Say What? A Quick Primer on Chinese Tones and Dialects

There is no way around it: Chinese is hard. There really is no substitute for learning Chinese than moving to China and completely immersing yourself. Still, if you regularly do business with China, it is good to at least know some of the basics of the language and appreciate why it can be so darn hard to master.

The difference between Mandarin and Cantonese

First of all, there are many different dialects and versions of the spoken Chinese language. A common misperception by foreigners is that the dialects are much like variations in accents, such as the difference between a Michigander’s accent and an Alabaman’s. The dialect differences in China are much, much more severe than this. Practically each province, even down to each local city or village, has a different local dialect. Typically, these dialects are unintelligible from one another. For example, someone from Hunan province would not be able to understand someone speaking in the local Sichuan dialect of Chinese.

Luckily, the playing field has been leveled a bit due to the pervasiveness of Mandarin Chinese, which is known as the “common Chinese language,” and is the official language of Mainland China. Another widely spoken “version,” also often referred to as a “dialect,” is Cantonese. It is mostly spoken in the southern part of China, mainly in Guangdong province and places like Hong Kong. Historically, many Chinese that immigrated to America were from Canton, and so many Chinese speakers in the United States come from a Cantonese background.*

As the official language, Mandarin boasts close to 1 billion native speakers. In my experience, native Cantonese speakers are usually also able to understand and speak Mandarin, as opposed to the other way around. I personally learned to speak Mandarin, as do most people that study Chinese. Generally, when a someone says “I am learning Chinese,” they almost always are referring to Mandarin.

How Tones Make You Sound Foreign in China

The trickiest thing about Chinese is the tones. Tones are key to attaching specific meanings to sounds in the Chinese language. The Cantonese dialect operates on nine different tones, whereas Mandarin only has five. The most frustrating problem for English speakers trying communicate in Chinese is that often they can remember and say a word phonetically correctly, but if the tone is wrong, their message might not get across.

I’m not going to go into how to master the tones too much as there are plenty of tutorials online that give you the basics, such as on ChinesePod. If you don’t have any plan to try to speak Chinese fluently, you don’t have to worry about it too much as people can understand your simple phrases. But what you should at least know is that pronouncing these words with the wrong tones is similar to when you hear a non-native English speaker speaking English with the wrong pronunciation. I.e., saying “ni hao,” the Chinese word for “hello,” with the wrong tones is like when you hear someone say “Sank You” as opposed to “Thank you.” You understand the meaning, but you know it sounds funny.

Understanding You Sound Foreign is a Good Thing!

Surprise, surprise, this works both ways! You sound foreign in China! A humbling reality, no doubt, but once you admit and understand it it can be an enormous source of personal growth. I believe accepting this reality makes it easier for you to do business in China as you can better understand and empathize with your Chinese counterparts. Chinese people truly value people with humble attitudes, and admitting you sound foreign sure helps the humble part of your persona come out. Additionally, back at home in America, it will make you more sympathetic to immigrants and other foreigners that struggle to speak English correctly.

Sank You For Reading! Now, go and embrace the foreigner in you by learning a few Chinese phrases and dare to use them wrong!

*I edited this from a previous version of this article, in which I referred to Mandarin as an “overarching dialect.” That is not really true, as Mandarin is the common Chinese language. Other versions, like Sichuanese, Hunanese, etc., are by definition “dialects of Mandarin.” Cantonese is a bit trickier because it is so widely spoken again and has many more tones than Mandarin Chinese, though it is most often referred to as a “widely spoken dialect.”

Understanding China’s Work Holiday Schedule

September 16, 2015

One thing that often trips up business travelers to China is the unique Chinesecalendar-20clip-20art-calendar holiday schedule. It has not been unheard of for Westerners arriving to plan rapid-fire meetings only to learn they accidentally overlapped their trip with a 4-day holiday that “came out of nowhere.”

Never fear! Here are some useful tips for you to understand and plan around the Chinese work holiday schedule like a pro.

  1. The Official 2015 Chinese Public Holiday Calendar

Thanks to, here is the official 2015 public holiday calendar in China. (The original post is in Chinese, I translated to English. Click this link for the Chinese version.)


