Chinese business culture and etiquette
The Chinese business practice is vastly different from the Western
method that most of us may be used to. Of course, with the Chinese
economy opening up, China's joining of WTO and the Olympics in 2008,
many Chinese business practice are now beginning
to align with more conventional methods.
China will always have their own unique business culture
and etiquette, given their unique history and background.
was recently involved in a business meeting that went sour and threatened
to scuttle a good deal. What happened was that the Chinese party
recieving the American purchaser was late in reaching his hotel.
The American was furious as he had a tight schedule and that they
were late and threatened to withdraw his purchase.
Chinese party was late because they were given a vague address of
a lake-side hotel. You see, what happened was that the American
gave his hotel as Lakeside hotel. Unfortunately, there were numerous
hotels along the lake but the Chinese were too shy to enquire which
lakeside hotel earlier because they were afraid the American would
'lose face' for having given a vague address. Instead, they spent
the morning hopping from one lakeside hotel to another looking for
this American gentleman."
simple cultural difference threatened to scuttle a perfectly good
working relationship. To avoid similar cultural disasters, here
are some tips on how you can conduct a more successful business
Chinese business contacts are mostly referrals; essentially a business
relationship is struck based on another business associate
recommendation. The best prices and deals often comes from a
it is common today for cold calls and direct contacts, given the
availability of the internet and the competitive nature of Chinese
businesses. You may source from the internet, trade fairs, catalogues
and brochures, advertisements and approach the Chinese companies
directly through a call or email.
if you are seeking to invest in a factory in China, you can approach
a investment committee or a business advisory
directly. They will be able to advise you on your best location
based on your industry, raw material and manpower needs. Please
contact us directly
if you have such a need and we'll be glad to advise accordingly.
Relationship in China
Chinese business relationship inevitably becomes a social
relationship after a while. Unlike Western business relationship
which remains professional and perhaps, aloof, even after a long
time, Chinese business relationship becomes a social one.
more you share your personal life, including family, hobbies, political
views, aspirations, the closer you are in your business relationship.
Sometimes, a lot of time is spent discussing matters outside of
business, but then a lot of time, the other party is also making
up his mind about your deal based on how much he sees your personal
relationship with him.
is important in China
Seniority is very important to the Chinese especially if you are
dealing with a State owned or government body. Instead of addressing
the other party as Mr or Mrs so and so, it is always appropriate
to address the other party by his designation ie
Chairman So and So, Director So and So or Manager So and So.
giving out namecards or brochures, make sure you start with the
most senior person before moving down the line. When giving out
a namecard or recieving one, ensure that you are stretching out
with both hands with the card. Remember to face
the card you are giving out in a manner such that the recieving
party gets it facing him correctly.
Face or Gei MianZi
Giving face (aka giving due respect) is a very
important concept in China. You must give the appropriate respect
according to rank and seniority. For example, if you are buying
gifts for an initial contact, make sure you buy better gifts for
the senior managers instead of buying similar gifts across the board.
sitting positions in a meeting room or a dining table is accorded
accordingly to rank, importance and seniority. It is good to seek
advice before embarking on your first meeting with Chinese business
contacts to avoid making the wrong move.
Unlike earlier days when China was very poor, gifts,
especially of Western origin was especially appreciated. Today,
China produces and imports almost anything imaginable and gifts
are no longer a novelty.
gifts are always appreciated and especially in
the smaller cities or towns, will continue to play an important
part in your business relationship. Do note that if you are indeed
giving gifts, make sure the senior people get a better gift or at
least gifts perceived to have a higher value than
their junior staff.
expect to recieve gifts from the Chinese, especially Chinese art
products. It is polite not to refuse, especially if it is not of
too high a monetary value.
There is no business talk in China without at least one trip to
a restaurant. Sometimes, a trip is made to the restaurant even before
any business discussion take place! Inevitably, the restaurant will
always be a grand one and you are likely to be hosted in a private
is an elaborate seating arrangement for a Chinese business
meal. There are fixed seating positions for the host and
the guest and then they are seated again according to seniority.
This is a very important aspect of a formal dinner and it is important
that you follow the rules accordingly. However, it seems that the
Northern Chinese are very particular to this formal seating
arrangement while the Southern Chinese has loosen the formalities
to understand Chinese social and business culture
Find out what corporate HR did not tell you
Author: Ken Zhong Y.X ISBN: 981-05-1317-8
with the Chinese
The Chinese are big drinkers especially in Northern
and Western China. It does not matter if it is lunch or dinner;
as long as a meal is being hosted, there will be alcohol.
wine is the favourite, followed by red wine and beer. Chinese
wine is more like fuel than liquor, having a alcohol concentration
as high as 60%! No matter how good a drinker you may think of yourself,
never, ever challenge a Chinese into a drinking contest. They will
win, hands down!
is often seen as rude not to drink with the Chinese
in a formal dinner. To maintain your sanity, either claim to be
a non alcoholic or plead medical grounds as an excuse. This will
let you off the hook with little or minimal drinks. Better yet,
bring a partner who can drink on your behalf!
After Dinner Entertainment in China
Formal business dinner normally drags for quite sometime as there
will be much social talk, some karoake, and drinking contests. Most
of the time, everyone is too drunk to indulge in further entertainment
after a dinner. In addition, if you are just new to this partnership,
you are unlikely to be invited to further after dinner entertainment.
once you are familiar with them, you may be invited to a Karaoke,
or a Night Club, or a Suana. Do note that if they are the host for
the night, all bills will be picked up by them for the night, including
all entertainment. It is impolite to fight for the bill
or worst, split the bills.
if you are the host for the night, you are expected to pick up all
bills for the night.
Controversial Issues in China
There are some taboo areas in social conversations with the Chinese.
Try to avoid these conversational topics as much as possible. I
have seen many nasty arguements as a result of these topics:
You must not mention that Taiwan is an independent state
or a country.
2. You must NEVER praise the Japanese or be seen
to be good buddies with them
3. You can condemn Mao Tse Tung but avoid critising
Deng Hsiao Ping
4. You must not praise Shanghai in front of natives of Beijing and
similarly vice versa
than that, you are pretty safe to converse with the Chinese anything
under the sun!
more information and to understand more about Chinese business culture
and etiquette, check out this interesting China
Book. Or email
for further information.