Asking the Wrong Person

I get a fair amount of e-mail from strangers with questions about China. I don’t answer all of it because, to be honest, sometimes I’m busy and just don’t get around to it. Still, I like to help people, so I do my best to answer e-mails if the questions fall within my realm of experience.

Recently I got this e-mail:

> I am starting a business in Beijing and would appreciate some advice from you regarding the following:

> 1. How do you conduct business in Beijing?
> 2. Do you take a lease out on a premises or can you purchase a premises?
> 3. Are business contacts made through networking or by way of introductions?
> 4. Given the government of the day am I subject to scrutiny by the police, government officials, etc.?
> 5. How receptive is the government to a foreigner investor by way of starting up a business, money being transferred to another country, local compatibility?

> I greatly appreciate your help in this regard.

Uhhhh… yeah….

I responded:

> Judging by your questions, you are very, very far from ready to start a business in Beijing. I’m not at all qualified to answer your questions, either.

> I recommend that you:

> 1. Do some (non-blog) research on China.
> 2. Pose your questions to someone who might know the answers.

> Good luck.

I’m not sure where people might get the idea that it’s easy to start a business here. It’s pretty complicated.

However, I have wondered about some of this myself (particularly matters related to #4 and #5), so if anyone can offer appropriate links (no one still reads actual books, right?) in the comments, that would be cool.

UPDATE: Maybe I was wrong about it being complicated. Jeremy from left a very helpful link in the comments. Thanks, Jeremy!


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. while making a typo today I thought of a good name for a chinese porn site:

  2. I wrote an article about how to register a foreign business in China for That’s Beijing. It’s here:

  3. This sounds like an enquiry from a uni student who wants you to write his paper for him?

  4. You might refer US citizens to

    Ths US State Department might be a good place for them to start. Besides the Internet, there’s always the Reference Librarian at your nearest library, either university or public.

  5. Whther or not Beijing is a good place to start a business, it is not a good to place to start his first business. HK would be better for that.

  6. I agree with Gin that HK would be a better place for a foreigner to start a business. However, judging by the email, I doubt the sender has experience in doing business at all! Anyhow, I wish him good luck!

  7. 4 words for this man: have lots of money.

    with money, you can do anything, buy anything and ANYONE in china. well, almost anyone/anything…

  8. A good friend of mine has his own CPA business in Guangzhou. He has been in China for well over 10 years so I guess he qualifies as an “Old China Hand”. His website has many links to taxation and business issues in the PRC. You might want to direct future inquires like this to his site.

  9. My dear friend, please to send along this individual’s contacts to me and to my dearest Nigerian friend of mine who is the widow of the famous dissident Sani Abacha who is in possession of the sum of TWENTY-THREE MILLION DOLLARS, now in the Bank of Nigeria, Lagos, which she has entrusted to me to dispose of in this MATTER OF GREAT URGENCY. We require a reputable and intelligent business person and your correspondent obviously meets these criteria. This is a matter of STRICTEST CONFIDENCE and we only require a bank account number and we will give this individual 25% of the total amount. I thank you for your time.

    Geez, what a moron. How bizarre that he/she would write you out of the blue with the most vague and general questions. Your response was perfect.

  10. All his questions are very vague. One thing he should start with is to find out who is the local “低头蛇”. He could be a government official, or leader of migrant worker gang. It is always a good idea to have a “座談” with this individual and make sure things will go smoothly.

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