Holiday Public Holiday Time Compensation Days (explained below) total off days
New Year’s 1/1 – 1/3 Sunday, January 4 is a work day 3
Spring Festival 2/18 – 2/24 Sunday, February 15 and Saturday, February 28 are work days 7
Tomb Sweeping Festival 4/4 – 4/6 Monday, April 6th is an off-day to make the holiday a 3-day weekend 3
Labor Day 5/1 – 5/3 Monday, May 3 is an off-day to make the holiday a 3-day weekend 3
Dragonboat Festival 6/20 – 6/22 Monday, June 22 is an off-day to make the holiday a 3-day weekend 3
WWII Victory Day Festival 9/3 – 9/5 Friday, September 4 is an off-day, and Sunday September 6 becomes a workday 3
Mid-Autumn Festival 9/26 – 9/27 The weekend days are the holiday 2
PRC National Day 10/1 – 10/7 Saturday, October 10 becomes a work day 7

2. Explaining the Tiaoxiu “Compensation” Days

China has what seems very strange to Westerners: tiaoxiu, or “compensation” days. Depending on when the holidays fall, the government will essentially move the work week backwards or forwards a day to allocate consecutive days for the rest period. For example, you’ll note above for the New Year’s holiday that though the holiday itself was from Thursday, January 1 to Saturday, January 3rd, the following day, January 4th, was denoted as a work day. Thus, the holiday is designed for people to get their “three-day weekend” starting on Thursday, and return to work on Sunday.

This year was particularly strange as the Mid-Autumn Festival days, which depends on the lunar calendar, fell entirely on a weekend and also very near to the succeeding National Day holiday. Employees in China were not robbed of their precious days off, however, as the government scheduled the much publicized “WWII Victory Day” Celebration at the beginning of September. The compensation day voodoo was again utilized here as Thursday the 3rd to Saturday the 5th were off-days, but people returned to work on Sunday. Plus, this made up for the “lost” days of the Mid-Autumn Festival

3. Understanding China’s Spring Festival Holiday

The big one that trips people up is the Spring Festival. Since the holiday is based on the lunar calendar, the timing of this week-long holiday varies year to year. Generally, the official public holiday will fall sometime between mid-January and the end of February, but you should always pay attention to when exactly the holiday will be months before making any business travel.

While the official public holiday is only a week, the Chinese Spring Festival holiday is akin to what we experience in America around Christmas/New Year’s time, but on steroids. China is really slow for business throughout most of January and February, and starts building up momentum again only after the holiday concludes. As I’ve written about before, China is home to the world’s largest human migration every year around the Spring Festival. Many employees will take all their available vacation days around that time to extend the holiday. Most business owners are traveling home or perhaps abroad.

My best advice is to get what you need to get done before January 1st, and then wait until after Spring Festival to make your trip to the Orient. Looking ahead to 2016, next year’s Spring Festival is slated for February 7 to February 13.

4. Plan ahead

The good news is that now this doesn’t have to be a total mystery to you if you merely plan ahead. The Chinese government typically issues the official public holiday schedule sometime between December 9th and December 14th. You can check back on this blog around then to get the scoop!

Three Emerging Trends of Chinese Tourists

September 12, 2015


The word is out: Chinese tourists are coming for you! Over the last decade, outbound trips from China have increased substantially. In 2014, Chinese tourists made over 67.5 million trips abroad. We should expect these trends to only increase as China’s wealthy have by now already developed a strong need to explore new places to sightsee and park their cash. Here are three trends for you to be aware of to stay ahead of the “China Tourism Wave.”


According to a report by Oxford Economic and International Hotels Group, blog585% of Chinese travelers prefer traveling to big cities.



No matter where you are from, you’ve probably at one time or another encountered a large Chinese tour group: lots of Chinese in a pack taking pictures, walking around confused, with a tour guide carrying a little flag on top of a long, skinny pole.

But Chinese travelers are starting to change, move away from the pack mentality and more towards traveling with their immediate family or by themselves.

Why is this happening? In part, it is because with new wealth and education, Chinese are able to navigate trips by themselves. They no longer have to depend as much on travel agencies or group travel packages.

What’s more, Chinese travelers are often economic travelers in the sense that they really know what they want to BUY before leaving home and know where they can buy it. Chinese are largely going abroad in search of luxury goods that they cannot get at home, like jewelry, antiques, or designer clothes, or perhaps going to buy discounted tech products that are way more expensive at home. They follow big brands like Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors, and they tend to go to the biggest, best places that they can buy them.


Chinese service providers are responding to and cashing in on these trends. In terms of travel booking, travelers are now mostly going to online travel booking sites. The two that dominate the China market are and It is clear that more Chinese travelers are using these platforms to increase the bookings.

