So why China? Why Beijing? The summer of 2008 seems a good place to start, for that was when Beijing took global centre stage at the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. With the whole world watching, China, and more specifically Beijing, put on a phenomenal spectacle featuring breathtaking opening and closing ceremonies, a staggering number of world records and also had the fortune of being the scene of the extraordinary exploits of one Usain Bolt. This was the opportunity for the biggest growing economy and most populated country in the world to grab the attention of the international community and let them know in impressive terms that they mean business. They certainly didn’t pass it up.
China had fascinated me for a long time, being the curator of the world’s oldest civilisation, rich in history and culture. In recent times, however, it is not the past that has captured people’s attention, but its staggering, unprecedented growth and economic development in such a short space of time. At the heart of this is Beijing, the nation’s political, cultural, educational and communications centre. Visiting would present an exciting and unique opportunity to witness first hand China and Beijing in its current forward-thinking, dynamic and ever-changing state. Looking at it another way, it might be the only chance to see some of China’s richest heritage before it is lost to the behemoth of progress. Quite simply, everyone seems to be talking about China, so I thought I should see what all the fuss was about.
When I saw on my university’s careers website an advert from CRCC Asia for an internship in Beijing it instantly captured my imagination. Internships were available in a variety of sectors but with my legal academic background, and intending to practice in the future, a law firm particularly interested me. I applied to the company, explaining my enthusiasm for China and my desire to intern at a Chinese law firm and all of a sudden I was on my way to Beijing.
I was placed with one of the largest domestic law firms in China. On the first morning at the firm I remember looking in their brochure (the English version, obviously) and being impressed at their position in various performance league tables. The work itself presented many significant challenges. I was given the significant responsibility of updating and revising the English language version of the firm’s website and brochure, as part of its strategy to open up to international markets. This was hard work because Mandarin has a completely different linguistic basis and it’s not uncommon for a translation to result in a piece of barely intelligible “Chinglish” (a good example of this is a sign outside the Olympic stadium which instead of saying “Keep off the grass” states rather more poetically “Tender fragrant grass. How hard-hearted to trample them”). It was rewarding though, both metaphorically and literally, as I was taken for a delicious banquet as an appreciation of my efforts.
I was also tasked with completing various research projects on Chinese and UK law and compiled several comparative studies on company law. It was fascinating to learn about Chinese law. Although it is a civil law country, its legal system is based largely on over two thousand years’ worth of Chinese legal traditions (e.g. Confucianism) and the Soviet communist model. For decades law was used mostly as an instrument of social order and control, but since the Open Door Policy in 1978 many laws have been codified in order to promote economic development domestically and more recently to encourage foreign investment.
Many Chinese law firms are keen to have international interns in order to learn about our methods and seek co-operation, so it wasn’t all one way: there was a mutual exchange of information. With this in mind, I gave several presentations to solicitors at the firm comparing company law in China, the UK and Europe. Presenting to and answering questions from senior lawyers at the firm was challenging and not to mention nerve-racking but it was an invaluable experience. Other duties I was given included identifying legal issues in various international contracts and preparing several executive summaries for the senior partner in my department.
I learnt a great deal about Chinese legal and business culture, which is hugely different to that in western society. As an example, networking is incredibly important in Chinese business and through a person’s life they build up their “guanxi”, which is a kind of social capital that is essential for success in China. In a modern commercial environment, it is interesting to learn that a century-old convention is still such a crucial factor in Chinese social behaviour and business practice.
Living and working in Beijing was a fantastic challenge that I believe has contributed greatly to my development on both a personal and professional level. In a country where the language, culture and way of life are so different, operating there required an open mind, excellent communication skills and adaptability. It will involve leaving your comfort zone and being a little adventurous, so if that’s something that interests you then I would definitely recommend an internship in Beijing.