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With Cartoon-Illustrated Book, ODU's Li Explains West/East Biz Culture

Shaomin Li's first job as an official artist for the People's Liberation Army in his native China has come in handy for a new book he published, helping explain the difference in business culture between the East and West.

Li, an Eminent Scholar and professor of international business in Old Dominion University's Strome College of Business, wrote and illustrated "Together or Separate Checks? Why the East and West conduct business in different ways."

The cartoon-illustrated volume explains how in Western nations, business tends to be rule-oriented, with laws and contracts governing business conduct. In the East, relationships frequently hold sway over the traditional rule of law. In addition to the text, the book includes 30 original cartoon illustrations, exclusively created for the publication by Li.

The cartoons help explain how the differences between East and West are related to the key economies' different stages of economic and political development.

The book begins with a simple, frequently overlooked difference between East and West - why do Chinese diners compete to pay the tab when dining together, while Western customers are content to split the bill. Li writes that the explanation has to do with the difference between a rules-based system and a relationship-based system, his political-economy theory.

In his former life, Li painted a portrait of Communist leader Mao Zedong for one of his memorial services as one of his duties in his job for the People's Liberation Army. But Li later left Mainland China, speaking out against the state government there, in favor of democracy and free speech.

While returning to give a speech in 2001, Li was placed under house arrest for five months, and charged with spying for Taiwan. He was ultimately expelled from his native country.

The book doesn't mention that incident, but it shows off his early skills: Li created all of the cartoons, with the help of computer programs.

"Together or Separate Checks?" is available at the ODU Bookstore or through online bookseller Amazon.

Shaomin Li is the Haislip-Rorrer Faculty Research Fellow and professor of management and international business at Old Dominion. He studied in China and also worked in his home country as a business executive, qualifying him to be an expert witness before the U.S. Congress on China's reform.

Li is the author of 14 books and more than 100 articles, which have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Journal of Business Ethics, Journal of International Business Studies, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and many other publications. In 2008, he received Virginia's top honor for university faculty, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Award.

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