Top cultural tips for a business trip to China
If you’re doing business these days, it’s hard to avoid China. You might be buying products from China or you might be trying to sell your product to someone in China. In either case, it’s critical for business traveller’s planning a trip to China to understand potential cultural differences before they go.
Before your visit, it is a good idea to prepare yourself by studying aspects of Chinese culture,history and geography. Your hosts will appreciate your initiative.
When scheduling your appointments, be sensitive to holidays such as the Chinese New Year, which changes yearly, as many businesses will be closed. Being late for an appointment is considered an insult in Chinese business culture.
You’ll find it beneficial to bring your own interpreter, if possible, to help you understand the subtleties of everything being said during meetings.
Since there is such a strong emphasis on hierarchy in the Chinese culture, ensure that you bring a senior member of your organization to lead the discussions. The Chinese will do the same.
In accordance with Chinese business protocol, people are expected to enter the meeting room in hierarchical order. For example, the Chinese will assume that the first foreigner to enter the room is head of the delegation and will acknowledge the most senior person first. Watch and do the same.
The Chinese will nod or bow slightly as an initial greeting. Handshakes are also popular however, so wait for your Chinese counterpart to initiate the gesture.
The Chinese are very keen about exchanging business cards. Be sure to bring a plentiful supply. Ensure that one side is in English and the other is in Chinese.
It’s an asset to have your business cards printed in gold ink. In Chinese business culture, gold is the colour of prestige, prosperity. Present your card with two hands and the Chinese side facing the recipient.
When receiving a business card, examine it carefully for a few moments, and then place it into your card case or on the table. Not reading a business card or stuffing it directly into your back pocket will be a breach of protocol.
Any tips on gestures?
The Chinese do not use many gestures or demonstrative expression when speaking and will become annoyed with someone who does.
Emotion is often repressed and humility is a virtue, so avoid displaying emotional or boastful behaviour.
What is important to know about the decision making process in China?
In Chinese business, responsibility for many decisions rests with the Communist party and government bureaucrats. Individuals working within this business network are held accountable for their actions and must adhere to the protocol.
You may have to make several trips to China to achieve your objectives. Chinese businesspeople prefer to establish a strong relationship based on ‘trust’ before closing a deal.
Use your whole hand, rather than your index finger, if you ever need to point.
What types of topics are appropriate (or inappropriate) for conversation?
“Small talk” is considered especially important at the beginning of a meeting. The question “Have you eaten?” is the equivalent to “How are you?”. Simply answer, “Yes”, even if you haven’t actually eaten.
Never interrupt during meeting discussions. At the end of a meeting, you will be expected to leave before your Chinese counterparts.
The Chinese will not directly say “no” to you. Instead, ambivalent answers such as “Perhaps”, “I’m not sure”, “I’ll think about it”, or “We’ll see” usually mean “No.”
What are some good suggestions for topics of conversation?
The Chinese scenery and landmarks
The weather, climate and geography in China
Your positive experiences traveling in China and your travels in other countries
Inquiries about family, especially children (but don’t probe)
Chinese art and culture
What are some topics of conversation to avoid?
Avoid mentioning Taiwan. If the subject comes up, never refer to this country as “The Republic of China” or “Nationalist China.” The correct term is “Taiwan Province”, or just “Taiwan.”
Refrain from using the terms such as “Red China”, “Mainland China,” and “Communist China.”
Don’t say anything that could be considered insulting as it will cause “loss of face” and could damage the relationship. “Saving face” is an important concept to understand.
Avoid any discussion around communism and the government.
Avoid discussing anything that would cause the Chinese to feel inferior in any way