There is a funny commercial that you can see when you take a taxi in Shanghai. You can view it on a video screen on the back of the front passenger seat. It features a foreign businessman getting into a taxi in Shanghai and telling the Chinese taxi driver the address of his destination. The taxi driver does not understand English and starts asking the passenger where he wants to go in Chinese which the passenger obviously does not understand. At this point, the taxi driver and passenger transform into a chicken and a duck and both are clucking and quacking away with neither understanding each other. The commercial is for a road directory service whereby a passenger can punch in an address on the video screen in English and the address in Chinese is announced to the taxi driver. I think the commercial is pretty neat, and is a play on a Chinese description of a situation where both parties lack a common language (literally translated as a chicken trying to talk to a duck).

In every construction project, the engineering or construction standards that the contractor has to apply are specified in the contract. For Chinese contractors and design institutes going international, this is a particularly vexing issue. Chinese contractors and design institutes are generally much more familiar with Chinese standards than the standards of other countries and are therefore obviously more comfortable designing and constructing to Chinese standards. It is also sensible to use Chinese standards if one is procuring equipment or plant manufactured in China.

Most employers outside of China will however insist on using their national or other international standards. Their insistence is often borne out of ignorance or lack of understanding of Chinese standards. Chinese contractors often find themselves in a position where they have to persuade employers to accept Chinese standards. This will normally involve demonstrating to the employers that Chinese standards are not lower or even sometimes higher than the employers’ national standards or other applicable international standards. One of the practical difficulties is that Chinese standards are written obviously in Chinese and translation of these standards to the employer’s language of choice is usually a must. Unfortunately accurate translation of technical standards is not the easiest of task and can often be very time consuming and costly.

Hopefully by the end of 2010, issues arising from the lack of accurate and official translations of Chinese technical standards in other languages will be partly resolved. On 7 December 2009, the Ministry of Transport, China Eximbank, and China Communications Construction Company Limited commenced the translation of Chinese standards and specifications for transport construction from Chinese into English and French. This massive exercise, entailing a 16 million RMB investment in resources, is planned for completion at the end of 2010.

This will set the groundwork for Chinese technical standards gaining more international recognition and acceptance, at least in countries where Chinese contractors are active in transport construction, such as Asia, South America and Africa. Hopefully this means that less time is spent arguing on whether Chinese or other standards should apply because all parties involved can start off singing or at least reading from the same hymn sheet, and works toward bridging the avian dichotomy.

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