Chinese culture and business practices differ from those in the Western world. As businesses expand operation into China, having an understanding of Chinese business etiquette is important to a business’s success.
China's business etiquette is affected very much by Chinese culture, which is based largely on the teachings of Confucius. The teachings of Confucius have official sanction by the government, and have been developed into a system of philosophy known as Confucianism. Confucianism enforces certain cultural values, especially family and respect for authority resulting from age and position.
The following qualities are valued by the Chinese and extremely important in business dealings with Chinese business practitioners:1
- saving and giving face
- respect for elders and ranking (the latter is particularly important when dealing with government officials)
For example, because saving face is important, it is considered very rude to ever say “no” to an offer when first given, especially around others. Instead, when you receive an offer, you should respond by saying “you will think it over,” to show respect and allow all parties to save face.
Similarly, patience is important, and many Chinese businessman view discussing financial information as something that is done once trust is built in a business relationship. Don’t rush things. Many business meetings will take time, involve entertainment (especially food), and allow the parties to get to know and like one another. Discussion at this time will often center on pleasantries and background information about the region and company. Only after a trusting relationship is built will the nitty gritty details of the deal be negotiated.
According to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, Chinese culture is long-term oriented and collectivist, and ranks higher on power distance than other Asian societies.2 This reinforces the importance of patience, modesty and respect for elders and ranking – important qualities for business practitioners to have when doing business in China.
Giving and receiving business cards is an important tradition in Chinese business culture. When giving or receiving anything of value, it is a sign of respect to use both hands. Make sure your business card has your title on it, as your title will signal your rank, your seating, the invitations you receive, and how you are listened to. Your business card should have English on one side, and Mandarin (or another appropriate Chinese language) on the other. When in a meeting, give your business card to higher-ranking businessman and officials first.
When receiving a business card, take a minute to look it over, acknowledge it, and carefully place it in a business card holder. Do not write on a business card as that is a sign of disrespect.
1. The Canadian Trade Commission Service. "Business Etiquette in China." Retrieved from: http://www.tradecommissioner.gc.ca/eng/document.jsp?did=107932&cid=512&oid=32.
2. "China Business Etiquette, Culture, and Manners." Retrieved from: http://www.cyborlink.com/besite/china.htm.
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