A Chinese factory worker helps make makeup brushes in Tianjin, China. 

Thirty-five years after China and the U.S. linked up diplomatically, the curse of Babel lives on in the relationship between the world’s two largest economies. 

But it can be overcome, according to a top executive from China whose firm recently invested $110 million to build a 500,000-square-foot in a copper tube factory in rural Alabama

Li Changjie, CEO of Golden Dragon Precise Copper Tube Co., had nothing but nice things to say about the hospitality he has received in Wilcox County. (In fact, previous Global Atlanta reporting revealed that a certain banana pudding recipe played a role in winning over the Chinese investors). 

For Mr. Li, though, the English language alone presents a major impediment to communication, and he didn’t even mention the challenge of interpreting a Southern drawl. 

“The project has not been without its challenges, you can imagine taking such an endeavor in any rural environment, but the No. 1 challenge certainly has been communication,” Mr. Li said during a Chinese art exhibition last week at the Carter Center

“Such simple things as ‘ground beef,’ which in Chinese would translate into ‘beef which walks on the ground,’ can be misunderstood. The English language can be much more confusing than many of you think,” he said, according an English transcription of his remarks, which were all in Chinese. 

But all is not lost, Mr. Li said. Having to deal with 150 employees, most of them from a separate culture, has taught both sides to be more sensitive and attentive to cultural differences. 

And that, he said, provides a template for the U.S.-China commercial relationship to follow. 

Learn more about the exhibition of paintings by 31 Chinese artists: Carter: Art Exhibition Transcends U.S.-China Politics 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...