There are some people who take sundry blogging to the next level.
Dan Harris is one of them. As an attorney specializing in Chinese law, few possess the experience he has navigating the world’s most colorful business landscape—mainland China. When your company is bogged down by red tape and legal hassles, Harris is the guy who comes to the rescue. It is a miracle he still finds time to write.
There is no shortage of adventure and intrigue in his current gig either. As the alpha-blogger for law firm and consultancy Harris & Moure, his prolific output on the China Law Blog (chinalawblog.com) makes it hands down the most informative online resource of its kind.
Harris began writing in 2006 about “the practical aspects of Chinese law and how it impacts business.” Since then he has garnered a faithful audience eager to learn the nuances of business, politics, and the pitfalls to avoid “over there.”
In this rare interview, Harris talks about being earnest and why playing by the rules can get things done in China.
What assumptions do you want to debunk or introduce to your readers/ fans/clients about how things actually work in China?
The most important thing I want my clients to know about China is that China has sophisticated laws and those laws are enforced.
You had quite a cosmopolitan upbringing. At what point in your professional career did you begin to focus on Chinese law?
About 10 years ago. It was a slow process actually. We started out mostly focusing on Russia and Korea but so many of our clients started moving business to China that we had no choice but to move with them.
Is there really such a thing as a “Chinese business culture”?
There is. But like any business culture it isn’t universal and it isn’t immutable. If I had to pick one thing to define it, it would be a desire to get the deal done. Chinese businesspeople are more concerned about getting a deal done than they are about cultural niceties.
Your China Law Blog is a priceless resource open to anyone curious about how to do business in that part of the world. Did you really expect it to be as popular as it is when you first started?
Not even close. When we first started it, I was delighted when we hit 50 readers a day. Then the Wall Street Journal wrote favorably about us and we hit 500 a day. I thought that was crazy. I don’t even know how many readers we have, but at least one blog rating service puts us at the top among law blogs. To me it shows the dearth of good information on China.
You don’t have to name names and places, but what are some of the thorniest problems you’ve solved for clients in China?
Definitely it would have to be getting people out of China who are being held there against their will for allegedly having failed to pay debts. This sort of thing happens all the time.
A lot of your best insights are helpful for companies that want to manufacture their products in China. What are the most important pointers/reminders you share for those who want to protect their Intellectual Property?
One, Get a good partner that makes sense for you because IP (Intellectual Property) theft is much less likely to happen within a good relationship.
Two, get a good contract (in Chinese) with your good partner so that you have a good road map on where your relationship should go. This minimizes future problems.
Three, do whatever you can to protect your IP outside of anything legal. It might be as simple as only bringing in last year’s model to China.
Four, register your IP in China because if you don’t register it, you can’t really protect it if it gets taken.
How must a foreign business court maintain good relations with Chinese government officials? What nuances should always be kept in mind?
The most basic advice here is to simply try. By trying, I mean go and introduce yourself now, not when you have a problem. Let them know what you are doing and ask them how they feel about it. Do NOT bribe.
You once wrote, “The [Chinese] government is much more concerned with social harmony than it is with economic numbers.” Can you cite examples where you saw this in action?
Try registering a high pollution foreign business in China today. That will prove this axiom right off the bat. China still favors its State Owned Entities not so much because they create jobs, but because they are mostly allied with the government and the government’s goals of social harmony.
What has Apple done right in China?
A lot. Starting with its simply being Apple in China. Many years ago, before Apple went into China and when it had first arrived, a number of pundits were criticizing it for not being Chinese enough. They were saying that Apple needed to change its product and/or reduce its cost. Apple did the opposite. It kept its product and prices the same and by doing so it maintained its reputation worldwide.
If Apple had made cheaper product and charged less in China, I am convinced that would have hurt its name, reputation, and business worldwide. You have to realize that there will always be pundits out there who criticize big companies so as to try to convey that they know China business better than the big companies and therefore you should hire them as your business consultant.
You also write a lot. When is your first book coming out? Seriously.
I am constantly asked this and I would love to have a book out. Problem is, I have neither the time nor the skill to write it, and so I guess the best answer is that it will come out whenever someone really good comes to me and offers to do the bulk of the work.
Favorite Chinese dishes?
I LOVE Chinese food. The spicier the better. I guess if I had to pick one thing though it would be Ma Po Tofu, with no meat.
Print ed: 08/13