Working with Researchers from China

Introduction

This is the first in a series of articles designed to help our editors hone cross-cultural communication skills that can be very useful in working with authors, board members, reviewers, and editors of other journals. Look for future articles on India, Australia, Japan, and others. The information provided in this article is based on observations from Wiley colleagues in our Beijing office who are native Chinese speakers and are familiar with the intricacies of Chinese culture, and from other colleagues who have worked extensively with Chinese researchers. While there may be some generalizations and oversimplifications in what we present here, we hope that the information will be useful for you.

An overview of Chinese culture

There are many complex social nuances and structures within China that dictate how the Chinese communicate with others and maintain personal and professional relationships. These tend to be very different from more Western cultures. Chinese culture is greatly influenced by Confucianism and collectivism, which emphasizes the importance of developing and maintaining harmony within interpersonal relationships and society. People within Chinese culture tend to place a strong emphasis on respecting the feelings of their friends, family, and colleagues, and often downplay their own positions and achievements whilst emphasizing those of others. In situations involving conflict, people from within Chinese cultures will tend to use more abstract, indirect, and avoidant communication styles and allow others to make inferences from the context. This is done to protect interpersonal relationships, prevent embarrassment, and avoid disagreement.

Conversing with Chinese authors and reviewers

Compared to Western culture, Chinese people tend to be more formal in their communication style. When engaging with authors or reviewers from China, initial email communications should start formally, using the recipient’s professional title. For those journals using ScholarOne, the standard email templates should already be designed to do this. Given that many Chinese researchers work with colleagues from around the world, there is an understanding within China that Western cultures are slightly more informal and will progress to first name terms quite quickly after beginning communications. 

Editors should treat Chinese authors and reviewers as you would any other author or reviewer. However, keep in mind that in China, English is usually the second or third language for most people. Therefore, it is very important to ensure that you structure your communications very clearly. Important decisions, such as rejection or major revision, should always contain detailed information on the reason for the decision. Any criticism provided should be constructive and we recommend that reviewer comments be sense checked to avoid inflammatory remarks. Most important is that a clear message is delivered, but a detailed explanation on the reasons behind the decision is greatly valued. 

Due to the restrictions on certain websites, platforms, and email servers within China, there may be some instances where your emails do not get through to the intended recipient or are diverted to their junk email box. It is therefore important that editorial offices check to see whether the messages have been delivered successfully.

Working with Chinese editors and editorial board members

In Western cultures, an explicit, direct, and factual communication style is preferred. This is less common within Chinese cultures. Chinese people tend to speak in a less direct, more passive manner, which is viewed as the proper way to express oneself within Chinese culture. When in doubt, follow up with more specific questions. Answers can sometimes be obtained by gently asking follow-up questions or asking related questions to try to uncover the information that you need. Getting clear and direct answers might not always be easy, but if both parties feel at ease, it will help the process along.

Many Chinese researchers prefer to maintain a polite and harmonious environment and are unlikely to engage in animated discussions at formal meetings. Chinese members of an editorial team may therefore appear to take a more active listening role at editorial board meetings compared to other members of the team and may be hesitant to join in group discussions. In communications, try to avoid situations where differing opinions need to be expressed in a group forum (i.e., do you agree that…?). Many Chinese researchers prefer to set specific agendas ahead of a meeting and do not like to deviate from the proposed agenda to avoid surprises and potential embarrassment. To have unplanned conversations, it is advisable to discuss things in a more informal setting, one-to-one. Another option would be to hold individual talks with Chinese editors or editorial board members.

Top Culture Keys
Structure any written communications clearly and concisely to avoid misinterpretation.
Considerable advance notice for any meeting which requires travel.
Politeness, respect, and empathy.

Much of our communications with our editorial teams are either online or via phone. When holding teleconferences with your editorial team, please bear in mind that not all the platforms we use to conduct voice and video calls work within China. Before setting up a meeting, please check that all your participants can use the software. Advanced notice of planned meetings or telephone calls is highly appreciated, as Chinese researchers tend to be very occupied due to the various numbers of roles they hold within their institutions. If you are planning to hold a meeting outside of China, where Chinese team members will be in attendance, you will need to allow enough time for travel arrangements due to the visa application process within China.

References: 

https://chinaculturecorner.com/2013/09/24/how-to-communicate-with-the-chinese-part-1/ 
https://chinaculturecorner.com/2013/10/20/tips-for-communicating-with-the-chinese-part-2/ 

About the Author

Journal Development Manager, Open Access and Publishing Development, Beijing, China, and Journals Publishing Manager, Editorial Management, Oxford, UK, respectively

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