Domestic hospitality and airline companies are also investing significantly in building full-service platforms in foreign countries frequented by Chinese travelers. In the aviation industry, many Chinese domestic airlines like Air China and China Eastern has already started operating directed flights from multiple cities in China to a variety of cities in North America like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, New York, and Houston.

One big company to watch out for in this space is Hainan Airlines (HNA Group). HNA is a monster in the airline and hospitality industry, and they are becoming one of the biggest players in terms of providing “go-abroad” services for the Chinese traveler. They have already begun operating direct flights to Seattle, and earlier this year started a direct flight to San Jose. On the hospitality side, the company is looking to make acquisitions and joint-ventures with foreign hospitality management companies. In June, HNA acquired 15% of North America’s Red Lion Hotels Corporation, and seem poised for more.

If you’re looking to attract more Chinese tourism dollars to your business or community, it would be smart to look at partnering with some of these domestic service providers.



How to get around China’s Internet Firewall: VPN Tips

September 8, 2015

One question I get most often from people about living in China is: “How do you use the Internet while in China? Isn’t there a lot of censorship?” Of course it is true, China does have a significant level of censorship that restricts access to alot of web content. Most foreigners frequenting China on business are probably most impacted by the restriction on websites commonly used at home for communication or news. We are talking about social media sites like Facebook and Youtube, news sites like the New York Times, and the most irritating of all, all Google-family web portals including Gmail. If you are surfing the web in China and try to get onto these websites, you will be wholly unable to connect. Talk about a buzzkill.


The good news is that you can get around the Firewall using what is called a VPN: Virtual Private Network. With VPN software on your computer or mobile device, you will be able to literally jump over the China internet firewall to connect to the Internet using an IP address from a country that does not restrict internet access. Thank God for technology!

VPNs are easy to get and relatively easy to use. One word of advice is to make sure you purchase and download the software BEFORE coming to China as sometimes it is hard to reach the VPN websites within China because (surprise, surprise) those VPN company websites are also blocked here.


There are many choices when it comes to VPNs. Personally, I have been using Astrill for the better part of two years. You can sign up for as low as $5.83 for a month subscription and can add-on a subscription for your smart phone or Ipad. ONE IMPORTANT THING TO NOTE: At the moment, Astrill is getting hit hard by the Chinese government censorship bureau.  While the desktop Astrill VPN seems to be working fine, the iOs (Apple Iphone and Ipad) systems are having a very hard time connecting. This may pass in the next few weeks as things change, but for now if you need to get access on your iPhone you may want to get a different VPN. Despite this, I still recommend Astrill as it has the easiest user interface and the iOs blocking will probably pass soon. What can I say, I’m a loyal consumer.

Another good choice is ExpressVPN. I have used it in the past and was happy with it, although again I switched to Astrill when ExpressVPN was previously targeted by the government. At the moment, it appears Express is having less problems than astrill. Express is similiar in pricing to Astrill, and they are also offering a 30 day money-back trial.

Those VPNs are the two most used amongst my friend circle here in China, but you are welcome to shop around as there are many, many choices. Here is a list you can browse from. If you find one that works well, please drop me an email and maybe we will feature it on the blog. Oh, and if you happen to get Astrill, please consider adding my email as the referrer so I can get a free month add-on ;). I’d owe you one!

The Transient Life of Beijing


In a global city of over 20 million people, it certainly comes naturally that people are literally at every moment coming and going. Still, you really only feel it when it  happens to you; when the phrase “coming and going” is more about the “going,” and the “going” really is someone close to you.

Lately, I’ve come to feel like Beijing has been a revolving door for friends and colleagues coming in and out. Take this weekend for example. I was alerted to no less than 5 “going away” dinners and/or parties for 5 different friends. Some of them have surely weaved in and out of closeness with me over the years, but the idea that they were “leaving for good” nonetheless gave me a sense of obligation to participate in each schwaree no matter how tired or over-booked I may have been.

There is a phrase I often catch myself using to describe life Beijing, and that word is “transient.” People of course come and go out of your life all the time, no matter where you live. I don’t think, on the surface, the transience of life is different in Beijing than it would be anywhere else. The transience of life is typically more evident when your are in your 20s and early 30s. So much about the course of your life is uncertain. You are youthful and are still ironing out the details on the most important, long-term relationships that will govern the rest of your life.

