In 1992, I went to China on a Fulbright to do research in the remote countryside. In China, anything like this hinges on personal connections; paper credentials alone mean little. My chief supporter was the father of a fellow student of mine — I had given my classmate extensive help with her dissertation, and my professor had also done the father many quiet courtesies. By the Chinese calculus of favor-debt, this powerful person was obligated to my teacher and indirectly to me, and he agreed to sponsor me and get me to the countryside, where I could work under the radar.
When I reached China, however, my sponsor took me to the Party Secretary in a small city and offered my services as an unsalaried English teacher in a vocational school there, to pay off some other favor-debt of his own. That would have ended my research and wasted two years of preparation and a Federal grant. Within the Chinese moral system, as a student I had no right to stand up to him, since our whole agreement was informal — especially since he was proposing to bend rules for me just as rules had earlier been bent for his daughter.
I hesitated to commit to this plan of his, and he abandoned me in disgust. "Figure it out, yourself," he said. So I found myself in a small city without the connections I needed to do my work. Once he was gone, I politely declined the teaching "job" and visited the local government. I explained my situation, showed my letters of authorization from Central Government ministries, and negotiated official sponsorship by the local government. I relied on that sponsorship to complete some three years of original research.
I had no preparation for the negotiation and did it under considerable stress. But I learned more about China in those few days than in my whole previous education.