To know what is important to the people belonging to a certain group, or a nation as a whole, you must inquire about their values, belief system, traditions, etc. Certain behaviours are so rooted in some cultures, that being rigid or non-receptive towards them could give out an impression of being impolite or disrespectful. This holds true especially in a country like China (People’s Republic of China) where collectivism and conformity are the norm, which stem from the Confucius philosophy, practiced by a majority of the Chinese population.
While planning to visit a foreign country regardless of the purpose, it is advisable to gain prior knowledge about its culture, customs, clothing styles, cuisine & dining etiquettes, basic greetings, meanings of gestures, religious preferences and other such aspects of distinguishable significance.
China, a communist nation, situated in South-east Asia, has the world’s largest population and is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, due to which, it has become a focal point for international business and before you visit the country to build a partnership, here are some important do’s and don’ts to be followed, in order to make a pleasing first impression :-
Chinese Business Etiquette
- Titles and ranks are given great importance. The senior most official will enter the board room first, followed by his delegation. The same must be followed from your end. This also means that whoever is senior, leads the meeting, from both parties.
- The Chinese while introducing themselves, will use their family name first. Eg: Mr. Wang Li, here Wang is the family name (surname) and Li is the first name. Note that, their titles or ranks should be used before the name. Manager Wang Li, Doctor Huang Hua, etc. Unmarried women are addressed as Xiaojie (Ms.) and married women, as Taitai/Furen (Mrs./Madam), followed by their name.
- Handshakes are becoming increasingly common. Alternatively, the Chinese usually bow or nod while meeting someone, to show respect. Any other form of greeting would be considered impolite. It is common for your Chinese counterparts to applaud while welcoming you. It is expected that you join them and applaud back.
Gestures for Business Meetings
- If the Appointments are generally made 1-2 months in advance, to be on the safer side. In case, there is no direct contact from the company, it is vital that you work through a mediator, as the Chinese do not prefer to work with companies, about which they are entirely unaware. The mediator will be a source of credibility for your organization, who could then introduce you formally to the potential Chinese partners.
- Prior to your arrival in China, make sure to send relevant materials like your Company profile, brochures, product or service information, translated in Chinese. Note, that the translation should be in Simplified Chinese (Mandarin) and not Traditional, as the latter is used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
- Agenda for the meeting should be sent beforehand to allow your Chinese counterparts for some reflection on the same. Have multiple extra copies of the agenda and other reference materials. Avoid having coloured printed material as many colours have significant meanings associated with them.
- If the subject matter of discussion is technical, it is advisable to have your own Chinese interpreter for such business meetings. Pre-assignment preparation for the interpreter is a must, as they need to be equipped with the necessary information, to contribute effectively during the meeting. Irrespective of the meeting discussion, it is essential to hire an interpreter.
- Business cards are usually shared with each person present at the meeting. It must be bilingual and the Chinese version of it should face up, while giving it to any official. Also, business cards are given and accepted with both hands. They’re also handed over personally and not kept on the table for distribution. It is thought to be rude if you take the card and slide it in your pocket without reading it. The colour gold is associated with wealth and good finances, therefore, it would be favourable to print, your rank/title in gold.
- More often than not, meetings begin with tea, where you could discuss light topics such as travels, weather, etc. Avoid discussing about the government or other such sensitive issues.
General Chinese Etiquette
- The Chinese are conservative and formal when it comes to a business setting. Hand gestures are not common, also, if you must point to something, avoid using the index finger, instead, use an open palm for the same. The tone of voice shouldn’t be too loud. Facial expressions should not be made too obvious. Point being, it is important to be subtle in all aspects while dealing with the Chinese.
- Gift giving is an integral part of Chinese culture. It is a symbol of respect, interest and commitment. Although not a mandatory custom, gifts can be given at the first meeting. However, it would be wise to keep it low-key than to make it elaborate. There are no clear distinctions, but there is a difference between gift giving and bribery. The latter includes giving hard cash in a red envelope, cars, electronics, promising about profit shares, etc. The acceptable gifts include anything from your home country or region, books, framed pictures with some ethnic origin, tea, etc. Even a product of your company, with the logo on it, would be accepted with gratitude. Gifts that must be avoided in any case would be any sharp objects (symbolizes severing relationships), clocks (associated with funerals). Numbers 6 and 8 are considered lucky, whereas 4, 73, 84 are considered otherwise. It is a common etiquette to decline the present the first couple of times, which is usually followed by accepting of gifts.
- Dress code for meetings should be modest and simplistic, nothing over the top or that draws unnecessary attention. Men usually wear suits, however, during summers; it is okay to not wear coats or jackets. Women must avoid wearing heavy make-up, flashy jewellery or clothes that would be considered revealing. Dresses, pantsuits are acceptable. Although China is a patriarchal society, there isn’t much of gender disparity in Chinese business; however, it may take slightly more time to adjust as a senior female employee.
- The host Chinese company will mostly have a welcoming banquet arranged at the beginning of your visit. This must be reciprocated at the end of your dealing. There are distinctive Chinese dining etiquettes to be aware of, before participating in one.
- The Chinese are shrewd businessmen. You can expect a good round of negotiations during business meetings. Do not expect to seal the deal in your first meeting. Because they avoid being negative, there may be open-ended conclusions, which aren’t necessarily positive for your business relationships. You may ask questions to better understand your position.
- The concept of ‘face’ is essential to understand whilst planning to work with Chinese counterparts. In its simplest form, ‘face’ refers to respect and honour. Through your actions and words, you may either gain or lose face for yourself and even for others.
- Avoid scheduling meetings during and around important holidays and festivals like New Year, Chinese New Year, Dragon Boat Festival, Autumn Festival, National Day/Golden Week, etc.
All in all, the experience can be quite unique, as China is one of the oldest civilizations in the world and is rich in cultural heritage and value system, most of which is exhibited in their business dealings as well.