Chapter 40: Negotiating For My Life in China

Chinese warrior statue
Going to negotiate with my Chinese boss, Mr. CEO, felt like facing a barbarous warrior.

After Mr. CEO had massacred my job and visa, I didn’t know how to negotiate with him. In my mind, he had become another Cao Cao — the barbarous warlord of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I’d imagined our meeting on January 22, 2003 again and again — how he shot me down into a timorous, tearful woman.

But this would be different. Just as the sensitive Liu Bei, the compassionate leader of the Kingdom of Shu in the Three Kingdoms, had his strategist, Zhuge Liang, so I had John, my Chinese boyfriend. John didn’t have the arresting appearance of a warrior — but he had an arresting sense of justice. This moved him to challenge the stone factories in his hometown. Now, he wanted to help me challenge my boss.

The night before, he turned my apartment into battle headquarters, where we developed a list of demands for Mr. CEO. If I was to go to Hong Kong for a visa renewal, we wanted Mr. CEO to pay. We expected a guarantee on my company apartment, to stay until the end of February, and my salary for January. And, finally, John added what might just be the most wishful demand of all — an apology. “I’ll accompany you tomorrow, as a witness,” John promised.

Tomorrow morning, John and I advanced into enemy territory — Mr. CEO’s office. I walked in and sat before his mahogany desk and luxurious black leather chair, as if staring down a warlord in his throne room. I had to concentrate hard to push through the fear that ensnared me like a trap net. My mind seemed to live from moment to moment — each word or thought, once spoken or imagined, was immediately forgotten, especially as Mr. CEO confronted us.

“You were wrong to go to the PSB,” Mr. CEO countered. “We already had preparations for your visa.”

Of course he was furious about the call from the PSB. He’d been fined and put on notice for his actions, losing face. Yet, with an expired visa and uncertainty, Mr. CEO forced us to strike. “But you didn’t say that the other day,” I protested. “You told me nothing. What else were we supposed to do?”

“You still did the wrong thing,” Mr. CEO asserted. “You don’t understand China.” I felt nauseous at his words — because part of me wondered just how true they were.

But John wasn’t swayed by Mr. CEO’s words, suit, or even office. “You don’t represent China. The way you do business — without respect to your workers — is not consistent with Chinese values. Your way is not the Chinese way.”

Mr. CEO, of course, would never agree. I froze in my seat, as John and Mr. CEO parried linguistically before me, with Mr. CEO smugly refusing to admit any wrong, defending his lost face. I still don’t remember every word spoken, with fear turning my mind into a empty vessel. Yet I recall this: Mr. CEO, shameless to the end, agreed to every demand (including a promise to extend my visa in Hangzhou, negating a trip to Hong Kong), except for the apology. And John didn’t stop until a firm agreement was reached.

John and I left Mr. CEO, our modern Cao Cao, knowing he still would continue to exploit his little kingdom of a Chinese Internet company. Still, we won our major demands. And, the experience bound us closer, like Liu Bei and his sworn brothers who helped him fight against Cao Cao. John was my sworn love, even in crisis. And, you might say, the couple that battles together, stays together.

Have you ever had to negotiate for your life in China — or another country?


Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or visit the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.

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9 thoughts on “Chapter 40: Negotiating For My Life in China

  • March 17, 2010 at 2:39 am

    Hi Jocelyn
    Just discovered your blog. I’m writing a memoir about life abroad as well. Sounds like you’ve had some crazy experiences in China. I’ve had to negotiate for my right to be self-employed in Switzerland despite the fact that I am in my 30s and COULD have a child at any time…

  • March 17, 2010 at 5:27 am

    “You don’t represent China. The way you do business — without respect to your workers — is not consistent with Chinese values. Your way is not the Chinese way.”

    Awesome! I wish I could have this tape recorded so I can play it for a few of the immoral and corrupt managers in a certain Chinese workplace that I might have first hand experience with.
    I’m enjoying your blog – came here from a link on expat+HAREM. I’m sort of an accidental China expat but I’m loving the experience (except for those days when I don’t – but I felt the same love/hate in the USA, too!)

    • March 17, 2010 at 3:52 pm

      @Chantal, thanks for the comment, and for sharing something about your experience. No doubt I might have to do the same, as I’m still wondering how I can be self-employed, eventually, in China (when you have to have a visa from an employer to stay!). Things to think about…later!

      @globalgal, thanks for stopping by and sharing! I have to agree with you — I know a lot of managers who could stand to hear what John (now my husband) told Mr. CEO. Living in China can have its ups and downs, but as you say, that happens anywhere. 😉

      @Friend, thanks for weighing in. Here’s what I can tell you about Mr. CEO. He was a local, raised in the countryside. At the time this happened, he was 30 years old. He definitely lacked 人情味, but I know he is not the only one, judging from what I’ve heard from my husband and his Chinese friends. It’s unfortunate, but many bosses in China don’t see the need to respect their employees. All things considered, I am pretty lucky because, after all, I’m a foreigner; the worst circumstances often befall local Chinese (and, moreover, never get reported).

  • March 17, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I’m tempted to know more about Mr. CEO, like is he a local guy or from another place, (city, province, country, perhaps returning from overseas). Or how old is he?

    Based on what you posted, I sensed a lack of 人情味 when dealing with this matter. Sounds a bit too straight for Asia in general. Saving face can not compensate for that.

  • March 18, 2010 at 2:22 am

    You are certainly right about the local Chinese having to suffer worse circumstances. I see that at the workplace I mentioned. In my situation, as foreigners, we can complain and negotiate for better conditions, but our local staff often put up with delayed wages, poor housing, etc. They have been put in a position where they won’t complain out of fear, because they need the work. It pains me so much to see the corrupt managers getting away with this.

  • March 18, 2010 at 3:06 am

    I’m pretty damn sure Mr. CEO isn’t the only one, and that isn’t a Chinese monopoly. Assholes come from all countries and all walks of life.

    • March 19, 2010 at 7:19 pm

      @globalgal, thanks for weighing in once again, and sharing your experiences. It is tough to watch corrupt managers abuse their workers.

      @Zictor, thanks for the comment, and for making an excellent point — that this isn’t just a Chinese phenomenon. I completely agree.

  • February 27, 2012 at 2:33 am

    I know this is a pretty old entry, but wow, what a dick. Thank god you have the best husband ever to talk him down for you!

  • Pingback:Are More Unconventional Chinese Men More Likely to Date/Marry Western Women? | Speaking of China

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