We were digging through the archives of Conoship International, when we found a rather compelling story. This anecdote gives use some interesting insight into the history of our company, and just how much times have changed. The story tells of our early relationship with China, a country where many of our most respected clients are based today. It recounts a group of Chinese delegates visiting Conoship to exchange knowledge and experience. It’s a tale about international relationships, ignorance, trust, and miscommunication, that shows us just how much our perspectives have changed over the last 50 years. It paints a picture of the developing world of international business. Here is the full story:
SORRY, MR. KINGWe are well-accustomed to visitors at Centraal Staal. We already received guests from many nationalities. However, a Chinese Trade Delegation of about 20 people, that was a first! But, when the Central Chamber of Commerce kindly asked us at Conoship whether we wanted to host the group, we said: “Okay, bring it on!”. The People’s Republic of China (also referred to as Communist China) is setting up a shipbuilding industry, and decided to visit the Netherlands to learn from our approach. Obviously, that meant Conoship was on their visiting list too.
We were informed that almost all our guests exclusively spoke Chinese. We considered doing a crash course in Chinese, but there simply wasn’t enough time for that. In order to present the “Conoship story” we came up with the idea to have the text translated into Chinese.
But who could translate this text at such short notice? After some searching, we found Mr. King, the owner of a very good restaurant in Groningen. We asked him to translate the document, and luckily, he happily obliged.
He stretched a large sheet of rice paper on his writing table, picked out a bamboo stick with a good, sharp point and produced a beautiful work of art (see photo). When he handed it over to us, we were very pleased with it.
We got to talking, and he shared some of his experiences from his home country. Mr. King turned out to be a supporter of the Nationalist Chiang Kai-shek regime. This regime is in opposition with Communist China. This didn’t seem to bother Mr. King: in the end, he said, Chinese people all over the world always help each other. Nevertheless, we were a little worried. We were afraid that Mr. King may have inserted a political message into his translation.
The next day, when we presented the translation to the Chinese delegates, we cautiously asked the translator to check the text to see if it was okay. Luckily, it appeared to be all good. “Excellent,” he commented. “A story with class!” We gave each of the delegation members a copy of the story, rolled up and held together by a neat red ribbon. The delegation was very surprised by our reception, and they thanked us extensively afterwards in a letter. It was even suggested there might be more opportunities to cooperate in the future. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future will bring.
Afterwards we thought about the story, Mr. King, and our unjustified mistrust. So we would like to apologize to Mr. King, and we hope to dine at your restaurant again soon. In fact, we would be honoured to!
This story showcases just how difficult it used to be for businesses to network. It’s hard to imagine now how challenging it was just to translate a text into Chinese. Nowadays, we can translate almost anything with a few taps on our phone. What’s more interesting, however, is that despite the generosity and helpfulness of the restaurant owner, the Dutch still had trouble trusting him. The huge gap between our cultures and the political tension at play back then made us sceptical.
Nowadays, we communicate with Chinese business partners on an almost daily basis and a large proportion of our designs are brought to life in China. So fortunately, the “opportunities to cooperate in the future” worked out.