China is a vast emerging market but it is going through a complex transitional period with opposing pressures between modern and traditional, Western versus Chinese, and urban versus rural practices. The western business man or woman wishing to trade with China needs to be armed with information on the psyche of the country, to be aware of the collectivist culture and the need for harmony and loyalty within a group, aware also of the people's deep-rooted patriotism and the need to avoid criticism of the country or the government in any way. This book from Active Business Travel will help pave the way.
Doing Business in China
For those doing business with China, a pocket-sized guide book called simply "China" is available to ease the business traveller through the minefield of social etiquette. More ...
Hierarchy in Chinese Culture
Hierarchy is something that runs deep in Chinese culture and this is continually reaffirmed during business sessions. Spend time making sure of the relative positions of the people you are dealing with (and remember to take into account their seniority which influences their hierarchical position). Know your own position vis a vis the person you are dealing with, remembering to show respect if your business status is lower.
Face in Chinese Culture
Face is a mark of personal dignity and a core aspect of the Chinese mindset. Never allow your protagonist to lose face, and try not to lose face yourself.
This calls for great diplomacy. It is very easy to lose face or to make others lose face, especially if heavy drinking is involved so be doubly careful when being entertained not to indulge too heavily.
Dress Code for Business Meetings in China
Always wear a suit and tie to show respect for the person or persons you are dealing with but after the business part is over, the evening will be quite relaxed. Shoes should be well polished, never wear trainers, and if the occasion calls for it, be sure to have a hat or a head covering.
Business Card Etiquette in China
Present business cards with both hands holding the car by the tips of your fingers, and with a slight forward bow. The well-prepared businessperson will also make sure that his/her card is also printed in Chinese with job title well to the fore. Never undersell yourself. An elegant card holder is recommended but not essential as sometimes these are difficult to cope with if carrying flowers for one's host, but don't pull one just out of your inside pocket either!
Gift Giving to Business Partners in China
The giving of gifts is an important part of Chinese business life and should not be lightly undertaken. Give the best gift to the top person, don't treat everyone the same as this would cause loss of face. To avoid missing anyone out prepare extra gifts in advance of the trip. The monetary value of the gifts should be relatively modest to avoid any suggestion of corruption - a sensitive point in today's China. Don't give clocks, handkerchiefs, umbrellas, white flowers, knives or scissors as these are considered unlucky. A pair of something is a good choice, as this indicates harmony. Suitable gifts are crafts from your home country, or a good pen. Avoid white, black or blue paper when wrapping the gift as these are associated with funerals. Red, gold and silver are lucky colours.
Serving Food at Chinese Dinners
Your host will serve you (as the honoured guest) and in turn if you are the host you should serve your guest. You cannot pass this task on to anyone else, nor can you ignore it. It is customary. You need not use chopsticks while dining, but if you can, your hosts will be pleased. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for knives and forks although only a spoon may be available. Table manners are more relaxed in China than in the west, but follow the example of others at the table for your own comfort.
As has been said, social etiquette in China can be a minefield for the uninformed, so make sure you have all these points at your fingertips. Follow these hints when doing business in China and you won't go far wrong.