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Making of the Chinese Gentleman

2006-11-02 | Interview by Venessa Wong

Yue-Sai Kan is a woman who needs no introduction among Chinese audiences.  This Guilin-born TV star has been a household name through out China and internationally for the past two decades, through US-made television programs such as Looking East (1978-1990) and China  Walls and Bridges (as Emmy award-winning documentary in 1989).  Her cosmetics brand, Yue-Sai Kan, launched in 1992, solidifying her image as a businesswoman; moreover, her bestselling books One World, Yue-Sai's Guide to Asian Beauty and Etiquette for the Modern Chinese have created a vast readership of fans eager to tap into the world of glamour.

This September, her latest book, The Chinese Gentleman sold nearly 20,000 copies during its first two weeks in bookstores.  Kan says coincidently, this is just the beginning.

The book, written in Chinese with English headings, outlines basic etiquette for the modern Chinese Male.  Chapters cover such topics as: How Should a Gentleman Look?, How Does a Gentleman Eat?, Gentleman in Daily Life and Ladies and Gentlemen (Which addresses relationship issues from dating to marriage to sex).  The book is peppered, at times humorously, with illustrations of gentlemanly do's and don'ts.

According to Kan, the book comes at a crucial moment in Chinas development, when Chinese businessmen are coming into greater contact with international peers without any prior education from parents or teachers about basic cultured behavior.  The consequences for Chinas businesses and its international reputation could be devastating, she warns, Its time, she asserts, it needs to start.

The book, says Kan, has been popular among both men and women.  She remarks with a laugh, People say that this is a book that men need and women will love.

Yue-Sai Kan: In traditional Chinese Culture, it was always emphasized that a man should be very well mannered, well educated, treat people with courtesy and think of others.  For whatever reason, this is missing (today).

Why is it important now to go beyond being a traditional Chinese gentleman? (The Chinese) want to be international.  I wanted to write a book to introduce what is internally recognized as a gentleman.  You must know how to appropriately behave and appropriately dress in any situation.  But this is all (on the) exterior.  The real definition of a gentleman is someone who is thoughtful, kind and thinks of others.  Even in traditional Chinese culture, he is someone who is learned and cultured&. This is the basic of all etiquette and human behavior.

China will host the Olympics and the World Expo.  It wants to be international and this is the way to go.  But there is not a single book about (the Chinese gentleman) yet.  In the street there are signs that say, (Make a cultured city, be a cultured person).  This is all talk!  What is cultured? 

The Shanghai government initiated the Seven Don'ts: Don't spit, Don't litter, Don't destroy public property, Don't damage green areas, Don't disobey traffic rules, Don't smoke in public places, and Don't use impolite language.  But these are only the basics of being a civilized person and an international city.  It goes much deeper than that.  Power is knowledge, if no one has ever told them (how to act like gentlemen), they will not understand what is lacking. 

In China there are many managers who are aware of the world and embarrassed by their employees.  When they go to meetings with headquarters, they behave abominably!  I took my sales manager to a Western restaurant in Paris once for a meeting and he blew his nose on the napkin!  It was so embarrassing.  This happens all the time.  He is a very good manager, but no one has told him how to act.

Manners are learned from your parents, or your teachers.  The Chinese have not had this for 50 years.  Parents don't know what to do; they don't even teach their kids the three magic words: thank you, excuse me and please.  You can't expect children to learn from nowhere.

I find that women are more educated, more flexible and willing to learn and change.  Women by and large are better cultured than men in this country.

I don't think (the book will offend Chinese men.  It was written in a manner of sharing.  The information is not there to criticize them; it's to let them know about international manners.  My hope is that people will come back to this book over and over again to find out what to do (in certain situations).

I really hope that the book becomes an excellent educational tool during this time in Chinese development.


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