I Stand Corrected

A Book Review

When I read the title in an email, I knew I had to get a copy of I Stand Corrected: How Teaching Western Manners in China Became Its Own Unforgettable Lesson by Eden Collinsworth (2014).

This book is

  • Part China – those unfamiliar with China will learn a bit, those familiar with China will nod often. Of interest to ChinaSource readers is the slice of life Eden interacted with as she consulted part time. Let’s just say there were private jets and private museums involved. Not the part of society many of us are rubbing shoulders with.
  • Part Experience of Writing a Book in China – Eden’s adult son spent a year in Nanjing and gave her the idea of writing a book about western manners for businessmen and women interacting with foreigners in China. Her editor extended it to include a few chapters about doing business abroad. Working with a Chinese editor and censors when you don’t know the buttons sounds like … well, if you’re familiar with China, it was unintended dark humor.
  • Part Memoir – prior to living in China for a few months, Eden, her ex-husband, and her son traveled extensively and sought out unique experiences.

I’ll admit I wondered how successful Eden would be at writing a book for a Chinese audience given her sparse knowledge of the culture going into it. When she went with her son to the local PSB to register there wasn’t a box to tick that covered how long she’d be in China. He told her to just tick the one-year box but she said she couldn’t because it was untrue and therefore illegal. By the end of the interaction with her son, Gilliam, she came to understand, “while everything in China is slightly illegal, the corollary is also true: anything in China is possible.”

This insight also brought a smile: “I have eaten unbelievably exotic things in China. That cannot be said of the Chinese. They take very few culinary risks and, when traveling, are not particularly adventurous in sampling new foods.”

Her book, The Tao of Improving Your Likability, was released in 2011 and within four weeks became a bestseller in the largest state-owned chain story in mainland China. It was also adopted as a textbook in Beijing University’s MBA program. Her understanding and use of Weibo, though maybe a bit outdated in these We-Chat days, is a good example of how a foreigner can use social media successfully in China.

Sprinkled throughout the book are lessons she included in The Tao of Improving Your Likability. I’ll share Lesson 8 as a sample:

When you are invited to dinner, immediately inform your host whether you are attending. If you delay your response, you prevent your host from planning ahead. A dinner invitation, once accepted, is a responsibility not to be subsequently subordinated to a better offer. Never ask who else is attending; although the host might volunteer the information, it is not obligatory to do so. Arrive on time, or only slightly late (no more than ten minutes). Do not, however, arrive early. When your host announces it is time for dinner, go straight to the table. If you have not yet met the other guests, introduce yourself to the people sitting near you. There are usually four courses to a Western meal: a first course (customarily soup or an appetizer), a main course, a salad, and a dessert. With the exception of the first course, you are often expected to serve yourself from a platter that is being passed or is place in front of you. Take a portion closest to you, put the serving fork and spoon back together on the serving platter, and wait for your host to begin before starting to eat.

Collinsworth has been contracted by the Ministry of Education to write about Western manners for children in Chinese public education. She might be the next foreign name to watch in China.

While I Stand Corrected won’t become a must read for future generation (unlike this Cixi biography), if you like books about China this one is worth the read.

Image Credit: gradformal 063 by oui.pisut.3dphile, on Flickr