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Chinese Business Meeting Etiquette Guide

When attending business meeting in China, there are cultural customs that needs to be taken into account. Language isn’t an issue anymore, as nowadays most sales staff as well as business owners speak decent English. Yet, there’s still some cultural differences that needs to be bridged. Follow this guide to prepare yourself perfectly for a Chinese business meeting!

Arrive early

This is a do that is quite normal everywhere but do try to arrive more early before a meeting. Chinese are very punctual in a business setting. So by coming earlier you make a good image for yourself.

Business Cards Exchange

When meeting your host, you’ll see the ritual of exchanging business cards will follow. It’s important to use both your hands when giving and receiving business cards!

A few more tips:

  • Do not write on the received business card, that’s considered rude.
  • Have your business card translated in the local language. While your host likely can read English, having a translated side of your business card, shows that you’re well prepared and professional.

Do not write in red

Writing in red is a big no no in Chinese meetings. Read this article for more information:

Use formal titles

When you are having a meeting with your Chinese associates, always address them by titles. i.e. Director Wu, Chairman Chen. If you don’t know somebody yet, just start with “xian sheng” or “xiao jie,” which means Mister or Miss/Mrs in Chinese. It is very important to keep in mind someone’s family name, which comes before the first name of a Chinese person. ( As in “Yao Ming”,“Yao” is the family name.)

Other tips:

  • Try not to frown when you having a conversation with your Chinese host. This might look like you disagree with what the person is telling you.
  • Seniority is vital in China. You need to be sensitive to rankings and be respectful to the elders in a Chinese company or organization. Greet the elders and seniors before the others, especially when dealing with government officials.
  • The Chinese prefer face-to-face meetings rather than written or by telephone. When you are in China always try to have face-to-face communication. Contact by mail, phone or Skype is taken less serious.

Communicate Your Dinner Preferences

If you go for a dinner and you don’t like some of Chinese food please let your host knows ahead of time. You may feel this is rude, but if you don’t and you don’t eat it will be considered an insult and lose “Face” of your host. This is a big thing in China and definitely make you lose that business opportunity. My tip: be brave and try. That will make you look very good.

Sometimes a good host will ask you proactively what you like. In such case, don’t shy away, and simply tell him/her your preferences.

At last, using chopsticks will impress your host, but if you really can’t, it’s perfectly ok to ask for forks, spoons and knives.

Other tips:

  • Please do not be offended if your Chinese host starts to slurp or burp while eating. This isn’t considered normal in big cities. However, in less educated parts of China, slurping and blurbing show that you are enjoying the food that you are eating. Slurping is however considered normal when enjoying tea (as it allows you to fully taste the aroma).

Give a Brief Speech when Toasting

In China, a toast is always accompanied by a little speech of appreciation and goodwill. It is very common that the host makes a toast by giving a speech celebrating your business relationship and cooperation. Other people will also make toasts to express their goodwill. You are expected to do the same during the meal.

Leverage on Chinese stereotypes

Many Chinese have great trust in Western products and services, and rate their quality often higher than their Chinese counterparts. From a B2B perspective, Western suppliers of products and services should demonstrate their focus on safety, reliability, user friendliness and comfort.

Chinese business partners are then more likely to view collaboration as a way to create added value.

TIP: Try NOT to shake your leg when you are with your Chinese host. Shaking you leg means you are shaking the money luck of yourself. Chinese could see this as a bad habit for doing business with you.

Do not open a gift directly when receiving

When you receive a gift from your host never open it in front of them! This could embarrass your host and also is not common. Only when your host keep insist to open it you can do it. In other cultures this is quite normal.

Get used to lengthy meetings

When you are at a meeting with a group of Chinese people, you may experience it to be very lengthy. That’s normal in China. The Chinese love to discuss everything and even take small breaks in between. During the meeting there may even be frequent periods of silence. The reason for such long meetings is that meetings are often attended by more people relative to the West. In Western countries, people want to limit the amount of attendants and meet effectively and fast.

In China, the meetings could get extremely lengthy, with the speaker giving those long pauses during the speech. You may feel uncomfortable as a Westerner, but it would be a bad idea to interrupt them. Try to be patient and understandable during such meetings.

Periods of silence are considered acceptable and can be expected while having a conversation with Chinese. Especially after a question is asked to them. Avoid interrupting them or showing displeasure through facial or eye movements. Be patient.

Tea Etiquette

Sometimes meetings are held around a traditional Chinese tea table. Impress your host by learning about these tea ceremony etiquette.

Bathhouse

Chinese Bathhouse

If your business counterparts invite you to take a bath with them, they actually mean it!

In northern China, going to a bathhouse is not only a lifestyle but also a popular social activity. It is normal for people of the same gender to take a bath together in a public bathtub, where scrubbing service is provided.

Bathhouses are usually equipped with sauna rooms, Mahjong tables, canteen, TV area and beds. It is a place for entertainment, relaxation and guanxi (business network) development.

Bringing Your Spouse?

In the West, people sometimes bring their spouse when meeting the business partners in an informal setting. In China, spouses don’t tag along in business entertainments. However, it is common to bring your secretary or assistant along. Unlike in Western countries, most women in China don’t smoke or drink.

About Author

Active traveller with a love for Asian food and Japanese anime.