This are my takeaways from years from working in China on managerial position. In this article we will look into common business etiquette in China. Before we begin, one must understand the most important things while doing business with Chinese. Chinese strongest business culture is guanxi or relationships. If you have a good guanxi, business can go smoothly, opening many doors. However, without solid relationships, many doors are closed. Another aspect is giving face or mianzi, meaning that businessman should do everything in his power to avoid confrontation and should give and save face of his counterparts by all means. Because Chinese business etiquette differs from Western, businessman should make thoroughly research what is appropriate and what not, as it could mean the difference between closing the deal or not. Chinese people respect the elders, avoid embarrassment, have patience, are polite and modest.
Men should have conservative suits with subtle colors and women should not have high heels or short sleeved blouses. Subtle colors are for both genders advised. For business meetings businessman should avoid jeans and businesswoman should avoid wearing revealing clothing.
Avoid large hand movements and touching women in public or business settings, which is considered largely inappropriate. When using hand movements, those should be subtle and using open palm, don’t use fingers and don’t point fingers at people.
Meals are no place to discuss business. Use this opportunity to get to know your counterparts better and build guanxi. Host should be first who starts eating, or you should be invited to start eating. You should try foods you are offered. If you are using chopsticks don’t place them upright in your bowl as Chinese use this way for dead people and it might remind your host on that.
Also, be careful to not drop chopsticks, as it is considered bad luck. Leave some food, don’t finish all your meal, as Chinese may assume you are still hungry. Host will usually pay for the meal, however when the turn is yours avoid tipping as it is considered insult.
Women should avoid drinking at the meal. Toasting is usually done with baijiu or maotai, which are strong distilled alcohols. Drink from the toasting glass only when you toast. If you can’t drink because of medical condition, this will be respected, but you should inform your host beforehand.
Toasting will start at the beginning of meal, a toast to your presence, friendship, concluding the deal…, which you can reciprocate, toast for toast. Because toasting manners differ from region to region in China, it is appropriate to check with your host, who will be happy to explain local customs.
Giving gifts is common in China, however giving gifts to government officials is illegal. Banquet or quality writing pen is considered as a good gift. Don’t give watch, handkerchiefs or items in blue, white or black color as those gifts and colors are associated with death. Also avoid giving sharp objects, such as scissors or knives or letter openers.
Consider giving gift in red and gold color as those are associated with happiness, wealth and prosperity. Gifts should not be too expensive. Good gifts are also items which are difficult to obtain in China, so consider giving items, which are unique to your home country.
Gifts are usually given at the end of introduction meeting or banquet. When accepting gift, businessman should use both hands to receive it. It is not uncommon that receiver will firstly reject gift (due to politeness), but one should insist on giving it and it will be accepted.
Communication and business meetings
When shaking hands, wait that Chinese offer their hand first. You want to be on time in China and make prior appointment. When accepting business card, one should accept it with both hands and “admire” it for a while, meaning giving it a good look and not just put it in the pocket. Note that decision process is slow and you should be very patient while conducting business in China. Things just don’t go over night like they may in the West.
Avoid setting up business meetings during national holidays and especially prior to Chinese New Year. If your host doesn’t speak English or his command of English is bad, make sure you have your own interpreter and have Chinese language materials. Also make sure you have enough copies for everyone in the meeting.