‘We must teach kids Chinese culture’ says Aussie trade experts

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Chinese folklore tells the tale of the simple farmer who outsmarts some arrogant monkeys. A farmer on his way to market with baskets of hats is beset by monkeys who steal them and dance about, teasing him by mimicking each movement he makes to recover his goods. But soon the farmer prevails by snatching his own hat from his head and throwing it into the basket, which the monkeys then imitate by throwing in their own stolen hats.

“Ha ha,” he cries and hurries off to market with his baskets again full, while the monkeys are left to rue their lost prize.

Children in China are told the tale to teach them humility and wisdom. But the ancient fable also holds salutary lessons for today’s young Australians, some of whom heard the story during Melbourne Immigration Museum’s kids’ festival on China last month. Only a slim minority of those children — who also pasted together paper dragons or decorated noodle boxes — might ever know enough Mandarin to hear the tale in its native tongue.

Australia’s future prosperity is aligning itself ever closer to China, largely on the back of the resources boom. But like arrogant monkeys dancing about under a cloud of global economic uncertainty, are we losing our hold on the prize while our booming north Asian neighbour makes its way to market?

Hass Dellal, executive director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, which runs delegations of Australian businesses to China, says many companies have already missed opportunities to build crucial partnerships in the Far East. “In the early days … there was this arrogance that we can help you, we can teach you,” he says.

“In China, they give you a lot more time and respect if you have actually gone out and learnt a bit more about the culture and where they are coming from and what their thinking is and how they do business. But as a general public, I don’t think we realise the (extent) of the growth in China and the speed with which it is developing — and I don’t think we’re quite prepared to work at that pace yet.”

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