I Stand Corrected
How Teaching Western Manners in China Became Its Own Unforgettable Lesson
A fascinating fusion of memoir, manners, and cultural history from a successful businesswoman well-versed in the unique challenges of working in contemporary China.
During the course of a career that has, quite literally, moved her around the world, no country has fascinated Eden Collinsworth more than China, where she has borne witness to its profound transformation. After thirty years and numerous experiences there that might best be called “unusual” by Western standards, she concluded that, despite China’s growing status as a world economy, businessmen in mainland China were fundamentally uncomfortable in the company of their Western counterparts. This realization spawned an idea to work collaboratively with a major Chinese publisher on a Western etiquette guide for Chinese. It became a best seller and prompted a branch of China’s Ministry of Education to suggest she create a curriculum for the school system.
In I Stand Corrected, Collinsworth tells the entertaining and insightful story of the year she spent living among the Chinese while writing a book featuring advice on such topics as the non-negotiable issue of personal hygiene, the rules of the handshake, and making sense of foreigners. Scrutinizing the kind of etiquette that has guided her own business career, one which has unfolded in predominately male company, Collinsworth creates a counterpart that explains Chinese practices and reveals much about our own Western culture.
In 1985, I received an invitation from a delegation of Chinese businessmen offering the opportunity to see Shenzhen…
It was the height of Deng Xiaoping’s policy of economic Opening Up, and a once-fishing-village had grown into a booming metropolis constructed with what looked to be gigantic Lego pieces. At the time, I was twenty-nine. I was also tall, fair-skinned and red-headed; and so, when I arrived in Shenzhen, it was easy for the Chinese to believe I might have come not from America, but from another planet entirely.
“What do you mean he’s asked how much I am?” was my stunned question to the associate acting as my translator at a business dinner.
“Just that,” he told me.
All at the table had been drinking a great deal of Baijiu—distilled liquor with a high level of alcohol—and so it was not without reason that I asked my colleague if the man inquiring was sober.
“He seems to be,” was the answer.
Was it correctly translated, I asked. “Surely he’s asked how much it would cost to buy the company we represent,” I said.
“No. He means the cost for you, as a woman,” reiterated my colleague. “Our guest has just inquired about taking permanent possession of you.”
Latching onto whatever composure had not yet deserted me, I pointed out that I was not just a woman, I was also the president of a company. “One who happens to be the host this evening,” I made clear.
“I can translate what you’ve just said,” volunteered my colleague. “But it won’t matter.”
“Why not?” I wanted to know.
“Because he believes that your gender makes your professional rank insupportable.”
And there is was. A full-in-the-face statement which forced upon me the irrefutable difference between my self-image and my status in China. Whatever I considered myself to be, more than any one thing at that time, in that place, I was a Western luxury item . . . possibly to be purchased.
“What would you like me to tell him?” asked my colleague.
“A thoroughly enticing and surprisingly informative book…a terrific read”
— KUER-FM (NPR Affiliate)
Listen to the entire review
“It’s a heck of a story…entertaining, informative and insightful.”
— New York Times
“A must read.”
— Bloomberg Radio
“Collinsworth is subtly generous with some details and tantalizingly private with others, but it’s all wonderful. She also analyzes what’s going on in China now, financially and socially, how it came about, and what might be the consequences. A traveler of the world, often with her multilingual son, Collinsworth also waxes intelligently and humorously about other cultures… A rare, true gift.”
— Booklist, starred review
“Lots of people dream about doing the kinds of things Eden Collinsworth does routinely in her life: change jobs, move countries, strike out for parts unknown both internal and external. I Stand Corrected is both a cultural analysis of East-West relations and a witty memoir of a very unconventional life.”
— Amazon Blogs: Omnivoracious Daily Digest
“I Stand Corrected has many interesting, even important, things to say about commerce and manners in China, but the book’s real pleasure is Eden Collinsworth’s company. Her mind is lucid and original, and she’s very funny.”
— Alec Wilkinson, author of The Ice Balloon
“When China—a sleeping dragon—woke some 30 years ago, most Westerners listened to its sounds from afar. There are very few like Eden Collinsworth who have actually known China, who have seen its transformation firsthand. With her wonderful book, I Stand Corrected, she uses her knowledge and experience to build a bridge for readers to cross the river between cultures.”
— Xinran, author of China Witness, Sky Burial, and The Good Women of China
“If Eden Collinsworth weren’t so good a writer, she’d do well with her own reality TV show. She has a fearless, go-anywhere, do-almost-anything attitude that — combined with her intelligence and keen observational powers — makes for exceptional storytelling.
— Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Eden Collinsworth’s adventures on her way to writing a best-selling manual of Western deportment for the Chinese are enchanting. Memoir, travel book, social history, it’s also about single motherhood, love, career building, and looking for happiness. I Stand Corrected is an original, fearless, and funny book that you read for its laughs as well as its lessons.”
— Joan Juliet Buck
“I Stand Corrected is a funny, self-effacing and quick read—one might consider picking this up ahead of the next flight to Wuhan.”
—The Asian Review of Books
“[Collinsworth] pulls off a neat trick with I Stand Corrected: While writing about writing a Western etiquette guide for a Chinese audience, she ends up writing a Chinese etiquette guide for a Western audience…[t]o complement an intercultural etiquette handbook with its converse is, itself, a display of good manners—a recognition that, when two parties have different definitions of politeness, it often makes sense to meet each other halfway.”
—The Weekly Standard