The Olive Way E-Newsletter 

November 2009


Managing H1N1 Crisis - A Cultural Understanding


In April, not long after the outbreak of swine flu, Mexico got into a row with China.  Its foreign minister and other officials accused China of unfairly quarantining its travellers in their hotel rooms (despite daily flowers, food and fruit).  Soon others joined in criticizing China for overreacting.  China, however, rejected the accusation, saying what it did was lawful and justified.  Chinese authorities maintained that their only goal was prevention in a country with a huge population. 


Today, more than six months later, the numbers (as of November 9) speak:















Source: Press Information Bureau of India, China’s Ministry of Health,


The above table shows, China has the second largest number of confirmed cases, but the number pales in comparison with China’s 1.4 billion population (0.004% or four in 100,000).  It also shows that while some of the most developed countries have many more deaths both in absolute number and in percentile, China’s H1N1 deaths remain the lowest.  While there may be other explanations, China’s approach to crisis management has directly resulted in its lower death toll.  To a large extent, this can be understood from a cultural perspective.


The Chinese philosophy of health pays particular attention to disease prevention and containing (the so-called “jibing fangkong”).  This philosophy is very much reflected in the Chinese medicine, that places great importance to building up immunity to guard against diseases.  Quarantine, H1N1 tests, and vaccination (starting in September) are all preventative and controlling measures in line with that philosophy.  To that end, no case is treated lightly and seldom does one hear that patients with fever are sent home by medical staff without being tested and cleared from H1N1 infection.


In addition, the Chinese culture advocates a strong communal or group sense.  When in conflict with group needs, an individual’s personal needs take a back seat.  During crisis, this translates into the kind of social responsibility that is just not seen in places where individual’s self interest is overly emphasized.  Such strong sense of responsibility makes the call for vigilance well answered and quarantine procedures well followed.  Two other factors contribute to the lower deaths: emergency response plan in place when H1N1 hit thanks to lessons drawn from SARS in 2003, and the advantage of combining Western and Chinese medicine in combating diseases.


My humble suggestions:


As we travel the world for business or pleasure, at times we could experience some or even much inconvenience due to different ways in which flu pandemic is handled.  It is important that we stop finger-pointing and learn to be culturally intelligent.  In case we are put in quarantine, have some sense of humour, rest well and enjoy our treat.  Remember, anxiety and fatigue make one vulnerable to any disease including H1N1. 


I hope this article will find you in good health!



Letters to the Editor


Re “How Is Your Business Represented? ”, October 2009


Dear Jacqueline,


I fully agree with your little article.  While representing the CWB in Japan and Korea, there were many different challenges that came up which required me (as the representative) to access the government, draw on help from local customers and fend off our competitors.  I also agree fully with your comment on the need for integrity.  In small offices there is no oversight and there is ample opportunity for playing loose with the company's finances.  You need to ensure that you can trust your representative. 


David Iwaasa, Vancouver, Canada



The article was well written. I cannot agree more to those suggestions, especially on ETHICS and local regulations.  In my experience here in China, I have seen many cases that representatives of foreign companies run into all kinds of issues or problems.  They  either were too busy to care about or simply overlooked those two important points.


I would like to add that it is also critical to have a plan before entering into a foreign market. While this may sound like a no-brainer, the reality is many companies were simply dragged into business abroad without even thinking about business goal, the cost, the risks and the long-term benefits to companies etc..


Xie Bing, Shanghai, China



Have a comment?  Want to share your thoughts and stories with me or our readers?  Please send your email to us.  We look forward to hearing from you!


© 2009  Jacqueline Wu & Olive Kan Global.  All rights reserved.


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