In the Chinese culture stealing is understood different than in the West. Let me explain why Chinese are different. Then I will tell you some examples that you may have had experience with here in China.
China has two words that are instructive on Chinese attitudes toward theft.
The word 偷 (tou1) means to steal. The word 捡 (jian3) means to pick up something and take it as your own.
Chinese often take pride in succeeding in ‘jian.’ They see something someone has dropped, and they pocket it. Then, they go home and tell their friends excitedly about how they ‘jian’ this item.
In Chinese Culture Stealing Can be a Point of Pride
As a family, we have lost many things over the years to people who are proud of their ability to jian. Our favorite story is of our first child riding behind my wife on the bicycle near home and getting home and seeing she had kicked off one shoe. So, my wife retraced her steps the half mile to where she got on the bicycle, and the shoe was not there. Someone had prized picking up one nice child’s shoe. This person definitely does not see themselves as a thief. They see themselves as an upright respectable person, and people around them feel the same.
My wife had a Chinese neighbor call her and say her son had found an iPhone and could my wife help her break the password to get in. My wife was aghast. How could this neighbor feel this is now her iPhone? On the spot, my wife told her off. Her words confused the woman. Is this not a happy thing to find an iPhone? You may also appreciate reading Getting Shanghaied in Land of Shanghai.
Not all Chinese people would take that shoe or phone, but almost all would feel that pull to ‘jian.’
What kind of things might your managers ‘find’ in your business? You would be amazed at how many ways your managers might think up. It is hard to overcome this way of feeling. Good news is there are Chinese managers who have overcome this way of thinking. In our business, we find out who they are, so you get people who are on the same page with you in more ways than finding. Also read Understanding Chinese Culture in Business.
Thought you might like to know about jian. It definitely is part of your staff’s thinking here in China.