English · Modern Dilemma

How to handle “Panda Wears Rolex”

Doing business with the Chinese can be tricky. This article tells you five things you need to know when dealing with the first generation rich Chinese businessmen.

We all know that the “Devil Wears Prada” was so ten years ago; the Prada-wearing “devils” have grown old, and their once shabby assistants have now risen up in the world. And so have the Chinese!

Like it or not, we are now in the era of the “Panda Wears Rolex”. The Chinese have proven their spending power with their overseas shopping sprees and the Chinese capital has shown its greediness and panache in their overseas acquisition. Europeans are drawn to the allure of Chinese money, even though they may hold so-called Chinese manners in contempt. No? They still think the Chinese have no manners. Loud, the Chinese might be, but they are not as bad as your football fans, my dear Brits.

Of course, I can not generalize a population of 1.3 billion into one stereotype, so in this article, I will focus on one type of “panda”—the rich first generation business men, usually in their 50s now.

“Panda”, the nickname I have given to these wealthy men, is not only derived from the physical resemblance (of most of them) to the big chubby animal, but also from the fact that because I believe that these people can be just as important, if not just as useful, as China’s national treasure-pandas. For example, pandas (the animal) are often sent to foreign countries by the Chinese government as a diplomatic gift. Usually, hands are shaken, photos are taken, and bonds of friendship are formed.

On the one hand, these situations serve the self-esteem and greediness of the “pandas”, on the other hand, they maintain the pride of the Brits-because these charming smart people know the importance of being friends with the super power as it ensures that “the sun never sets on their British empire”.

Of course the rich first generation Chinese business men don’t really wear Rolex. Their watches are probably Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantin, but they probably had a Rolex or two when they first made their fortune. So let’s just call them “Panda Wears Rolex” with a hint of nostalgia.

Believe me, these “Pandas” are definitely not as chubby or as clumsy as they appear to be; indeed they are clever creatures, and they can be as difficult as “Devil who Wears Prada”, or even worse.

This article won’t give you in-depth tips on how you can survive in the “Panda Wears Rolex” era but will give you some basic tips on what you need to know about their behavior, and how you can handle them.

  1. Gift Big, Don’t Be Stingy and DON’T underestimate their spending power

Pandas are fat, both in the weight of their bodies and in the thickness of their wallets. Even though a lot of people look down on their tastes in fashion – some pandas may not have the physique build to make a Burberry trench coat look as dashing as it does on a model or a British gentleman, and the big Hermes “H” logo-that may look a bit small on their waist (I say waist but most of them tie their belts about 15cm below their chest). Even though a lot of people might look down on their tastes, when it comes to fashion, they are big spenders.

If you want to give gifts to these “pandas”, you need to know that in my parents’ generation, gifts tended to be big and expensive. Although it is sweet to give gifts of chocolate, tea or biscuits, the rich first generation Chinese would say this is too stingy. Chinese people like people doing things in their own way, so the English way of gift giving would appall them.

But now, you can better understand the crazy Chinese shopping sprees at luxury European retailers. These people are not only buying for themselves, but they are also shopping for their business partners, for their expanding businesses and their increasingly promising futures.

If you think everything in China is cheap, think again!

Yes, maybe living costs in China are cheaper, but luxury goods in China are hell expensive!

Usually you pay doubles or triples for the same handbag in China than you do in Europe. So, it makes economical sense for Chinese pandas to shop in Europe and stock up on lots of expensive gifts for future occasions.  So ultimately, to do business with the Chinese, you need to be willing to invest. If you aren’t, then don’t even dream of getting any profit from these pandas.

2.Give Big Compliments

Chinese men are not talented in giving compliments to women, but surprisingly are super-talented in complimenting their business partners. There might be some regional differences, but at least in the North of China at least, you need to fully prepare yourself for the downing red wine like vodka shots at business dinners, and singing their praises– and the louder, the better. If you don’t know how to do it, just sit back, observe and knock back a few more glasses of red wine, then you’ll know.

3.Think long-term and don’t focus on your short-term interests

Pandas are not stupid animals: they don’t easily trust people.“Trust” is the most important thing in any business relationships. If you are too greedy and only think about short-term interests, you are just wasting your time! You may be investing lots of money and time into the pandas but not be seeing any benefits. But just be patient, be clever and remember that if you care about the £300 profits now, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to make £300,000 in the future!

4.Be tolerant

Serving the “Panda who Wears Rolex” requires lots of patience. You need to have a high level of tolerance in order to not ‘die’ from anger. If you think your standard is high, expect their standards to be higher. The word “impossible” shouldn’t exist in your vocabulary if you want do business with these people. Even though they don’t say it as gracefully as Audrey Hepburn did, “the word ‘I’m possible’ is still in the word ‘impossible’”. If you say you cannot do it, they’ll say it shows you don’t have the capability, and they might fire you for it.

I remembered I once took 14 pandas luxury shopping, and they didn’t even tell me when they were arriving in London. They called me at 11am in the morning saying they were already on the train to here and requested a mini bus to pick them up in an hour. To these pandas, “24 hours notice” sounds ridiculous. Once they were sitting on the mini bus, the panda’s wives started taking selfies and asked where they could shop for jewelry. The pandas flipped through the Michelin-restaurant guides and asked me to book them a table for the same evening – for a party of 17! I finally got them a private dinning room at the Connaught, without a single word of thanks! I instead heard them afterwards complaining that the food was tasteless afterwards. You cannot tell them how it works here in England because they just don’t want to hear. If you want to do business with them, you have to act according to the Chinese standards-i.e. ”Nothing is impossible!” If you already hate this phrase already, just try to imagine Audrey Hepburn saying it with grace.:)

  1. Understanding the Pandas

I believe that most of the pandas deserve what they have today. Their stories about how they made it from scratch are sure to be sensational. They have got to where they are now through capitalizing on the opportunities presented by the 1980s ‘open-door policy’ of the 1980s, and through genuine hard work. So if you think these pandas are difficult to handle, just remember that they all went through the same process when they were young! Because of the special history of my country, most of our parents’ generation hasn’t inherited wealth from their families; they started from scratches and the people who made it (if not through corruption) are the clever ones who know how to seize opportunities, they are entrepreneurs. In the 60s, when you Brits were listening to the Beatles and having the “sex revolution”, when you Americans were wearing mini skits, protesting the Vietnam War, the young “Rolex-Wearing-Pandas-to-be” were forcibly displaced to the rural regions during the “Down to the Countryside Movement” under Chairman Mao. Today. You see them all wearing the latest designers’ clothes because when they were young, they only time they only got to wear new clothes at Chinese New Year.

I believe that the“Panda who Wears Rolex” are indeed great people. They possess a combination of unbelievable ridiculousness and great wisdom. If entrepreneurship and self-made men are both so widely appreciated in today’s world, think about the “Pandas” who were all entrepreneurs that started-up from zero! (Here, I am not talking about government officials; I am talking about the Chinese businessmen) So respect them, welcome them to Britain with the utmost warmth, and start to learn how to handle the “Panda Wears Rolex” generation.

Photo of Luning Wang

Luning Wang

Luning is a London-based writer and arts & lifestyle journalist. “Picasso and the Single Girl” is dedicated to the stories and species of the art world, cosmopolitan life, modern dilemma and female brilliance. Luning also consults European brands on their Chinese marketing and media strategies.
Photo of Luning Wang

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