As I was reminiscing on this past weekend, on the 8ish parties I attended (people really hate saying goodbye. Most people “going away” held no less than 3 good-bye functions attended mostly by the same people!), I was trying to think about what makes the transience of Beijing perhaps different and more profound than in some other places. I was thinking about my friends Chris and Flamingo, who met here and are moving back to Seattle. He is an American, she is from Hong Kong. Or my friend Patrick, who is a Chinese-American who spent one year here in China to rediscover his roots and is returning to medical school in the U.S. And then there is my friend Evan – someone I’ve lost touch with while living in Beijing, but of course made sure to be at his goodbye party and wish him well as he returns back across to the Pacific to go to business school in Boston.

I then started to think about some of the people that come in and out of my life on a more regular basis. My friend Chris from Shanghai, who comes up to Beijing every month for work or pleasure. Or my friend Kate that just left for America and will be back next week. These are journeys of long distances, that cross through different cultures and time zones. And in many ways, for those of us that have lived in Beijing for an extended period, we find it old hat. Everyone is so well-traveled, willing and excited to accept diverse situations, and to constantly manage global relationships on a daily basis. We’re used to it, and it truly is something that we take for granted.

That, I think is the most profound part of the transience of Beijing. We have the privilege to be stewards of the revolving door, while living out our own unique, global stories. We can deal with the consistent heartache of saying goodbye to people we treasure, but inherently know that there are always going to be new faces to fill the void.

More importantly, we are learning how to manage the important people in our lives, wherever they are in the world, and whatever time zone.  And the longer we do it, the more we learn about our own endurance and who we really are. It is not an easy lifestyle, though it can be extremely fulfilling. In the end, it really is about you and your journey. Keep in mind that someday, whatever your threshold is, you may also be on the “going” end of a goodbye party. What story about your transient life in Beijing will you tell?

MSU Beijing Alumni Club Global Service Project: Rural Women’s School of Beijing

Michigan State University recently began engaging the entire global MSU community in a “Global Service Day.” It is a great cause that gives Spartans an opportunity to collectively give back in one, big, global effort. On April 18, Spartans around the world will organize their alumni clubs to engage in service projects in their community. The website they’ve SWP_2015_GreenShieldput together is pretty cool; you can follow the activities of Spartans around the globe on #MSUServiceDay on Twitter.

Our alumni club in Beijing wanted to get involved in this great event, and began seeking opportunities where we could make an impact. One of the advisors for our club is a professor at Eastern Michigan University (we Michiganders in China stick together!), and she has been volunteering at this place called the Rural Women’s School of Beijing (officially known as the “Beijing Cultural Development Center for Rural Women”). I decided to look into it, and after visiting, I knew right away this was a great cause for us to get behind.

What is the Rural Women’s School of Beijing?

From the English website: “The Center is an NGO promoting the advancement and personal development of rural women. It includes the Practical Skills Training Center for Rural Women, the Migrant Women’s Club, Rural Women Magazine ‘s grassroots activities centers and projects for women’s development in rural communities. It is a non-profit organization with an integrated program that “supports the poor and empowers rural women by combining development projects, news media and information services, and dissemination of the outcome of our research.”

Looking deeper, I found that the original founder, Wu Qing, was a revered member of the Beijing

Principal Luo Discusses the School (click picture to link to the video)
Principal Luo Discusses the School (click picture to link to the video)

Municipal People’s Congress, and is even a Schwab Social Entrepreneurship Award winner.

The school is administered by Principal Luo Zhaohong, who has been serving the school for over a decade. In 2013, Caixin Online did a piece about the school and recorded a great video interview that really captures the principal’s  servant spirit and the impact this school has made over the years.

According to Principal Luo, the school operates on a budget of about 2.5 Million RMB (roughly $400,000), which comes mostly through private donations.

My Visit

The school is located wayyyy outside the 6th Ring road in Beijing. Quite a trek for those of us used to staying in the confines of the CBD or Sanlitun area. (Even though it can be rough sometimes, my advice is to get out of the central part of the city at least once a month anyways to remind yourself there is scenery in life other than pollution, bars, hotels and skyscrapers! Did you know there are mountains surrounding Beijing? :)).

Principal Luo and I
Principal Luo and I

When I met Principal Luo and her staff, I was immediately greeted with a spirit of warmth and gratitude. They were very gracious that I would have done something as simple as even paying a brief visit to the school! The principal walked me around the grounds for a tour, and spent a great deal of time showing me the pictures they’ve displayed of volunteers, both Chinese and foreign, that have given their time at the school over the years.

I learned that the school has served tens of thousands of women from across China, representing pretty much all of the ethnic minority groups that have clans in China. Normally, the women will come for 3 months at a time to receive training in different fields like school teaching, medicine, or leadership. The key objective is to help the women become more creative and resourceful, to be able to grow and impact their home communities.

