Do’s and Dont’s of Business Etiquette in China

In emerging economies such as China, as you start or expand your business, having an understanding of Chinese business etiquette can help you build relationships, grow your business, and get a leg up on the competition. Knowing and practicing common customs will also help you relax, avoid embarrassment, and focus on the matters at hand on critical occasions.

• One of the most important things to keep in mind when doing business in China is the power of the first impression. Punctuality is considered a virtue in China. Being on time shows respect for others. Chinese people tend to show up a bit earlier to show their earnestness.
• It’s customary to be introduced through an intermediary that Chinese counterparts know and trust. A handshake is customary when being introduced, but know that they may last longer than Westerners are accustomed to and are not likely to be as forceful. When exchanging business cards, the act of giving and receiving should be done with both hands, a signal that you value the interaction. Don’t pocket the business card instead; place it on the table in front of you.
• In Chinese business culture, tremendous value is placed on the relationships between people and meals and it’s often seen as a way to bond with new associates. Unlike American power lunches, business is rarely discussed over meals in China. Instead, meals should be used as an opportunity for the parties to get to know each other. The Chinese tend to offer a lot of food but don’t forget to sample every dish—it’s considered rude not to try everything.It is acceptable to refuse food if you have dietary restrictions or allergies. Under no circumstances should chopsticks be placed upright in your bowl. This symbolizes death. Nor should you tap your bowl with chopsticks. While local wine can be preferred at banquets, the Chinese more frequently offer strong distilled alcohol called baijiu or maotai (a very special type of baijiu) for toasts. The Chinese know that their alcohol is considered strong for foreigners, and under normal circumstances, they will not push you to drink. Some hosts will provide drinking yogurt to help protect your stomach, which can be helpful to allay the effects of the alcohol. Try to avoid drinking baijiu on an empty stomach as you will feel the effects of the alcohol quickly – it’s a good idea to eat.The host pays. If you are hosting a meal, do not show money in front of your guests. Either have someone slip out and settle the tab or wait until your guests have left before paying.
• Always give and receive gifts or anything of value with two hands. Note that it is common in China for the recipient to refuse the offer of a gift at first. The giver should persist, and the recipient will eventually accept.When wrapping gifts, avoid using white or black wrapping paper, and avoid wrapping elaborately. Consider red or other festive colors.
• Even numbers are considered good luck, with number four being the exception. It is appropriate to send one gift or send them in pairs. It is inappropriate to send a clock or things to do with four as a gift, because they associate with funeral and death. Scissors or sharp things are not proper either, since they symbolize severing relations. Small items like books, music CDs, perfumes, cigarettes and candies from your country are always well received. Never write things in red ink. It symbolizes protest or severe criticism.
• Chinese people are just as proud of their country as visitors are of theirs, and probably more so. They can get a little irritated when customers favor them with criticisms of the country. They know that things are not perfect, and they also know that they, like other countries, are working hard to deal with problems of environment and population and so on. Discussions regarding politics, state leaders, recent history, and issues about Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet are still seen as sensitive.
• Do not back slap, hug or put your arm around someone’s shoulder, which will make a Chinese feel uncomfortable, since they do not like to be touched by strangers. Of course you can do so if you are familiar with each other.

Bonus tip: Remember: China is the People’s Republic of China. Taiwan is the Republic of China.

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