How to Make a ChinApology

Here are some tips for Western managers making their first ChinApology:

ChinaSolved logoDanone’s Dumex baby forumula division is the latest MNC to get caught in Beijing’s ever-widening anti-corruption net. Last week was Bayer, and before that Sanofi. The Euros are certainly attracting all the wrong sorts of attention in China these days, but it’s just a matter of time before the Americans start showing up in the headlines. We’ve discussed how to reduce risk through smarter relationship-building and why it’s important to audit your China operation – but for some of you that ship has already sailed.

The Art of the ChinApology

Some people reading this will soon be issuing their first big ChinApology — for others it’s already a well-practiced routine.  While the tradition of self-criticism and public humiliation is an old one in China, the internet and CCTV have put a new hi-tech spin on it.

ChinApology Rules:

  • Style over substance.  You’re not confessing to specific charges — merely apologizing for hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.   Humble — but not guilty of anything specific or actionable.
  • Early is good, late is worse than not at all.  Pride is barbaric — let’s get this shamefest started right.  The quicker you do it, the faster you can move on to next steps.
  • It’s defensive.  You are trying to extinguish a fuse — not put out a burning a building.    A ChinApology doesn’t repair damage, but it does prevent things from getting worse.
  • Content Lite.   Be contrite in general terms.  Make your confession  more about emotion and  shame than actual criminality or specific charges.  (If you’ve reached this point, then your guilt has probably already a foregone conclusion.)
  • No Zingers.  This is no time for revelations about who is really at fault or defensive justifications.  Be brief, be sincere, be done with it.

Above all, the ChinApology should be DULL.  No weeping, no passion, no anger and nothing memorable.  You don’t want anything that the internet people can latch on to and pass around.

Here’s a brief instructional video that I put together after Tim Cook’s big iConfession way back in April, 2013.  It’s been a busy 6 months, but the rules still apply.    I hope you don’t need it, but just in case…


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