Girls from Guizhou Training at the School
Girls from Guizhou Training at the School

I had the privilege of engaging some of the girls in the current cohort. These girls are all between the ages of 16 – 20 and come from poor, rural communities like Guizhou in southern China, and have come to receive training to be Kindergarten teachers back home.

I really learned a lot and built a connection, and felt strongly compelled to make this school the cause our club would contribute to for the MSU Global Service Day.

Service Activity: Secondhand Item and Monetary Donation Drive at Home Plate Sanlitun

To make a more lasting impact and to provide the school with resources it needs, we decided to extend the service project beyond the April 18th day to give people the opportunity to donate. This gives MSU and non-MSU alums in Beijing the chance to make an impact! Graciously, Home Plate Restaurant in Sanlitun, which also hosted many of the Spartan NCAA tournament game watches, volunteered to act as a depot for RURAL WOMEN'S CLUB DONATION DRIVEitem drop off and cash donations.

The drive began only a few weeks ago, and already we’ve gathered many items that will be useful for the school – printers, paper, pencils, crayons, and even kitchen appliances. The biggest items they need are a new fax machine and laptop computers to enhance their training activities.

The Drive has started to pick up momentum, and has been featured in The Beijinger magazine.

Join Us on April 18

The Donation Drive is going on from now until April 17th at Home Plate. On April 18th, we are gathering a group of volunteers to drive out to the school to deliver the monetary and secondhand item donations. As part of our visit, we will engage the students and staff in an arts and crafts and recreational activity to be announced.

Please DM me @Danredford or email me at if you would like to join us. This activity is open to Spartans and non-Spartans alike!

#Spartanswill #GoGreen #MSUGlobalService




Expats in China Turn to Entrepreneurship

After a recent spate of travel to Shanghai, Guangzhou, and back to Beijing, I was blown away by the number of my foreign friends and colleagues that have gone the route of entrepreneurship. Some are doing it out of necessity or desperation, while others are pursuing passions or unique talents. These friends, along with recently beginning my own entrepreneurial venture, inspired me to write this piece in China US Focus:

Expats in China Turn to Entrepreneurship

(originally published in China U.S. Focus)

Recently, the apparent exodus of expats from China has surfaced as a popular topic for international news outlets and social media. In February, a study by UniGroup Relocation cited by the Wall Street Journal indicated that twice as many expats left China last year than moved in. Indeed, China can be a tough place to live. Overcrowded cities, slow Internet speeds with frequent interruptions, and choking air pollution are enough to make even the toughest expat consider moving out.

Yet, this is only part of the story. While many highly paid expat executives and specialized workers are leaving in droves, a new generation of adaptable, entrepreneurial expats is emerging to replace them. The implementation of certain new Chinese policies, such as the launch of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, indicate that the Chinese government is very motivated to create a smoother runway for foreign talent to contribute to the country’s innovation drive.

Facing a Challenging Job Market

After China’s economy opened up in 1978, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s, large corporations looking to take advantage of low labor costs and high productivity in the Chinese market dominated Western presence in China. The expats of those days were mostly company managers coaxed into moving to China to oversee the operation for an extended period by higher-than-average salaries, stellar benefits, and typically an end date for their term of service.

As China has changed, so have the dynamics and demographics of expats in China. More Americans started picking up Chinese in college in the 2000s, and slowly Americans have started coming to live in China for further studies, teaching English, or pursuing other work experience. Around the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, it seemed to many college grads that moving to China would be a faster jump-start to their careers compared to entry-level jobs at home.

Today, that is less true. Working in China for a foreigner has become even more challenging. For starters, Beijing and Shanghai are expensive; by many rankings, both cities are among the top 10 most expensive cities to live in the world. That does not bode well for young college grads. Moreover, good jobs for expats appear to be harder and harder to come by. Foreign companies that have been in China for some time now are seeing their tax-free incentive packages mature, and profit margins are going down. Thus, they are less willing to offer higher priced expat packages. On top of that, local Chinese talent educated in the West is increasingly available, and in most cases local companies will only hire expats as a last option.

China encourages foreign entrepreneurship and new market investment

Though the traditional expat job market is dwindling, new, more lucrative opportunities are emerging for those that are willing to pursue entrepreneurial or new market ventures. The start-up world of China is just taking off. Tech hubs and start-up incubators are now popping up all over China. Incubators including 500 Startups, Innospring, and Techstars all have established operations here to catch the wave of the new tech start-up craze.

