This guide to business culture and etiquette in China is courtesy of Executive Planet
Type: Communist party-led state.
Branches: Executive--president, vice president, State Council, Premier. Legislative--unicameral National People's Congress. Judicial--Supreme People's Court, Local People's Courts, Special People's Courts.
Administrative divisions: 23 provinces (the P.R.C. considers Taiwan to be its 23rd province); 5 autonomous regions, including Tibet; 4 municipalities directly under the State Council.
Political parties: Chinese Communist Party, 76 million members; 8 minor parties under Communist Party supervision.
Natural resources: Coal, iron ore, petroleum, natural gas, mercury, tin, tungsten, antimony, manganese, molybdenum, vanadium, magnetite, aluminum, lead, zinc, uranium, hydropower potential (world's largest).
Agriculture: Products--Among the world's largest producers of rice, wheat, potatoes, corn, peanuts, tea, millet, barley; commercial crops include cotton, other fibers, apples, oilseeds, pork and fish; produces variety of livestock products. Industry: Types--mining and ore processing, iron, steel, aluminum, and other metals, coal; machine building; armaments; textiles and apparel; petroleum; cement; chemicals; fertilizers; consumer products, including footwear, toys, and electronics; food processing; transportation equipment, including automobiles, rail cars and locomotives, ships, and aircraft; telecommunications equipment, commercial space launch vehicles, satellites.
Tropical in south to subarctic in north.
The Yangtze River serves as China's official dividing line between north and south. The warmest areas in winter are to be found in the South and Southwest, such as Sichuan, Banna in Yunnan, and Hainan Island. In summer the coolest spots are in the far northeast.
China has a climate dominated by dry seasons and wet monsoons, which leads to clear temperature differences in winter and summer. In winter, northern winds coming from high latitude areas are cold and dry; in summer, southern winds from sea areas at lower latitude are warm and moist.
China climates differ from region to region because of the country's extensive and complex topography. In the south of the Nanling Mountains, rains are prolific and the temperature is high all year round. In the Yangtze and Huaihe river valleys in the central part of China, there are four distinctive seasons.
In northeast China, summer is short but there is much sunshine, while winter is long and cold. Precipitation is limited in northwest China where it is cold in winter and hot in summer. In southwest China of low latitudes, the land is elevated high, and has characteristically vertical seasonal zones.
Most annual rainfall comes in the rainy season which starts from June to September. Usually it rains at night in the Lhasa, Shigatse and Chamdo areas. The rainfall may block roads and make travel difficult but the scenery at the time will be the best. From November to the coming May, the wind blows often.
While the Chinese constitution affirms “freedom of religious belief,” the Chinese Government places restrictions on religious practice, particularly on religious practice outside officially recognized organizations. The five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism. Buddhism is most widely practiced.
Appointments are musts for business in China! If possible, schedule meetings a week in advance. Since the Chinese want to know whom they will be meeting, provide details on titles, positions, and responsibilities of attendees ahead of time. Agreeing on an agenda upfront can also be useful. If you are trying to meet with company executives or high-ranking officials, be prepared for extensive back-and-forth communications until everything is finalized, and do not postpone or cancel meetings on short notice.
Telephone is the most convenient and efficient way to make an appointment. E-mail contact is also used, but a call has to follow since many Chinese don't have the habit of checking their emails regularly. Punctuality expectations largely depend on the meeting participants' status and rank. The Chinese are careful not to waste a senior person's time. Being late to a meeting or social event without having a valid and plausible excuse can be a serious affront, so it's usually best to show up right on time or 5-10 minutes earlier. Meetings with lower-level managers are typically more flexible and may not even have a set start time. In that case, arrive at your convenience and be prepared to perhaps wait for a while.
The business hours are 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Monday to Friday. Since some companies run a flexible schedule, it's better to arrange meetings from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM and from 1:30 PM to 5:30 PM. Lunch hour is usually around 12:00 AM-1:00 PM.
The major Chinese holidays are as below:
New Year's Eve: January 1 Chinese New Year: it varies according to the lunar Calendar, but generally around the end of January to mid-February. Tomb-Sweeping Day: April 5th Labor's Day: May 1th - May 3th Mid-autumn Festival: August 15th (lunar calendar) National Day: October 1th - October 7th The holiday will be slightly changed sometimes if it's on a weekend.
