I once went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Oakland, CA, with a woman who hailed from Shanghai. It was way, way off the tourist track.
The mirrored walls were covered with Chinese characters. “What’s that?” I asked.
“That’s the menu for Chinese customers,” she said. “The printed menu is for gwylos (foreign devils).”
My dinner partner then entered into a lengthy, animated conversation in Shanghai dialect with the restaurant's owner. Eventually, he bowed and left us. “I was negotiating the price of the meal with him,” she said. “I know his family in China.”
In a little while, a multi-course feast arrived, replete with foods of doubtful origin. “What is this stuff?” I said to my companion, as I poked at what looked like an endocrine gland with my chopstick.
“Don’t ask. If you like the way it tastes, eat it.”
The experience taught me something important about the way Chinese approach business transactions. There is an understanding that the burden is on the purchaser to make sure he is not being taken. Certainly, the concept of a third party--a governmental entity, for example--that exists to ensure the quality of the merchandise is alien to the intimacy and mutual trust of a one-on-one transaction.
In the Chinese view, if you bought it, it’s yours. If you’re not happy afterwards with your purchase, you should have taken greater care up front to familiarize yourself with the reliability and reputation of its provenance. There are no guarantees in life.
It isn’t dishonest; just culturally different. "Caveat emptor," as they say in Shanghai.