Category Archives: China Business

Something To Remember When You Return to Work Tomorrow: Safety

Note: I tried to post this last night, but I couldn’t because of technical glitches. After today’s earthquake the recommendations seem all that more important.

J.

I was really surprised this week when I received the latest issue of EuroBiz, the magazine of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, and read Bill Dodson’s column on workplace safety. I knew that workplace accidents happen in China, but not like this:

” Operators sometimes have to reach deep inside the machines, which should automatically stop when material is trapped inside them and needs to be pulled out. “Operators – with the blessing of the Chinese owner – would take the male sensor on one side of the machine and simply push it into the female sensor on the other side of the machine, effectively short-circuiting the safeties,” he said. “I told them they can’t do that; the makers of the machine made the system that way for a reason – to protect the workers.” Another Western manager told me how a young Chinese technician at a local factory had chosen to change out a product in testing without allowing the test cycle to finish. She had bypassed the safety mechanisms in order to save time switching out products under test. Sharp pincers that normally hold the product in place mistook her finger for the next product to be tested and splayed the finger open. Blood, by the telling, sprayed onto her and her co-worker, who watched the whole episode without comment and acted only when it was too late. “

Read the rest of Dodson’s article to see how you can prevent this from happening in your factories.

Dodson does a great job laying out ways to prevent this from happening through educating factory workers. But his piece also got me thinking about educating office workers about safety. I know you’re probably thinking about that episode in the third season of The Office where the warehouse guys tease Michael and the office team because they have to take safety training to prevent things like paper cuts. But thing like eye strain can have dangerous and painful effects — as someone with a visual impairment I’ve felt the effects. I’ve also seen that many people don’t treat these type of things seriously.

Thankfully China Daily has some easy tips that can save you a lot of pain later. Another tip that I like to follow is taking an Internet- and computer-free weekend and doing some offline activities. I just did that this weekend and I feel great and totally refreshed for Monday.

Hope you do too.

J.

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China Visa Update

This week I attended an AmCham seminar on the new regulations for Chinese visas. I thought I’d share my notes with everyone so that you can all be informed about the new rules:

  • There are no changes to the Z (work) visa procedure. These visas are converted into work and residency permits inside China upon entrance into the country.
  • Currently people need to apply in their home countries for Chinese visas and cannot apply in Hong Kong (other third countries are currently okay at the moment including Macao). Only those with either HK work permits or HK ID can apply for visas in Hong Kong.
  • Visa processing takes longer so you need to be prepared and apply in advance.
  • For L (tourist) visas, you are required to have a copy of a hotel reservation a photocopy of a round-trip plan ticket.
  • For F (business) visas, you are required to apply at the consulate/embassy in your country of residence. The consulates/embassies are only issuing 30-day single or double-entry visas. The following are the required documents: original letter from the Chinese government ministry; Chinese hotel reservation; photocopy of return plane tickets.
  • F visas can be extended inside China only. If extended in Beijing they can only be extended to July 1st 2008. If extended in Shanghai, they can be extended for the standard 30 to 60 days and count as single entry (and supposedly beyond July 1st). Extensions take five working days and must be applied for in person.
  • For the letter from the Chinese government ministry (usually the local foreign affairs office), this must be applied for by a locally registered company such as a WOFE or domestic Chinese company in the city where the person applying for the F visa intends to visit. IE if the person intends to visit Shanghai, the letter must be applied for by a company in Shanghai.
  • Representative offices must apply through an agent such as FESCO to get the letter from the relevant ministry
  • Those people who are in China for longer than 90 days continually or more than 180 days in a calendar year should apply to be on a Z visa, which would be changed to a residency permit inside China.
  • F and L visas for senior managers can be changed to work and residence permits from inside China. Also all companies with capital over US$3 million can change F and L visas to work and residency permits for all employees. Representative offices also can’t apply directly for Z visas. They must apply for L or F visas and convert them to work and residency permits inside China.
  • These regulations will most like last after the Olympics. The government is really cracking down on F visa holders who are actually residents inside China as they are really residents here, and should therefore be on residency and work permits and be paying taxes.

I hope this clears things up for a lot of people. J. P.S. It’s the Labour Day holiday in China, so I’m not posting for this weekend. I may post a book review on Lost Laowai though so please check there.

