Understanding Chinese Business Culture and Etiquette

Posted by Mollan Mo on 05/11/2015 3:04 AM 2310

Chinese business culture and etiquette can be a little different than Western business practices. As you start or expand your business in China, it is important to have at least a basic understanding of Chinese business etiquette. Knowing and practicing common customs will also help you relax, avoid embarrassment, and focus on building success.

chinese business etiquette

Before beginning, recognize that the following qualities are highly valued by Chinese people and therefore should mark your business interactions.

Patience, politeness and modesty are are all highly valued. Chinese also hold high respect for elders and pay attention to rankings or position. Saving and giving face is the most important thing in Chinese business culture.

A simple cultural difference could scuttle a perfectly good and promising working relationship. To avoid such cultural disasters, here are some tips on how you can conduct a business successfully in China.

1. Build personal relationships in China

Unlike Western business relationships, Chinese business relationships inevitably become social relationships after a while.

Chinese business people typically like to spend a lot of time discussing matters outside of business and share personal anecdotes, family, hobbies and the like. This may seems trivial but your partner may be judging your character worthiness to conduct business based on these discussions.

Hanbridge Mandarin School's Business Chinese Advanced Course will show to you some good ways to start the relationship-building process.

2. When attending meetings: Don’t be late and know who the boss is

Business meeting in China

In general, meetings in China follow the same format as those in Western countries, albeit with a bit more ritual. The Chinese value punctuality, so arrive on time or even slightly early for meetings or other occasions. The following points should be kept in mind:

Date: Check the Chinese calendar. Avoid all national holidays, especially Chinese New Year, when the entire country effectively shuts down for two weeks.

Preparation: Be well prepared in advance of your meetings. First impressions matter. If you capture the attention of your partners at the first meeting, your chances for success skyrocket.

Language: If you speak Mandarin in the meeting (even just a little bit), your Chinese business partners will feel more comfortable have great respect for you. Here's the business Chinese vocabulary list you would need.

Dress Code: Government officials and top management dress formally for meetings, while business people at working levels may adopt a more casual style. If you’re not sure, go formal – it will convey respect and seriousness.

Seating Arrangements: Remember your role in the organization and the host will take the lead, follow the boss and choose the seat.

3. Follow the leader when dining in China

Chinese people often like to do business over a meal. Typically held in a private room at a restaurant, a business meal can be a dicey proposition for a newbie. The following points should be kept in mind when dining formally with the Chinese:

Formal Seating Arrangement: 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 wait to be told where to sit.

Beginning to Eat: When the hosts begin, you can follow the hosts or your leader. If there are cold dishes on the table, wait to be invited before you dig in.

Conversation: The banquet is generally a social event in a formal context. Formal negotiations or argument will not be present during dinner - it will likely center around pleasantries, background information on the region or the company.

Drinking: The Chinese people like to take wine to entertain friend and business partners. It does not matter if it is lunch or dinner; as long as a meal is being hosted, there will be alcohol. While local wine can be preferred at banquets, the Chinese frequently offer Chinese wine called baijiu for toasts. 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 in a drinking contest. Try to avoid drinking baijiu on an empty stomach because you will feel the effects of the alcohol quickly. It’s a good idea to eat something before the toasts begin.

Toasting: Your host will start off the banquet with a toast to your cooperation or clinching a deal. When toasting, the Chinese normally say gan bei, which translates to "bottoms up". If the group at the banquet is very comfortable with each other, it is also common to go around the table toasting each member of the party.

4. Entertainment After Dinner in China

After formal business dinner, if you are familiar with them, you may be invited to a Karaoke club or bar. The host for the night is expected to pick up all bills for the evening’s meals and entertainment.

5. Gift Giving

Gift giving china

Gift giving is a common Chinese custom that business visitors to China should prepare for and take advantage of. Typically, a single large group gift is presented to the chief person or leader of a Chinese organization. Gifts should not be too expensive and have strong local associations that are a matter of real meaning (local identity) and therefore convey the pride of the giver.

Gifts are usually given at the end of an introductory meeting or at a banquet. Always give and receive gifts or anything of value with two hands. Gifts to avoid include clocks, scissors or other sharp items such as knives or letter openers because they have bad superstitious connotations to many Chinese.

At Hanbridge Mandarin, we're serious about helping you learn Chinese to grow your business and career in China. Contact us to schedule a free trial lesson today and get started on the road to fluency.

About The Author

Mollan Mo

Mollan holds a bachelor’s degree in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. Experienced and skilled, she utilizes a variety of activities and methods to keep her classes lively. She loves her job and her passion to share her language and culture with others drives her to help her students succeed. Learn Chinese online with Mollan Mo >>