Without any notice in advance, anybody would think that she is a Korean ― Cui Penghua, an ethnic Han Chinese, not merely speaks perfect Korean but also looks like an ordinary Korean.
She majored in Japanese in Beijing International Studies University but opted to head toward Korea in 2002, affected by her love for Korean dramas that gained great popularity back then in the world’s most populous country.
Now, she is better known by her Korean name Choi Ji-hye and works for the Institute of Global Management (IGM), as a guest consultant in Korea. She plans to tie the knot with a Korean this year.
“I studied Korean like crazy. In addition to studying at Yonsei University, I just talked to people next to me on subways to learn Korean. In most cases, they were very kind,” Cui said.
“Nowadays, nobody tells me that I am good at Korean; maybe because they think I am a Korean. Even in China, people there ask me at first sight whether I am a Korean.”
Asked why she studied that hard, she said that she was just attracted to the country.
“I hoped to know many things about Korea. Maybe, the Korean dramas I liked so much generated my interest in this country where I would live most of my life,” she said.
“I brought my younger sister and she is now practicing Korean. Originally, my parents did not like the decision but they are now fine with it.”
Her intriguing story is not just about the language but also about her efforts to build a bridge between her homeland and Korea.
Cui specialized in international trade at Myonggi University and got aboard a Seoul affiliate of a global hotel chain before joining IGM in 2009 as an expert on Chinese matters.
Recently, Cui published a book titled “Aha, China!” with which the 30-year-old attempted to let Korean entrepreneurs understand what they need in order to succeed in the country.
“Many Korean businesspeople fail in China and one of the biggest problems is that they cannot understand the Chinese people, including employees, customers and government officials,” she said.
“If they can address the problems, their success rate would substantially rise ― although all of them will not hit the jackpot, many would take firm root there.”
Cui took an example of appropriately managing Chinese employees and giving incentives to them so that they will work hard.
“Some Korean firms tend to put their own people in executive positions and do not give Chinese employees the chance to be promoted to the spots. That is not the right way to do business in China,” she said.
“An increasing number of young Chinese care more about their positions tomorrow rather than monetary remuneration today. Not given opportunities to be promoted, they might lack sufficient motivation.”
With the help of fully-committed Chinese workers, Cui said that Korean businesses would be able to better understand officials and customers there.
“Both marketing and guanxi are all about getting a better knowledge of the Chinese people. Korean firms need to better understand them and their culture,” she said.
Guanxi refers to the dynamic influence of human networks, particularly in Chinese politics and the government. The general belief is that such networks bear as much significance as official procedures in the country.