Conservative suits with subtle colors are the norm. Bright colors should be avoided in business meetings. Men should wear suits and ties to formal events; tuxedoes are not a part of Chinese business culture. Women should avoid strapless tops or mini-skirts. The Chinese frown on women who display too much. Jeans and trainers are not acceptable for business meetings as well, but it's OK to wear those when you visit a factory. For females, proper makeup for meetings should not be too strong or too chic. No dramatic accessories or open-toe footwears.
Before meetings, it's good to learn some common Chinese expressions like hello, thank you, goodbye as well as some knowledges of Chinese culture, history and geography. If you speak Chinese, they will really appreciate your efforts and take your initiative of doing business in China more seriously than if you do not speak any Mandarin. When meeting with government, learning the names of the high officials is very important. Politics should always be avoided. Never lead the conversation to some sensitive areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan. The Chinese are very proud of their long and glorious history, it can be a very good beginning to build a nice relation.
It's common for Chinese to ask some private questions such as your age, salary, marital status. If you don't want to reveal that information, remain polite and give an unspecific answer with a pleasant smile. But you can always ask some general questions like "How long have you've been working here?" to show your care and have an interest toward the people you are meeting with.
Small talk is welcomed in the beginning, the middle and the end of a meeting. In China, good personal connections are very helpful to business. Showing your respect and giving some compliments can be a good way of doing business. During the meeting, a confident tone is very agreeable. Make sure that you don't speak too fast and leave enough time for people to digest what you have been saying. Also, a slow tone somehow implies your position in the company. No matter if you can speak Chinese or not, bring an interpreter with you always, not only to show your respect for the meeting but also your status in your company.
A firm handshake at the beginning and the end of the meeting is necessary. Avoid too much body contact with the Chinese, especially females.
First Name or Title?
Addressing others with respect.
Chinese names are usually given in the order of family name, then first name. The latter may consist of two parts, the generational name and the given name. However, the two are often spoken and written as one.
Think before you address someone with his Chinese name. Depending on the occasion, addressing people on a first name basis can be interpreted as impolite in China. In a culture with a strong confucianism influence, a person's position and associated roles are first and foremost in an organization.
The Chinese are very conscious about the rank and titles they hold. People around them also consciously accord them with respect based on their titles.
For that reason, you usually do not address a person, whom you newly know, by his first name.
You may address the person with generic titles like ‘Mister’ or ‘Madam’. You may also address the person by using official or professional titles.
For example, if the person has the surname Li, and he heads the company that you are talking to, you may address him as ‘Li Zong’, meaning something like “Boss Li”. If he is a manager, you would address him as ‘Manager’. If his surname is Li, then he would be addressed as 'Manager Li'. If he is a professional, such as an engineer or business consultant, you can either address him by using his profession, or respectfully address him as ‘lao shi’, which means teacher, even when he is not an educator.
When you are addressing a group of people by giving public speeches, take care to address the persons in the order of importance.
It is risky to simply address people in alphabetical order!
You must be careful about who should be addressed first, and who later. Usually, the governmental officials are given priority, followed by business bosses. It is, however, difficult to generalize. When in doubt, it is wise to consult your Chinese friends.
Be aware that age plays an important role in the social relationships.
You are expected to show respect to someone who is more senior than you in terms of age, even if his official position is below you.
Bear this in mind when you are planning a business negotiation. The key members of your team should not be too 'young' -- if the other party consists of mainly people who are more senior in age.
Even if you care little about rank and title, give yourself appropriate rank and title when doing business in China. Otherwise, you may not be accorded with the right respect and attention. At the same time, it may put you in a disadvantageous position when you are at the business negotiation table.
Take care of your collateral, such as name cards. If you are an owner of small and medium-size companies who does not see the importance of rank and title, you will have to take a fresh look at this when you are doing business in China.
The name card has to reflect the appropriate title you hold. Otherwise, your Chinese counterpart may not take you seriously, causing you to miss business opportunities that you care about.
There is a trend among the younger generation of Chinese to adopt English names, such as John or Mary, or unusual names like Lion or Cloudy (usually a translation of their Chinese name).
You can be more casual when dealing with the younger Chinese. In this case, addressing a person by first name is acceptable.
The emphasis on rank and title may give one an impression that the social system is a hierarchical, unfair system. This is however not exactly the case.
While the hierarchy is clear, one's position in the hierarchy does not need to be fixed.
Quite unlike a caste system, for centuries confucianism recognized one's value and effort, and gave room to personal mobility within the system.
