Business Practices in China

If you are planning to extend your business to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), you should be well acquainted with its people, culture, etiquette, and patriotism. Here are a few tips on business etiquette in China.

People And Culture

China is unique in its culture and tradition. So, when traveling, it is important to adapt to the country’s way of life, its people, and embrace whatever it has to offer.

  • Modesty: People of China are extremely shy. Public displays of affection or even being forthcoming are never done here. However, it is common to see people of the same sex holding hands. They are not considered as a couple, rather just good friends.
  • Patience: Making decisions that would not take much time elsewhere, may just take a while in China. The people here are concerned about making everybody feel happy and comfortable with a decision, which does require a lot of patience.
  • Face value: The Chinese never like to “lose face.” In other words, if a Chinese person is humiliated in public, a fight may just break out.
  • Humor: When it comes to humor, the Chinese are at the top of their game. However, humor related to sex or politics must be avoided.
  • Hierarchy: Chinese people are particular about hierarchy and this is especially true in business dealings. Keep in mind positions held by your Chinese associates, and always remember to show respect if you are lower in position, business-wise.

While traveling, in many parts of China, especially the underdeveloped areas, be prepared to be “looked at.” As far as capturing China on camera is concerned, it is polite to get the consent of people when taking their photograph.

Dining Etiquette

Dining etiquette of the Chinese can make you feel a little uneasy at first, but once you understand their way of doing things, enjoying Chinese cuisine can be a lot of fun.

Take a note of the following:

  • Lunch and dinner at restaurants can be quite noisy, and smoking cigarettes is allowed at the table. Over time, you will get accustomed to it.
  • Knives are absent from the table. You will find chopsticks, soup spoons and bowls. While using the chopsticks, it is recommended that you do not point them in the direction of a person, nor should you keep them standing tall in the rice bowl. Such a gesture is an indicator of incense that is burned at funerals.
  • The meat of pork, poultry or fish is prepared such that it is extremely tender, and becomes easy to remove from its bones with chopsticks.
  • Serving yourself from a communal plate should be done with a clean spoon or with the end of the chopstick that does not go into your mouth.
  • As a guest at a meal, be prepared for surprises. You may notice that your host has ordered much more food than you can consume. This is only to “save face.” Another way of showing hospitality is by serving you, even though you have not asked to be served.
  • According to Chinese custom, it is the host that pays for the meal. This excludes a get-together of friends. However, it is polite to always offer to pay. It is not uncommon to find two people quarrelling to pay after a meal.
  • If you are invited for a meal, be prepared to be served as you are the “honored guest.” You should do the same if you have invited your Chinese guest over for a meal.
  • Using chopsticks is sheer delight to your Chinese host. However, if you are not comfortable using them, stick to the cutlery on the table if there is any.
  • It is recommended never to begin a meal while speaking on matters related to business. Allow your Chinese associate to bring up the subject. Talking about the country’s weather, landmarks, places of interest, your previous tours, art, and music, as well as making compliments about the food and ambience of the restaurant are topics to discuss about prior to the subject of business. Using terms like “Red China” or “Mainland China” should also be avoided.

Tipping

Tipping used to be an illegal practice prior to the 1980s. Now, things have drastically changed. Drivers, tour guides, and in hotels the bellboys and housekeeping staff do expect a tip for their good service. However, in local restaurants it is not customary to give a tip as the bill already includes a service charge of 10 to 15%.

Dress Code

When attending a meeting, men should be dressed in a suit and tie. Avoid bright and colorful ties. Loud, vivid colors indicate your disrespect for your associates. Tuxedos are unheard of in China.

Women should avoid low necklines and stick to muted colors like white, tan and brown. Flat shoes fit well for business meetings, while high heels are ideal for a formal gathering.

In terms of casual wear, jeans are acceptable for both men and women in a casual space. However, shorts should be avoided unless you are exercising.

Business Card Etiquette

While presenting your business card, remember to use both hands and bow forward slightly. Ensure that your card is also printed in Chinese, with your job title printed in the front. This implies your eagerness to carry out business dealings in China.

Giving Gifts

Presenting gifts to your Chinese business associates is customary and should not be taken lightly. Here are a few tips on gift giving:

  • Purchase gifts before entering the country, so as to not forget anybody.
  • Present the gift in front of everyone and ensure that the receiver knows it is from the company and not from you.
  • Avoid taking a photograph while presenting a gift.
  • You also need to keep in mind the type of gift being given, as per hierarchy.
  • The value of gifts should be moderate as anything above would lead to the suggestion of corruption.
  • Items like white flowers, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, knives, scissors and clocks should not be given as gifts as these are considered unlucky.
  • A pair of anything, which is an indicator of harmony, crafts or handiwork from your country or a pen, is something to consider as a gift.
  • Gifts should not be wrapped in black, white or blue paper as these are related to funerals. Yellow wrappings with black writings are a symbol of death, so this should also be avoided.
  • Gold, silver and red are lucky colors.

Communication

While communicating with your Chinese business associates, keep in mind the following:

Do Not Jump In: After you have asked a question, wait for your associate to answer. He or she may take some time. You need not fill in the gap of silence.

Do Not Bow: Bowing is an age-old tradition and is not practiced these days.

Have Your Own Interpreter: Having a private interpreter is advantageous, as you will get to know about the mistranslations or what you missed after a meeting.

Addressing Etiquette: When addressing your Chinese associate, you need to do so by calling them “Mr., Miss, or Madam” followed by their last name. When introducing themselves, their last name is usually presented first. Getting the correct pronunciation is also important. Slang and jargon should be simply ruled out while in a business meeting.

Do Not Say “No”: Saying “no” to your business associate is considered rude. It is better to say “maybe.”

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