According to the South China Morning Post, more than 100 foreign tech start-ups have popped up in China in the last few years, and the Chinese government seems poised to grow that number. In January, the China Daily reported, “policy incentives will be launched in different areas of China to support talents from overseas.” According to Zhang Jianguo, director of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, “We have to focus on the nation’s strategic goals and attract high-level talent to start innovative businesses in China.” With this type of attitude, it seems likely that we should expect new programs to attract start-up businesses from abroad to China.

In fact, one might say that the Chinese government is becoming even more innovative in its quest to attract entrepreneurial minds. In 2013 in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province located right across from Taiwan, the local Bureau of Foreign Experts Affairs launched a start-up incubator program to provide free workspaces and investment to attract up and coming foreign start-ups. Around the same time, the Shanghai Free Trade Zone was established to make it easier for foreign businesses to be established in China by taking a great deal of red tape out of the typical business registration process.

While westerners are familiar with the metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai, more opportunities will continue to emerge in the central and western parts of China. This is because more and more factories are moving west as transportation infrastructure combined with low land cost and local government incentives lure manufacturers. The Chinese government frequently publishes new editions of the “Catalogue of Priority Industries for Foreign Investment in the Central-Western Regions,” which lists incentives and programs for foreign investment into high-target areas in the less developed parts of China. Expats willing to explore these new markets, living and working in places not often traversed by foreigners, will be pioneers.

To take advantage of these opportunities, American businesses will no doubt need culturally skilled, and well-connected, expats to be a bridge to those programs. The entrepreneurial expat that is committed to developing a sustainable business idea, and stick it out long enough to build necessary relationships here in China, should profit substantially. This is the new generation of expats in China.

3 Quick Ways to Impress Your Guests at the DCBA Chinese New Year Gala

Today, February 24th, marks the end of the official Chinese New Year holiday. But, the party doesn’t have to stop. In fact, my friends at the Detroit Chinese Business Association are throwing a belated Chinese New Year Gala this coming Friday, February 27th, at Motor City Casino. Lucky for you, I have three quick CNY tips that you can use to impress your Chinese guests.

1. The many ways to say “Happy New Year!”

There is an assortment of Chinese phrases used to express Happy New Year. Here are a few:

新年快乐 (Pinyin: Xīnnián kuàilè!; prounounced: shin -NEEan – kwai – le)- This is the most basic, traditional “Happy New Year” greeting.

全家幸福(Pinyin:Quánjiā xìngfú;pronounced: Chew-enn Jia Shing-Foo) – Here you are wishing their entire family good fortune.

万事如意(Pinyin:Wànshì rúyì;pronounced: Wan-SHH ROO-EE)- Ok, this will REALLY impress them. It is a very traditional phrase meaning “Good luck and may all your wishes come true.”

If you can’t remember them, you can always download Google translate (iPhone, Android). Make sure you are translating from CHINESE TO ENGLISH, and then paste the Chinese characters I wrote above into the translation window. You can click on the little speaker next to the phrase and the phone will pronounce it in Chinese for you. Pretty slick.

2. Download WeChat

If you’re doing business in China and you or someone at your office doesn’t have WeChat yet on your smartphone, GET IT NOW! WeChat is used prolifically in business, and according to, there are now over 438 million active monthly users. It is by far the best way for you to keep communication with your business partners in China, and new friends you will make at this year’s gala.

Trust me, your Chinese guests will be really impressed when right after you meet them you say “Hey, can I add your Wechat?” You can read in Forbes about how WeChat was used across China during this Chinese New Year.

3. Gan Bei! Cheers!

Drinking is a huge part of the Chinese New Year tradition. So you can survive, and thrive, at this year’s Chinese New Year Gala, you need to remember the phrase for cheers in Chinese, “Gan Bei” (pronounced GAAN-BAY). Critically, make a point to cheers everyone INDIVIDUALLY at your table, and if you’re up for it, everyone around the room. Don’t be lazy! Clinking glasses with everyone for a personal toast is very important, and it should be fun. If you can remember to add one of my Happy New Year phrases above, you get bonus points!

I hope you enjoy your time at the gala and that you find these tips useful. If you do happen to use them, I would love to hear about it! You can write me at or tweet me @DanRedford. Gan Bei!

