Chinese Business Etiquette| 5 min read

Some tips and suggestions on what to do and expect when visiting China on business.

  • Attire. Dress is not as formal in China as in some countries. However, you will be looked upon favourably if you dress well. Conservative dress is preferred for both men and women. Yet, jeans are not acceptable for business meetings, and shorts are only used for sports. Men should plan on wearing plain suits that are beige, brown or dark blue. Ties should also be conservative. Women should wear flat shoes (no high heels) and long sleeved blouses with high necklines. Revealing clothing is considered in poor taste by both Chinese men and women.
  • Face. Understanding the topic of face is important when conducting business in China. Face is like a running total of respect or honour. In every situation, you may either be gaining face or losing it.
  • Appointments. Appointments are expected for all business meetings. Arrive early or at least on time for any appointment. Most businesses shut down between 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. Appointments should also be scheduled around holidays such as Chinese New Year, the National Holiday in May (the first week of May) and National Day (the first week of October). Set up an agenda for your appointment to ensure that you are prepared.
  • Greetings. If you are with a group, the most important member of the group typically enters the meeting room first. This same individual should also lead the meeting. It is not appropriate for subordinates to interrupt when the leader is speaking. After entering the room, the most senior person on the other side should be acknowledged first. Bowing or nodding is typical, but handshakes are becoming more common. It is best to wait for the other person to extend their hand first in case a handshake is not the norm.
  • The polite way to address someone is to use their professional title and their surname (ex. “Director Wang”). Remember that the surname will come first when the full name is used (i.e. “Yao Ming” is “Mr. Yao” = “Yao Xiansheng”). If no professional title exists, “Mister” = “Xiansheng”, “Miss” = “Xiaojie”, or “Madam” = “Nüshi” will suffice. Some Chinese people also adopt a Western first name that may be used during business meetings. However, first names should be only be used at the request of the other person. If you are greeting a crowd, they may applaud. You are expected to applaud back along with them.
  • Business Cards. You must have business cards in China. Expect to exchange them frequently. So have an abundant supply. Cards with Chinese translations on them are preferred. You may also want to consider having them printed in gold ink, the colour of financial wisdom. Your title should be printed on your card. When you present your own card or receive someone else’s, hold the card with both hands. When presenting a card, ensure that the writing is right-side up for the recipient. When receiving a card, pause to look at the card before putting it down. Cards are best carried in a card case rather than a wallet or pocket. Grabbing a card with one hand and putting in a pocket without examining it will give the impression that you are not taking the meeting seriously.
  • Hand-out materials. Presentation material may be very useful for your meeting. Important topics can be translated beforehand for distribution during the meeting. The Chinese will appreciate your effort. Any materials should be black and white. Colours have many subtle meanings. So they are best avoided. Make numerous copies as the Chinese often have many staff members attend.
  • Chit Chat. Few Chinese will dive right away into business topics. Small talk is expected. A good way to start is by bringing up some of your positive experiences in China. The weather, hobbies and Chinese food are frequently discussed topics. Avoid any negative topics (religion, politics, ethnic questions etc).
  • Business conversation. Just like your hopefully subtle attire, your demeanour during meetings should be equally subdued. Western enthusiasm may be looked down upon in favour of subtle strength and determination. Speak at a moderate tone and succinctly. Laugh softly. Never show anger or frustration. Relax.
  • The same rule applies to hand movements. The Chinese do not speak with their hands. If you do have to gesture to something such as a diagram, use your open palm rather than your index finger. Avoid fidgeting or touching your mouth.
  • Do not expect the meeting to yield results quickly. The Chinese value consensus, where all parties come to agreement rather than having decisions made unilaterally or by a majority. Everyone must agree. Decisions may also be delayed until an auspicious day. Again, relax.
  • If you are negotiating a deal, expect a lengthy round of bargaining. Don’t subjugate your position by setting artificial deadlines. The first proposal is merely the opening bid. Stay positive and suggest alternatives. You must be willing to compromise. “No” is a word rarely used. If you hear, “We have to think about it,” “We are not sure” or “There is a small issue” assume that you are being told “No” in a nice way. Mirror these tactics if you need to say, “No.” Expect the negotiations to continue even after contracts have been signed.
  • Chinese people may not be swayed by facts and figures from sources that you consider credible. Under no circumstances will information that contradicts government policy or position be accepted. So be prepared to demonstrate your points in a variety of ways to the satisfaction of the audience.
  • Face can be gained in a few ways. Compliments or shows of respect from others can increase your face. Accomplishments and even avoiding mistakes also add face. Face is

Rachel Yoon