Knowledge Exchange

Business Culture - East vs West

Jack Shi (Class of 2021)

Hong Kong is a very special city in the world. It serves as the gate that links east and west, or to be more precise, China and western countries. At HKU, folks come from different parts of the world to get a taste of the eastern culture, as well as people from Asia who want to get closer to the rest of the world. The difference between eastern and western cultures has long been discussed and is continuingly being discovered.

In 2009 I moved to the US for high school and finished my college there, in Nebraska. After graduation I worked in the US for a few years. 2017 marked my ninth year of life in the states, after which I moved to China and started a new career path. From all the relocating and travelling, I have observed and encountered the divergent and sometimes contrasting cultures in the business/work environment. In this article, I would like to share some views from my own experience.

Physical Space at Work

In the west, we tend to make our office space fun and cozy. It doesn’t matter whether you have your own office or you are sitting in a cubicle, stickers, family pictures, mugs, mirrors, lamps, cute little office supplies, and more are often used to decorate.

In the east, plain walls, carpets, and “empty” cubicles are often seen (at least at my company and the ones I interact with). A foldable bed for lunch naps is way more desired than decorations, which also brings up the half-hour lunch (west) and the two-hour lunch (east) difference.


Relationships at Work

In the west, relationships at work often only stay professional in the office. Though occasional co-worker get togethers happen once a while, people still don’t expect that much of close relationship building. Work-life balance is important; I don’t want to work during my off-hours, nor do I want to see my colleagues when I am not working. Emails, calls, duties, and anything work related can wait if I am not in the office.

In the east, building some sort of long-term bond is desired, which makes it hard to leave when a good opportunity pops up. Instead of getting a beer only once or twice a month at a local bar, we often like to organise group dinners and get drunk at a karaoke afterwards. In this culture, we try to avoid calling people out and sometimes even avoid seeking out better opportunities and jumping around. When I am not at work, I still answer calls and respond to emails when they need help because I have a close relationship with my coworkers and managers. Work is my work-life balance.


Authority at Work

In the west, I rarely encountered a strong hierarchy. I called my managers and directors by their names, just as I did with other colleagues. Talking to higher management is easy and we make it easy for people who are at lower positions to talk to us. Communication doesn’t seem to have any issues as people value transparency and direct feedback. Questioning your boss and vocalising your ideas is common and encouraged.

In the east, a hierarchy system is ordinary. For example, in China the name part is replaced by “GM – last name” or “small – last name.” If you don’t know what position the person in question is but by intuition you know he/she is more senior than you, go with the formula — GM Cheng, or in Chinese “Cheng ZONG.” If you know that the person stands at a lower position, use the other formula – small Cheng or in Chinese “Xiao Cheng,” because they are “smaller.”

Another fact is that not a lot of people like to call their bosses out and question them in front of people. If there is any event outside of the office, you should go to those with the most seniority when serving food and say hi. Also, don’t forget to let them have the inside seat that faces directly to the door.


When I first moved to the US, my host dad told me that there is no right or wrong, only different. After years of moving around, I have come across more than those mentioned above. Some are fun to engage with, some get under my skin, and some make me doubt my life. After all, it is the difference that makes the world colourful. I respect the difference and am ready to learn more.


Pre-MBA Industry: Electrical & Electronic Manufacturing
Company: Sunshine Photoelectric Group
Job Title: Associate Corporate Finance