Chinese characters

Appearing in In The Black, August 2107


The latest wave of Chinese immigrants who have come to Australia can be a crucial bridge between the two countries, according to Barry Li, a CPA who has made his home in Sydney but retains strong links with his homeland.

He has set out his views in a recent book, The New Chinese*, which examines the cultural differences between China and Australia, and offers advice on how to do business in China.Barry Li

He is well-placed to know. He came to Australia in 2004 after gaining a BA in Economics from the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, planning to study for a Masters of Commerce degree at Macquarie University.

“It was hard to choose between China and Australia when I was younger,” he says. “My wife felt the same way, but when we found out we were going to raise a baby, we decided that Australia was definitely the better option.”

After a stint in PwC Sydney he now works as an auditor in the Audit Office of New South Wales. “I consider myself a very lucky person with the best boss in the world. My director Renee Meimaroglou has given me enormous support for writing this book during an audit busy season.”

Li notes that Chinese come to Australia for many different reasons, and since the mid-1990s, more and more of them chose to return after a period of study or work.

“A degree from an Australian university is very highly valued in China, and if you want to go up in the business sector you are expected to have overseas experience and proficiency in English. In accounting, Australia is seen as especially important because of its early adoption of international standards. The CPA designation also carries a great deal of weight professionally.”

Adapting to Australian business culture is not always easy for Chinese, whose education emphasises technical abilities rather than ‘soft’ skills. There is a deeply-ingrained deference for authority, whether it is government, teachers, or workplace superiors. In Australian workplaces and educational institutions, there is a greater willingness to ask questions, act independently, and try new approaches.

Li decided that he could use his experience to help others by taking up a mentoring role within the CPA framework. This eventually led to him becoming the chairman of the CPA NSW Young Professionals Committee. He sees mentoring as a good way to show Chinese and other immigrants how they can better express themselves and adapt to new social norms.

He believes that many Australians do not really understand China and the Chinese. Many people think of China as still in the early economic development stage even though several decades of remarkable growth have given it a huge number of aspiring middle-class consumers. In fact, a major issue in China is that everything, especially property, has become extremely expensive.

“It is difficult to buy property in the major cities in China so many people look overseas. Often, several generations of a family will pool money to buy a property, which means they are able to pay much more than a couple depending on their own income and savings. My wife and I encountered this when we were trying to buy our first home, so I can understand the frustration of people who feel they are being priced out of the property market by investors from China. On the other hand, you can look at that desire to invest as a vote of confidence in Australia.”

Li believes that Chinese immigration to Australia will remain strong for the foreseeable future, and that the economic linkages will continue to increase. “Australia offers excellent investment and work opportunities as well as wonderful quality of life,” he says. “I remain proud of my Chinese heritage but Australia is a great place to call my home.”


* The New Chinese: How They Are Changing Australia, Barry Li, published by Wiley, $29.95.

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