The ancient imperial examination system is a case in point. An ordinary person with the right ability could become somebody when his capability was recognized. Although the percentages of those who changed their destiny by passing imperial examinations were few and far between, the system was meant to be egalitarian.
The same principle is still observed in the Chinese business organizations today.
Today, official policy in Chinese business culture forbids giving gifts which can be considered as bribery, an illegal act in this country. In many organizations and companies, however, attitudes surrounding gifts are beginning to relax. If you wish to give a gift to an individual, you must do it privately, in the context of friendship, not business.
Here are other important reminders that can save you from spoiling a business deal:
Choose a gift that represents your company, country, region or town. This should not be something too lavish or expensive.
Don't be surprised if your gift is declined. You need to insist on giving the gift three times before the recipient finally accepts it.
Never present a gift in front of a crowd, as this gesture only causes embarrassment.
A business gift should be presented to the entire company. This is the only acceptable gift in the Chinese business culture.
Exchange of gifts between the companies should only be done after all negotiations are concluded. This is the best time to give their gifts.
It should be made explicit that the gift comes from the company and is given to the Chinese company. Usually the heads of both negotiation teams are the ones that exchange gifts.
The gift should be wrapped in an appropriate color. Red is considered by the Chinese people as lucky so this is the safest color. Otherwise, you can ask the hotel or a local to wrap the gift. The Chinese culture gives different meanings for every color.
Chinese business gift giving is also particular in listing appropriate gifts.
Acceptable gifts for a company include items from your country or city, such as handicrafts, or an illustrated book. Be sure to bring a supply of these items with you, so that you can reciprocate if it happens that you are presented with a gift.
A banquet is usually a welcome gift; since it's likely you will be invited to one, you will have to follow Chinese business protocol and reciprocate. In some parts of China, although senior local officials host the welcoming party, you might be expected to pay for the cost of the banquet. Check this out and be prepared.
Gifts of food are acceptable, but not at dinner parties or other occasions where appetizers and meals will be served. Candy and fruit baskets, however, are acceptable as thank-you gifts sent after these events.
Eight is considered one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese culture. If you receive eight of any item, consider it a gesture of good will. Six is considered a blessing for smoothness and problem free advances. Four is a taboo because it means 'death.' Other numbers such as '73' meaning 'the funeral' and '84' meaning 'having accidents' are to be avoided.
Gifts to Avoid
The following items are to be avoided as they are associated with funerals: Straw sandals, clocks, and handkerchiefs, four of any item [the Cantonese word for “four” sounds similar, in the same language, to “death”], gifts or wrapping paper in white, black, or blue.
Do not open gifts in the presence of the giver unless your host did so first.
Let’s Make a Deal!
The exchange of business cards is an essential step when meeting someone for the first time, so bring more than you need. If someone presents you with his or her card and you do not offer one in return, the person will assume that you either do not want to make their acquaintance, that your status in your company's hierarchy is very low, or, quite to the contrary, that your status is very high. Since many people are unable to read English, it's better to use a card with one side in English and other in Chinese. Show doctorate degrees on your card and make sure that it clearly states your professional title, especially if you have the seniority to make decisions. If any facts about your company are particularly noteworthy, for instance, if it's the oldest in your country or industry, mention this on your card since the Chinese view this very favorably. Present your business card with two hands, and ensure that the Chinese side is facing the recipient. Similarly, accept others' cards using both hands if possible. Smile and make eye contact while doing so, then examine the card carefully.
At the beginning of a meeting, there is normally some small talks. This allows participants to become personally acquainted. It's best to let the local side set the pace and follow along. The most senior members of your group should lead the discussion. In Chinese business culture, it's inappropriate for subordinates to interrupt. It is good to make a presentation, but keep it simple and avoid over-designing it. Verify through diplomatic questions whether your audience understands you. Since saving face is so important, people will not openly admit it in front of others of they do not understand what you are presenting. You should bring a sufficient number of copies of anything you present, such that each attendee gets one. The appearance of your presentation materials is not very important as long as you include good and easy-to-understand visuals. Use diagrams and pictures wherever feasible, cut down on words, and avoid complicated expressions. Have your handout materials translated to Chinese or make it bilingual.
When a meeting is over, you should leave before your Chinese counterparts do.