Update: Rich at All Roads Lead to China just posted a story that it looks like some multi-entry F and L visas are being canceled. He says the information is third hand but it is something worth watching.

Update II (May 12, 2008): Student visas will not be extended during the Olympics. People of African nationalities also seem to be having problems getting visas.

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The Great China Visa Debate

On Saturday morning while I was sitting in Starbucks a group of Laowais walked in and they were talking how they were all afraid that they were going to all be kicked out of China because they can’t renew their visas. Now from their conversation I could tell that this was an area they didn’t have a lot of experience with (my company follows this issue closely as we advise people who are establishing their China operations for the first time so I have a bit more knowledge than the average person) but I wanted to go over and just tell them to stop over-reacting.

For those that don’t know the Chinese government has restricted the issuing of multiple entry F visas for business lengthened the minimum application processing time to four days and limited the issuing of visas in Hong Kong to only permanent residents of the SAR.

There has also been a lot of good coverage of this issue in blogs and the mainstream media. But as the above conversation shows a lot of people have become consumed by fear — just check out this post on Shanghaiist about foreign students supposedly being expelled for the Olympics — it turned out to be a false alarm. And that is throwing people into a tizzy.

As I mentioned to a reporter from the German business newspaper Handelsblatt yesterday the restrictions that are being put in place aren’t a catastrophe they are to deal with volume. Lots of people are expected to come to China for the Olympics so that means more visa applications hence the longer waiting times you’ve heard about. Many people travel to Hong Kong — since you don’t need a visa to get in there — and apply for China visas in HK. Too many people are doing that now for the foreign ministry office in HK to handle hence the regulations that foreigners who are not permanent residents of HK must apply for a China visa in their country of residence.

What that means is until the regulations return back to normal which is expected to be in September you need to plan ahead. If you are on a visa that requires you to renew it outside the country (ie anything other than a Z-class visa) arrange a trip home at the same time. You’re not going to be denied a visa as long as you’ve obeyed the laws here and aren’t a known pro-T1bet/F*G* protestor. You just can’t leave visa renewal to the last minute now.

J.

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The Poor State of Chinese Building Materials

After I read Shanghai Scrap’s Adam Minter’s account of the collapse of a radio tower outside his apartment on Christmas Eve — and the death of the migrant worker that it caused — got me thinking about the poor state of building materials in China and how they have gone down hill over the last couple of years. Enough that I mentioned it to Adam in the comment section his post.

When Adam replied to me he mentioned a couple of reasons:

  • Corruption (people skimming money off the top by using cheaper materials)
  • The rising cost of materials

The rising cost of materials is a big issue. Particularly as the fact that costs are rising dramatically while the cost of labour is not.

Last year, my company did an interview with the head of B&Q Asia and he said that one of the biggest barriers the company has to growth is the fact that there isn’t a cost-savings incentive driving China towards a DIY culture — it’s still cheap enough to hire a labour to renovate a flat than take the trouble to do it yourself. So the way that B&Q is making money in Asia is through design consultancy and contract sales.

B&Q is a high-end store in Asia, so I know their guys aren’t skimping money off the top but some of the smaller firms probably are. And these renovations are so inexpensive that most people — in Shanghai at least — redo their homes every two years or so. That can be seen in the last two apartments I lived in where the plaster started bubbling, cracking and falling off the walls and ceilings after I lived in them for about a year (I lived in my first place for about 18 months and my second place for two years).

I’ve lived in my current place for about nine months and so far everything is okay — if that’s due to the fact that it was just renovated right before I moved in I don’t know. I hope it’s because my landlord, who is a great person, got better materials. If the system is going to change any time soon is also another question we don’t have the answer to. I think it’s really only going to happen when money makes it more worthwhile to drive the creation of a DIY renovation culture in China (though I am not sure if this will drive labourers and contractors to spend more money on building materials).

What about anybody else who’ve lived in China or other countries? Do you also have stories like this?

J.

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Top Ten Lists

I hate writing Top ten lists, but I love finding and reading them — and I discovered two beauties today:

Anyone else find any other interesting top ten lists?

J.

