ZZX: Peter, you run a number of businesses locally. What can you tell us about each of them?
Peter: My head company is called Big Stone International Group Co., LTD, and we do everything from travel to trade to food services. The focus of our work is always to provide funding for our charity. We help children who are true orphans, that is to say that they have lost both parents, and children who, for various reasons, are unadoptable. Most children we help are referred to us through personal contacts.
Big Stone Foundation is registered as a non-profit in the US, and we are currently working on registering locally as well. Our long-term goal is to build a large non-institutional orphanage in Henan on private land, which will integrate organic farming, home-style housing, and private education. It is a lot of work, but eventually we hope to make it self-sustaining, with food grown on site, and all the energy produced on site as well.
Currently we have 132 orphans who attend private schools around the province. We don’t currently have our own facility, but have placed them in private boarding schools to give them good educational opportunities. Although the schools have done a great deed by working with us to give our kids a safe place to live and study, these children and their situations are not advertised by the schools. What’s important to understand is that this is that we want to protect each child's identity and give them the same dignity that the rich kids get. Despite their rocky past, our children have become quite successful academically, having good scores and achievement, and they can look forward to a brilliant future!
ZZX: What made you decide to start your charity organization? What kind of difficulties have you faced in doing this kind of work in China?
Peter: I have always enjoyed helping people. I did not come to China with the purpose of starting a charity or orphanage, but its a dream that has grown and continues to grow the longer I'm here. As opportunities to help people arose, I accepted them. If it was something I could do, I would do it. Not blindly, of course, I do try to make sure I'm not being taken advantage of...
In general the attitude towards charities in China is simply a lack of knowledge, a void, people are simply not very aware of them. Even people who you would expect would be fairly aware of social issues seem not to be. There is however, general support from the public for the charity work that I do.
There is actually not much law governing charities and NPOs in China. We have run into very few difficulties legally / financially. Gaining trust in some villages has been difficult due to a general suspicion toward outsiders, but usually with time and by being honest about the work we do, we overcome those challenges. We always strive for openness and transparency in our work. We try to work with local police, schools, and governments so that everything is legal and above the table.
ZZX: What advice would you have for other foreigners who are thinking about starting their own businesses in China? What is the best way to get started, and what are the essentials for conducting business in China?
Peter: Always use common sense when dealing with people, wherever you may be. Don’t necessarily trust the first person who says that they want to help you or be your business friend or partner, but also try not to avoid trusting people here, just because they're local. Most Chinese businessmen are not out to take advantage of foreigners, so stick to what you want to do, but you do not necessarily have to stick to the first person you meet. Just as in your home country; choose your business partners wisely.
Chinese businessmen may know about local business practices and regulations, but there may be specific regulations regarding foreigners and international business that they may not be aware of, so make sure to seek the proper authorities or sources of information rather than just relying upon assurances by a business friend. Though advice and assurances are most likely done out of good will, the people might just be unaware of the specific regulations when it comes to international policies.
Regarding contracts, always make sure you have one when doing business, but know that contracts are often just a starting line for a business arrangement, and you will need to be patient and flexible as their may be issues that require further discussion down the road. Americans often negotiate contracts quickly and follow them to the letter, but Chinese tend to draw out negotiations and take their time. Foreigners here on short business trips may not have time to negotiate detailed business deals, so it might be best to have local contacts who can spend more time with potential business partners.
ZZX: As a foreigner who has lived in Zhengzhou for more than 10 years, what advice do you have on adapting to a new culture and lifestyle, and how can other foreigners who may be new to China best approach some of the differences they see here?
Peter: It depends on whether a person plans on staying here for a long time or not. As with anyone arriving in a new culture, do not be surprised by an emotional roller coaster during your first few months here. Be patient and learn to enjoy and love the differences that you see.
At the same time, do not be afraid to be a westerner as well. By all means, expose yourself to Chinese things, but do not be afraid to break down and do things that make you feel comfortable and remind you of home. Good coffee is always a must for me.
Above all, I have been here for 11 years, and have gone home only once, because I love it here so much. Sure, there may be some difficulties living here, but by and large I love it and don’t want to be anywhere but here.