How Critical is Being Able to Speak Chinese? Ask Richard Ong

Wednesday, July 18, 2007 3:34
Posted in category The Big Picture

A bit off our normal topic range, when I saw the FT article Goldman executive hits China barrier I knew All Roads readers needed to see it.

Over my almost 6 years in China I have run into many who thought that they did not need Chinese in China, and in Shanghai there are more who will say that than in Beijing. Part of this is due to the dynamic environment in Shanghai, and the fact that more than ever there are a lot of people who have just arrived.

They go to networking events at the Portman, eat on the Bund, and entertain themselves on Tongren Road, and in all of these areas English has become almost the official language. Waiters, secretaries, back office staff, and Starbucks clerks are English capable on some level.. and it seems easy.

It seems even easier if their sales targets and direct reports are also foreigners as well.

However, for many companies and industries, Chinese skills are important, and Richard Ong has become a public example of this. What is surprising to me is that he had 6 months in Beijing and was not able to get up to speed in time….

Bottom line, returning Chinese and halfpats are becoming more and more attractive as the usefulness expats of old diminishes. Tat is not to say an executive with 35 years of experience should be turned away, but many firms simply do not need externals to build organizations…. they need locals to sustain and expand them.

For more on learning Chinese, visit our post Websites: Online Tools for Chinese Language

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8 Responses to “How Critical is Being Able to Speak Chinese? Ask Richard Ong”

  1. Cam says:

    July 18th, 2007 at 6:02 am

    Hey… the article is behind a paywall… is it possible to send me a copy? I’m keenly interested in this. Thanks!

  2. Rich says:

    July 18th, 2007 at 7:41 am


    As someone who has had my stuff copied and pasted against my will, I have gone out and found some free stuff for you.

    How Do You Say ‘Goldman Sachs’ In Chinese? Don’t Ask Goldman


    Goldman’s Ong Misses China CEO Job on Language Hitch

    Hope that helps.

  3. Cam says:

    July 19th, 2007 at 12:58 am

    Hey Rich… thanks for that. Much appreciated.

  4. China Economic Review says:

    July 23rd, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    […] world allowed to name its candidate to head an important division? Why was it instead embarrassed publicly, having its choice blocked by a technicality that showed the candidate was incompetent in the […]

  5. Facts says:

    August 25th, 2008 at 11:20 am

    More than 75% of people at CICC did not pass the test. All these are university graduates of PRC Nationals. What about 80% of UBS CHina failed the test. So is Fred Hu of Goldman who failed parts of the exams many times ?

  6. Rich says:

    August 25th, 2008 at 11:24 pm


    Sounds like you have a story to tell!

    If this is the case, why was Richard Ong ousted? party politics? anger the wrong person?


  7. oohkuchi says:

    August 25th, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    I’d like to ask anybody who is positioned to know, how well do most foreign corrs in China speak and read Chinese? My impression from watching CCTV live press interviews is that some, if not most, need the English interpretation.
    I’d particularly like to know how many of them can read a newspaper well enough to quote from it unaided.

  8. Rich says:

    August 26th, 2008 at 8:51 am


    I have some good friends who are journalists and are fluent in the areas they cover, but in my experience they are a rare breed. Particularly during the Olympics.