Chinese negotiators are willing to spend considerable time gathering information and discussing various details before negotiation. Information is rarely shared freely, since the Chinese believe that privileged information creates bargaining advantages. Also, the Chinese treat "outside" information with caution. Be careful with what you are willing to share of yourself and protect your intellectual property. In China, people may consider all information available to them a property they are entitled to use to their best interest.
Expect negotiations to be slow and protracted. Relationship building, information gathering, bargaining, and decision making may all take considerable time. Furthermore, negotiators often attempt to wear you down in an effort to obtain concessions. Be prepared to make several trips if necessary to achieve your objectives. Throughout the negotiations, be patient, show little emotion and accept that delays occur.
Even after the contract is signed, the Chinese will often continue to press for a better deal.
Do not bring an attorney to the negotiation table, since this may be taken as a sign that you do not trust your counterparts.
If you are invited to a banquet in China, prepare yourself for a meal to remember. The banquet can consist of up to thirty dishes being served over a period of time and it is therefore wise to pace yourself. Try to eat a little of each dish rather than sticking to the one you recognize. It is traditional to leave some food — if you finish everything, this can be taken as a sign that you are still hungry!
The seating arrangements at a banquet are very complex and linked to perceptions of hierarchy and status. If you are invited, you will be shown where to sit. However if you are the host it is probably best to get some local advice on the best seating plan if you want to avoid insulting anybody.
The meal is usually coming to an end when the fruit is served and the hot towels are given out. It is possible to leave after this stage of the proceedings — although the host is unlikely to initiate your departure.
Meals can be accompanied by a great deal of smoking — even during the courses. The idea of non-smoking restaurants hasn't really taken off in China.
Alcohol plays an important part in banquets, and should flow freely- when toasting is mandatory. And drinking alcohol should not start until after the principal host stands to propose the first toast with a speech or the words Gan Bei (bottoms up), A few courses later, it is customary and courteous for the principal guest to reply in similar fashion.
To observe the "face" of sobriety, you should fill other's glasses as fully as possible, without their spilling over, as a sign of respect and friendship. Be aware of the host who tries to make you drunk or challenge you to a drinking game: it may be a matter of courtesy or honor for him to do so! If you want to stop drinking, be polite and use health problems as excuse.
When it comes to serving food, Chinese dishes are placed in the center of the table and everyone shares the food in the same dishes. Serve others, which is a sign of respect and friendship, by offering the choicest morsels to your neighbors.
When faced with a food you dislike or distrust, accept it but do not eat it or pretend you have sampled it.
Remember to praise the food from time to time during, and at the end of the banquet.
As for chopsticks, do not play with them or point them at anymore. Never leave them in your rice-bowl (an omen of death) or pick up food dropped on the floor.
It is not only polite but also de rigueur for the host to over-order, and guests to leave something on their plates to signify their hunger has been satisfied. Before leaving, the guests should not hesitate to tell their host they have eaten enough.
As a general rule at a banquet, when it comes to paying: the host settles the bills and the guests reciprocate with a return banquet. Splitting bills is unheard of in China.
Tipping is unusual in China too.
The Chinese will sometimes nod as an initial greeting. Bowing is seldom used except in ceremonies. Handshakes are also popular; wait, however, for your Chinese counterparts to initiate the gesture.
If you visit a school, theater, or other workplace, it is likely that you will be greeted with applause as a sign of welcome. In turn, you should respond by applauding back.
Avoid making expansive gestures and using unusual facial expressions
The Chinese do not use their hands when speaking, and will only become annoyed with a speaker who does.
Some hand gestures, however, are necessary. They are outlined in the next two points.
To summon attention, turn your palm down, waving your fingers toward yourself.
Use your whole hand rather than your fingers to point.
The Chinese, especially those who are older and in positions of authority, do not like being touched by strangers.
Acknowledge the most senior person in a group first.
Smiling is not as noticeable in China, since there is a heavy emphasis on repressing emotion.
Members of the same sex may hold hands in public in order to show friendliness.
Public displays of affection between the sexes are frowned upon.
Do not put your hands in your mouth, as it is considered vulgar. Consequently, when in public, avoid biting your nails, removing food from your teeth, and similar practices.
Pushing and cutting ahead is common in lineups among Chinese, but they do not appreciate being cut in front of themselves.
Spitting in public is no longer acceptable. It is subject to a heavy fine now.
Blowing your nose with a handkerchief is also acceptable, but it is advisable to turn away from people while doing so.