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Merry Christmas

Well Christmas Day is here and it’s time to say Merry Christmas to everyone. As I’ve mentioned before I’ve decided to take Christmas and Boxing Day off to enjoy the holiday season. Therefore I’m taking a break from blogging for those two days as well. I hope your Christmas will be just as relaxing and enjoyable as mine is.

And just in case you haven’t finished Christmas gift shopping yet here are two recommendations:

  1.  Check out Phantom Shanghai by Greg Girard. It’s got amazing photos and great writing by author William Gibson and photographer Leo Rubinfien. I’ve bought it for somebody on my Christmas list but I won’t say who!
  2.  And this was sent to me by a good friend in Ottawa. From TechCrunch:


Rachel Ray Gets Shangby’d

via TechCrunch by Nick Gonzalez on 12/20/07


shangby.pngOne relatively young startup, Shangby, has been receiving national coverage this holiday season. Rachel Ray’s cooking show covered the Austin based company before we got our hands on it. The site is like an online Home Shopping Network for goods made in Shanghai.

On most nights they host a live video exhibition from 6PM PST / 8 PM CST. During the broadcasts, viewers can call in to 1-866-212-0875 to ask questions about the products and even haggle over prices. You can also buy items on the site based off of a recorded cast.Live video really captures the look and feel of a good in context, where thumbnails and galleries can be misleading.

Although the company started with Shanghai because of the low prices (price comparisons), specifically around the pearl business, you could imagine the concept working for other locales with low prices, but where shops don’t have an online export business. Mix this idea with a Justin.tv-style head cam and you could have an army of personal shoppers.

Merry Christmas

J.

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Art is Now Just Part of the Chinese Production Line

I read a really interesting post today by James Fallows, the Atlantic’s China correspondent. Entitled, “Workshop of the World, Fine Arts Division”, it details Fallows’ visit to a fine arts “village” outside Shenzhen. But instead of being an artists’ colony like you would see in Europe, the US — or even Beijing, it’s a series of factories were they mass produce almost every type of art — from European Old Masters to the latest in hip Chinese art — you can imagine by hand!

It just makes me go WOW! It’s like Andy Warhol’s Factory team that used to mass produce his silk-screen series of paintings, but on a much larger scale. And I pretty much guarantee that most of this art is being bought by new middle class Chinese who are looking for something to decorate their living rooms (Fallows’ post didn’t say). Part of the reason, I say this is because I’ve tried to mail Chinese art to my parents in the past and ran into a lot of problems getting it cleared through customs — so much so that I didn’t send the piece and will try to bring it with us when Winnie and I come home in June.

The other reason is that as the Chinese middle class grows and gets wealthier, they are willing to spend money on very non-essential items. That doesn’t just mean buying a second TV or a flashy car (and it’s debatable if those items can be considered essential or not). It means doing things like taking vacations aboard and buying art. Just like most Chinese are going aboard for the first time in large chartered tour groups, matching baseball caps, flags and all, their first experience buying art is buying prints like those Fallows’ describes in his post.

How long that will last though is anyone’s guess. Those Chinese with more money are already buying a lot of contemporary Chinese art at high prices at Hong Kong auctions and even though foreigners are getting in on the trend right now, I think it’s Chinese people that are going to keep the industry growing long-term.
I am sure this will spread to other industries as well as Chinese people have more money to spend and as quality demands go up. Evidence for this comes from another blog post I read this morning. It’s by Andrea Learned of the Marketing Profs website and she was talking about Western men’s buying habits becoming more like women’s, but I think this quote can apply to the Chinese consumer as well:

“it seems society may have reached a point where men are considered no less masculine if they pay good money for a nice sweater, a facial or a safer car. We live in a world of abundance, and EVERYONE now expects/demands much more relevance and higher standards of service from brands. And, brands have to listen, because they are now scrambling to keep, let alone grow, their markets.The way I see it, men are discovering what women have long known and acted upon as consumers. Any brand that saw this coming, and spent time to learn more and become relevant to women, now has a serious advantage. Kudos to those that did.”

Replace the men in the above paragraph with “Chinese” and I think you get the point. Brands that offer quality and added value to the growing Chinese middle class — and effectively demonstrate that to consumers through their marketing campaigns — are going to be rewarded later once that market grows to become an even significant force than it is today.

J.

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