"Gan Bei" with my girlfriend and her cousins for Chinese New Year 2015 in Yueyang, Hunan Province
“Gan Bei” with my girlfriend and her cousins for Chinese New Year 2015 in Yueyang, Hunan Province


Five Tips to Survive Chinese New Year

It is hard to believe that another year has gone by so quickly. Chinese New Year is on Wednesday, and festivities are already beginning. As I wrote last year, every year at this time in China we witness the greatest annual human migration. And once again, hundreds of millions of people will be moving across China, taking approximately 3.6 billion travel journeys.

This year I’m keeping it domestic, traveling with my girlfriend to her relatives’ home in Hunan and Jiangsu. For those of you traveling in China for the holidays, here are five tips to make sure you survive and have fun!

1. Be Vigilant!

The U.S. Embassy has recently issued a warning to be wary of potential terrorist attacks being planned around Chinese New Year. Although the odds are low that you’d be in the midst of something terrible like this, just please be vigilant as you are traveling this season. There has been an uptick in violent acts in public places recently throughout China, so be sure to keep your eyes open while you are shifting through huge crowds of travelers.

If you haven’t yet, take the opportunity now to register yourself with the state department if you are traveling abroad:

2. Brush up on your local dialect

Since over half of China’s population now live and work in cities, the Spring Festival is an important time when families will leave the metropoles and return to see their families in their laojia, or hometown. Although the common language of Mandarin is spoken throughout China, more often in smaller cities local dialects are almost uniformly spoken. Make no mistake, local dialects are so different than Mandarin that even Chinese people cannot understand local dialects from outside their hometown.

Do what you can to brush up on a local dialect before your trip, but generally just reside yourself to nodding and smiling for most of your trip.

3. Get Ready for China’s Super Bowl,the famous “春节联欢晚会” Spring Festival Gala 

In the U.S., we like to think that hundreds of millions of viewers watching the Super Bowl every year is a big deal. China has us beat. The most widely watched television program in the world occurs in China every year. It is called the “Spring Festival Gala,” or “New Year’s Gala,” and it is broadcast live on China Central Television (CCTV) every Chinese New Year’s Eve.

Last year, the show garnered over 800 million viewers! According to, that’s almost as many as the number of people that watched the Super Bowl in the entire 1990s combined.

If you are spending the Spring Festival somewhere in China with friends and family, the tube will most definitely be turned to this on New Year’s Eve.

4. Get your excuses ready to turn down Baijiu

Baijiu, translated as “white liquor,” is the famous national Chinese liquor. It tastes a little bit like lighter fluid mixed with bubble gum. For those of us that have spent years in China, we’ve been able to develop a tolerance, perhaps even a likeness, to the “devil’s juice.”

But Chinese New Year is a whole different animal when it comes to Baijiu. If you are spending this time in a Chinese city, you have to be prepared to be tempted to cheers to baijiu again, and again, and again.

If you can’t handle it, don’t be embarrassed. Make sure you come prepared with excuses to turn down the frequent clinking of the little glasses. A real man can handle a little cajoling from the relatives better than he can handle copious amounts of the liquor itself. Trust me, your liver will thank you later.

Some of the best ones:

“I’m an American and Chinese New Year is not a holiday in America, so I have work to do and can’t be drunk.”

“I’m allergic.”

“I’m preparing for a decathlon.” (Bring athletic gear to really sell it on this one.)

5. Go Native

Wherever you might find yourself in China this Spring Festival, you’re going to find yourself with plenty of opportunities to share in local traditions. As the Chinese say, ru xiang sui su – “Do as the Romans Do.” Eat all the weird food. Get up early and join in the sometimes quirky “family exercises.” Keep offering to help cook the meal and clean the dishes, even though you know that they’ll never let you.

Whether you can speak Chinese or not, these efforts will be endearing and are the best way to show your gratefulness for being invited into their home for this all-important holiday. Plus, going native is the sure fire way for you to grow and learn the most during this time.

Happy New Year!

The Canadian Immigration Investment Program is CLOSED; U.S. Open for Business

There will soon be a boom in the U.S. immigrant investment program as the Ottawa government made a surprise announcement to close their immigrant investment program.

My take on this was published in China US Focus, or you can read about it below:

Canada Closes Its Doors for Immigrant Investors: A Boon For America?

In a move that took almost everyone by surprise, last Wednesday, the Ottawa government declared that it would be closing its immigrant investment program for good. This comes after almost two years of a complete standstill in the program, with no visas being issued to any applicants since before 2012. That gridlock led to a backlog of over 65,000 immigrant investor applications, some dating back to as early as 2008.

