he stands still, so a few years ago my family decided to move to St. Petersburg. Moreover, this city is a kind of “home-town” for us, because my parents received their scientific degrees here and I spent a significant part of my childhood here.
– Professor Morozova, you were working in Transbaikal State University and just few years before you joined the HSE team. What do you think about the HSE? Are there any differences in teaching methods and atmosphere?
– I had been working in Transbaikal state university for more than 12 years. It was important to me that I was always surrounded by wonderful colleagues. Most of them are sinologists and deep understanding of China units us. Of course, there is some specifics of both regional and federal universities. The first thing that attracts in the HSE team is the opportunity to develop. HSE offers continuing professional development, an opportunity to combine science and practice. You can realize almost any project. It is also important that you can work with students as with colleagues. Currently, I supervise my students in preparing scientific article and together with my colleagues joinSummer Chinese Teacher Training Program of Capital Normal University (Beijing, China). It turns out that HSE harmoniously combines many important things – supports initiatives, offers professional development, provides an excellent resource for work (including access to international Periodical/Citation Databases)and the opportunity of respectable salary. All this together is very important to me.
– You have been teaching at the programme “Business and Politics in Modern Asian” for several years, so how would you describe our Program to anyone, who has never heard about it?
– Today Asia is becoming an active participant of international politics and business processes and it is necessary not only to be able to communicate in Chinese or Japanese. We really can’t do this without deep understanding its sociocultural peculiarities, which are incorporated in all spheres. Our Programme graduates will never translate the term 面子 miànzi）as "face" (body part). And before explaining the rules of business etiquette in China, they will explain to you the types of 关系 (guānxi, interpersonal relationship). So, it seems to me that the main idea of our programme is to train specialists who understand modern political and economic peculiarities of the Asian region alongside with cultural specifics. But Asia is so different inside that you cannot cover it all with any one discipline. That is why, our programme offers special aspects for studying China, Japan, Vietnam etc. This is probably the only English-language programme in Russia that practices this approach. Among lecturers there are many native speakers, those, who are implementing business and research projects in Asia, so all the information is first-handed. Moreover, our students have the opportunity to combine science and practice and get practical skills during part-time job with the support of HSE Career Development Center.Such opportunities are also provided by our partner – Russian-Chinese Business Park. The agreement between HSE University – Saint Petersburg and Russian-Chinese Business Park was signed on December 4, 2019. So, our students today have the opportunity to do their internships at Russian-Chinese Business-Park and of course they are eager to participate in international academic mobility programs. These are great chances for our students to get started into their future professions.
– Now there is an admission time in the University and applicants from different Universities would like to join our programme. What recommends could you give for the potential students of our programme?
–I always recommend to all my students, no matter if they are first year Bachelor’s programme or Master’s programme students, that it is very important to understand and accept Asian specifics. Without accepting this specificity, it is impossible to become an expert on Asian region. You also should clearly define the vector of your future career at the very beginning of your studies here in order to implement the scientific component in it. Published articles will be a good advantage, so do not be afraid to start scientific work as early as possible. And, of course, you have to be prepared for difficulties, because all the superficial charm of Asia disappears when you start to study it in detail. And remember, 严师出高徒 (yánshīchūgāotú) = Good students are raised by strict teachers.
– Some people tend to think that Russia has experienced a huge Asian influence during its development, which is reflected in the Russian culture. Do you agree with it?
– Only partly. This question is covered in detail in my doctoral dissertation. Historical and cultural retrospective of Russian and Chinese borderland formation, for example, shows that these processes are not yet completed. Thus, the ethnocultural landscape of Russian borderland has largely retained its regional cultural image. At the same time, the border areas of Northeast China have undergone significant transformation as a result of Russian cultural diffusion. You can find many cases of these processes in Harbin city. However, today China is following an interesting path in this context. China translates elements of Russian culture by itself. Sometimes these elements are very distorted, as, for example, the case of Manzhouli shows. Therefore, it is extremely important to monitor these processes so as not to harm our sociocultural identity. By the way, our programme provides a course devoted to issues of national identity and socio-political development in Asia.
– You teach the course dedicated to cross-cultural communication in Asia. In your opinion, is the cultural aspect still important when dealing with Asian partners, or it is becoming irrelevant in the modern, borderless "big village" world?
– Today everybody knows the term “global village” that describes the phenomenon of the entire world becoming more interconnected as the result of applying media technologies. But this doesn’t work with Asia. Moreover, it is impossible to deal with Asian partners without knowledge of sociocultural peculiarities. This applies to both the official part of your business and the elementary table manners. For example, what would you do if your Chinese partner does not give you an answer for a long time? And what will be your reaction at the banquet when the host knocks the wineglass at the table? What gift should be presented to your Chinese partner and why you shouldn't present him/her anything green? That sounds trivial, but in real practice there are many cases when awful moments of embarrassment occur at the highest level. Thus, Dolce and Gabbana is still paying for insulting Chinese women and the Head of the British transport department Susan Kramer was greatly confused after presented a clock to Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je during an official visit in Taiwan. In this context I highly recommend the book “Why Traditional Chinese Philosophy Still Matters: The Relevance of Ancient Wisdom for the Global Age”. It is arguing that traditional Chinese philosophy has immediate relevance to the many challenges of modern life and will be useful to students of Asian Studies in general.
– Chinese culture is said to prioritize community over a person. How do you think, in what ways did that characteristic of the Chinese culture has influenced the fight against the coronavirus in China?
– That is a very difficult question, because from my point of view it is too early to speak about the victory over the coronavirus. But, of course, one of the first messages on coronavirus for all the world was the slogan "武汉加油！"= Wǔhàn jiāyóu! This slogan has united not only the people of this city, other cities in China, but also many other countries and cultures. However, when the authorities closed all restaurants during the second wave in Hong Kong, people did not take this measure, choosing other methods of dealing with the pandemic. So, in this situation it appears that there is a possibility of dialogue and cooperation between the people and authorities. And, of course, it can’t be denied a huge experience in fighting against SARS in 2002. However, let’s agree with Monika Sie Dhian Ho (General Director of Netherlands Institute of International Relations)“As the pandemic spreads around the world it is increasingly clear that culture matters when it comes to the coronavirus”.
On November 19, at 18:00, Prof. Morozova will make a presentation on the topic “Business with China” at the weekly meetings of the HSE Chinese Club. Registration and participation in the meeting are possible at the link: https://hsechineseclub.timepad.ru/event/1475831/