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Important Tips on Etiquette for People Doing Business in China

Business travel in China can be a minefield for the novice but a new book aims to guide the business traveller through the hazards of social intercourse and business life

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.

The Western businessperson wishing to sell or buy from 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.

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.

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.

Business Card Etiquette in China

Present business cards with both hands and 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.

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.

Follow these tips and hints when doing business in China and you won't go far wrong.