Since the program was halted in 2012, Ottawa had maintained that the program would be opened again sometime in 2014. However, it appears that the pressure to close the program proved to be too great. Unfortunately, for those that have been waiting in line, in some cases for perhaps four years or more, there will be no Canadian Permanent Residency waiting at the end of this road.

It is no surprise that the biggest demographic impacted by this bombshell decision is Chinese investors. According to official numbers from the Canadian government, around 45,000 applicants waiting in line were from Mainland China.

One Door Closes, Another Opens 

As we speak, Chinese applicants and the hundreds of immigration agencies all over the country are going over options. In an industry that is far from transparent, Chinese investors that were counting on the program to be reopened are now wondering what direction to go in. Whether they were interested in living in Canada, starting a business, or in most cases, sending their child to school, their plans that had been many years in the making will have to be altered.

Just south of Canada, though, there is another country with its own investor immigration program that looks like the most natural choice for recently rejected would-be Canadian immigrants. The U.S. EB5 program boasts all of the benefits of the Canadian program, and over the next few months we may witness one of the biggest moments in the program’s history. 

Canadian Program Basics 

The Canadian and U.S. program differed in a variety of ways, both having merits and shortcomings in comparison to one another. From the mid-90s up until mid-2011, Canada dominated the market. The program had been a $400,000 loan to the federal government, which was returned to the investor without interest five years after making the investment. In 2011, the program was raised to a minimum $800,000 investment in an attempt to slow things down; applications still poured in which led to the 2012 halt and today’s outright cancellation.

One of the biggest advantages in the market was that the Canadian program was a no-risk loan to the government, unlike the U.S.’s $500,000 at-risk investment scheme. In a country where trust is scarce, many Chinese flocked to the Canadian program simply because they knew that as long as they could wait in line, the government would guarantee their green card and their money. 

The U.S. EB5 Program: A Life Preserver for Clients Rejected by Canada

Since the stall of the Canadian program in 2012, the U.S. EB5 program has started to pick up more and more steam in the Chinese market. In 2011, 2530 EB5 visas were issued to Chinese clients, just shy of 80% of the worldwide market. In 2013, that number was already up to 6895 visas, taking up 81% of the market. That number will likely rise this year in response to the drastic change in Canada.

Agents across China that had previously made their bread and butter from processing clients into the Canadian program had started to shift their business models towards including U.S. programs on their docket, and now that trend will almost certainly go forward at a harder pace.

In many ways, the U.S. program is an easier and more attractive option for Chinese clients. Although the investment is required to be “at-risk,” it is cheaper in price: $500,000 into a venture that creates 10 jobs, as opposed to the Canadian scheme of investing $800,000 to the government. Plus, the wait times are much more reasonable. The U.S. program is averaging between 15 and 21 months, whereas at best, clients looking to the Canadian market could have expected at least a two to three year wait, if not more.

What to watch for in the EB5 program? 

Many clients will be considering the U.S. program in depth for the first time. One of the most frequent questions I have received in the last few days is “Could the same thing happen in the United States as in Canada?” While there is no guarantee, it seems extremely unlikely that the U.S. EB5 program would suffer the same fate as the Canadian program. The investments, for starters, are very different functionally. As a condition of the visa, the U.S. $500,000 investment must create at least 10 jobs, which is a direct link to actual economic development. The Canadian counterpart was only indirectly tied to economic growth and job creation.

The EB5 program, most recently renewed in 2012, was actually one of the few things Congress has agreed to at all in the last few years. It was passed unanimously in the Senate and breezed through the House with only 3 dissenting votes. I doubt in an election year, any politician will risk his or her political future on taking a crack at eliminating EB5.

Indeed, what may be more important for clients now considering focusing their aim on the United States is choosing a good American partner for the investment. The Regional Center that our company operates in, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Regional Center was approved in 2007. At the time, it was the 21st regional center in America. Today, there are over 400! Competition is fierce, and most in the business are newcomers. Now is the time for clients and their agents to analyze projects closely and go with the companies that are committed to building quality, long-term, safe projects.

I believe that for whatever reasons the Canadian government decided to close its program, this is a huge opportunity for America. Communities around the U.S. that are most friendly and welcoming to our Chinese friends and other international friends, and have ready U.S. projects to boot, and will gain the most.

Dan Redford is the Director of China Operations for FirstPathway Partners, and industry leading EB5 immigration fund manager. He also serves as the President of the Michigan State University Beijing Alumni Club. You can follow him and his perspectives from China at