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Doing business in China

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If you display feelings of appreciation and excitement as part of your business etiquette, try to restrain that impulse. It is best to maintain composure when dealing with Chinese business people, the most you can do is use kind words, politeness or a faint smile. No matter how grateful you are, do not bring a gift and do not tip in a restaurant – they will not be received with joy!

* The official name of China is People’s Republic of China (PRC).
* The official language is Standard Chinese, with various other recognised languages.
* The capital is Beijing; the largest city - Shanghai.
* The population is approximately 1.35 billion people.

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Business Mentality

– Chinese business people will expect you to be well prepared for the meeting. Make sure to have at least 20 copies of your proposal ready for handing out. Note that presentation materials should be only in black and white, avoid colours.

Small talk is considered particularly important at the beginning of a meeting.

– They prefer to establish a strong relationship before closing a deal, so you might have to meet up several times to achieve your objectives.

– It is vital for you to maintain composure during meetings. Causing embarrassment or showing too much emotion could have a negative effect for a business negotiation.

– Regarding decision-making, the Chinese tend to extend negotiations far beyond the agreed deadline to gain some advantage. Be prepared for that: accept their delays and do not mention deadlines. Your patience will be much appreciated!

– People in China usually enter the meeting room in hierarchical order. So be careful - they will assume that the first of you walking in the room is the head of the delegation!

– Business hours are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday to Friday.

– Many Chinese workers take a break between 12:00 and 2:00 pm, during which almost everything stops from working - from lifts to phone services.

– It is best to schedule an appointment during these periods: April to June and September to October.

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Greetings

Handshakes are common but wait for your Chinese counterpart to initiate the gesture.

– Regarding titles of courtesy, most people should be addressed with a title followed by their last name. Careful not to use "comrade" - unless you are a committed communist of course.

The Art of Conversation

– Chinese people will appreciate it if you use a couple of words in Chinese, but make sure you are aware of the meaning and the appropriate occasions.

– In Chinese culture, the questions "Have you eaten?" or "Where have you been?" are pleasantries equivalent to the traditional "How are you?" in the English-speaking culture. Therefore, do not take it literally and start getting into details in your answer! Simply answer "yes" if you have eaten - even if you haven't – or simply smile and say "thank you!".

Popular welcome topics are themes about China: art, scenery, landmarks, climate, and geography. You can mention your travelling experiences to other countries and include your positive impressions as a tourist in China!

Try to avoid political-related discussions, such as the Cultural Revolution or Chairman Mao, the "Tibet" and "Taiwan" questions, human rights, animal treatment.

– Chinese people are very careful about strong negative statements. For instance, negative answers are considered impolite, so find alternatives ("I'll think about it"/"maybe"/"we'll see") instead of a blunt "no".

– Similarly, if your Chinese counterparts say "Not a big issue" or "The problem is not serious", they usually mean that there still are problems or that the problems are serious.

Body Language

Body language and movements are things you have to be constantly conscious of when doing business in China. As mentioned above, you have to stay calm, collected and controlled.

Body posture should always be formal and attentive as it demonstrates self-control and respectfulness.

– Be careful about what you do with your hands as well - putting your hands in your mouth, biting your nails, removing food from your teeth and similar practices are considered rude.

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Business meetings and meals

Dress code: conservative suits. Bright colours of any kind are considered inadequate.

– Punctuality is vital. Being late is a serious offence in the Chinese business culture.

When the meeting is finished, you are expected to leave before your Chinese counterparts.

– Exchanging business cards is common practice, so make sure to bring plenty!

– It is advisable to have one side in English and the other in either Simplified Chinese or Traditional Chinese - depending on the region.

– Include your professional title, especially if it is important to your case. Also, if your business is the oldest, largest or has some other prestigious distinction, do include that on the card.

Gold is the colour of prestige and prosperity, so if you print your business cards in gold ink, it will have that connotation.

Give your card using two hands and ensure the Chinese side is facing the recipient; receive your card attentively and examine it for a few moments.

Do not bring presents! The official policy in Chinese business etiquette forbids gifts. The gesture is considered bribery, which is illegal in the country.

– If you are invited to a business meal, wait to be seated, as there is a seating protocol based on hierarchy. Do not discuss business during the meal.

– During a meal, 20 to 30 courses can be served, so try not to eat too much at once! The trick is to try a sample of each dish.

– Scorpions, locusts, snake skin, dog meat and blood may come your way - they are considered premium delicacies.

– It is also important to know how much to eat. Leaving an empty dish signifies that you were not given enough food and not touching your food is offensive as well.

– Do not be startled if everyone starts slurping and belching - these are signs of enjoyment while eating.

– If you are invited for drinks - you have to go, as building a personal relationship ("guanxi") during your business is very important. Sadly or not, part of this implies participating in the drinking culture existing in the country.

– It might happen that your Chinese counterpart will test your ability to handle alcohol, especially "bai jiu" (common brand names are "Mao Tai" and "Er Guo Tou") - a powerful drink that might be compared to airline fuel! If you go for it, make sure to eat something beforehand; otherwise find a good excuse - a medical one will be accepted.

– Giving tips is generally considered an insult in China, implying the recipient needs money.

Numbers

– Always pay attention to numbers and their significance or avoid as appropriate:

8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture. If you receive eight of something, consider it a gesture of good will.

6 is considered a blessing for smoothness and progress.

4 is a taboo number because it sounds like the word "death" and is considered unlucky.

73 means "the funeral"

84 means "having accidents"

Did you find this article useful? If so, you might also enjoy our guide to business etiquette in Brazil.

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