Anyone who has engaged in cross-cultural business knows that spending a little bit of time to understand the other culture will go a long way towards producing business success.

This is especially true in China, where business relationships usually require some form of personal relationship. In this country, business partners typically go through a long process of “courtship,” which will likely entail banquets and other events aimed at getting to know each other on a personal level, as well as a string of meetings where business progresses at a snails pace. This process is vital from the Chinese perspective, as the nation’s cultural values emphasize long-term relationships and prosperity over quick, impersonal deals.

For those not familiar with the culture, a long and seemingly random list of faux pas must also be kept in mind to avoid an offense that can break down business communications. For example, when giving a gift to a Chinese counterpart, be sure to avoid green hats, watches, pears, books, white flowers, and any gift in the quantity of four. From the Chinese perspective, these gifts hold implications ranging from cuckoldry to death.

Of course, an American operating in China needs to do more than simply avoid a long list of taboos. The surest way to garner respect and appreciation is to proactively learn about Chinese culture. Try to learn a few basic phrases, and ask for help with your pronunciation. This simple act of showing effort can not only gain your counterparts’ respect, but can also break the ice in a potentially uncomfortable setting. You can also woo your hosts by displaying an interest and basic knowledge of Chinese history, geography, or the nation’s many scenic spots.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is to have plenty of patience. China has a history dating back over 3,500 years, and is currently pursuing economic policies that will enable it to be around for at least another 3,500. Chinese culture strongly emphasizes conservatism, and long-term planning. Do not expect to close any deals on your first trip to the Middle Kingdom. Instead, focus on establishing the groundwork for a business relationship that will last for decades.

For more information on Chinese culture, check out our culture page from Country Insights, and the Doing Business in China Module.

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