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Cross-cultural relationships within New Zealand agribusinesses operating in China and their sociological underpinnings

Lucock, Xiaomeng
Fields of Research
ANZSRC::150308 International Business , ANZSRC::070106 Farm Management, Rural Management and Agribusiness , ANZSRC::200202 Asian Cultural Studies , ANZSRC::200209 Multicultural, Intercultural and Cross-cultural Studies
This research was conducted in response to the importance of China as a destination market for New Zealand food products and services, the challenges that New Zealand agribusinesses have encountered in their China-related dealings, the absence of research on the overarching sociological framework of China’s agri-food environment, and the apparent lack of research on cross-cultural business relationships within the food and agribusiness context. This research sought to identify social institutions at play within this context, and to understand how they came about and interact. In addition, answers were sought as to whether common characteristics of agribusinesses − long production cycles, long investment cycles, production volatility, price volatility, product perishability, seasonality, food safety concerns, food security concerns, and environmental implications – impose particular challenges to building and managing cross-cultural business relationships. The research adopts an inductive-led theory-building case study methodology and research methods. Incidents and behaviours described were elicited from 38 in-depth semi-structured interviews with New Zealand and Chinese informants, focusing on their cross-cultural business dealings in China, including the building and management of business relationships. These were interpreted through cultural lenses. Drawing on relevant sociological literature, a framework is proposed to describe the self-reinforcing Chinese sociological system. In this system, the Chinese world view leads to pragmatism, which is then reflected in ‘how it is’ (including hierarchy, ambiguity, flexibility, diversity, opposite that coexist, and interconnectedness), ‘what is important’ (including guanxi, trust, face, harmony, survival, and win-win), and ‘what they do’ (including avoid conflicts, go with the flow, strive for interdependence, eager for quick success, and test everything). All of these factors reinforce the Chinese view of the world, resulting a high-context culture. The proposed framework recognises the fundamental differences in world view that Chinese people possess compared to many Westerners, in that whereas many Westerners see the world as a place where absolute truth exists, the abstract of which is therefore worth searching for, Chinese people see the world as being an intertwined matrix, in which all things are interconnected and therefore situation dependent. This contextual world view, which produced, and has been reinforced by, Daoism and Confucianism, has a range of sociological implications, all of which have a profound impact on the behaviours of Chinese business people. Chinese people maintain a hierarchical social structure encompassing guanxi networks, in which family orientation is strong, and harmony and interdependence are fundamental. Chinese people adapt to circumstances in order to survive and/or succeed, and they form trust with much caution, taking time to establish a trusted relationship. The proposed framework can also be understood using Bourdieu’s formula of habitus x capital + field = practice, but it contains additional self-reinforcing dimensions. Drawing on the understanding provided by this system, this research concludes that the unique characteristics of the food and agribusiness sector can impose additional challenges in building and managing effective cross-cultural business relationships, which derive, in particular, from specific uncertainties within this sector and which reinforce Chinese people’s distinctively pragmatic way of doing things.