Watching Your Manners on a Business Trip to China
On a business trip to China, you must deal with language, cultural, and political differences. For a successful Chinese business trip, try to understand and respect Chinese culture while building a relationship of trust:
Language: More than one billion people speak Mandarin. It’s the main language of China’s media, government, and educational institutions. Other languages in China include Wú and Cantonese.
Appropriate dress: Your default business wardrobe in China is conservative business dress, with suits, ties, and tie-up shoes for men, and conservative suits and dresses for women. Avoid flashiness of any kind.
Greeting rituals: Business greetings in China are easy; they’re the same as those in the United States.
You present your business card in China, you don't just hand it out. Displaying a casual attitude about your business cards is disrespectful and will be noted.
Handling meetings: In China, the beginning of the meeting follows a definite pattern. The top person from your host’s country comes in at an appointed position in the flow of people. Normally, meetings have a brief prelude during which people get to know one another.
A written agreement isn’t as important to a Chinese businessperson as the solidarity of his relationship with you. Chinese interpret rules in the context of your quan xi — that is, the quality and integrity of your relationship.
Dining and entertaining: In China, expect a banquet — a long meal with innumerable courses served one after the other. Arrive on time, and get ready to eat. Try something from every serving dish, even if it’s only a little amount, but never clean your plate. Symbolically, the meal’s munificence means that you can’t finish it.
Giving and receiving gifts: Gift-giving in China and many Asian countries extends far beyond a gift to your host. In most Asian countries, gifts of some kind are appropriate even for a meeting. Appropriate gifts include fine wine, liqueur (such as cognac), or whiskey; high-quality office accessories; lighters, if you know the recipients smoke; and technology gadgets.
Present your gift with both hands and a low bow, murmuring, This is a little something for you or A small token of appreciation. Be ready to accept a gift from your host, as well. Politely refuse a gift at first and then accept it graciously.
Addressing people: It’s prudent to politely ask a Chinese businessperson which name is his or her family name. It’s also good to confirm how people would like to be addressed, as many people like to be addressed with their business title. Government titles (such as chairman, general manager, or committee member) are important; use them when you address officials.
Social taboos: Both men and women should keep their feet on the floor, not hooked under their chairs or crossed. Expansive hand movements are annoying and distracting to the Chinese sensibility. Don’t be too bubbly and familiar, as in placing an arm around someone’s shoulders or even patting her lightly on the shoulder.