Chinese Etiquette & Manners in Business

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Doing business in China requires preparation.
Doing business in China requires preparation. (Image: Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

When conducting business with Chinese government officials and businessmen, it's important to consider cultural differences regarding etiquette and manners. Some westerners have ruined promising business relationships with Chinese companies by failing to adequately learn about China's customs, before visiting the country. Because of China's large size, business visitors must take into account regional differences in manners and etiquette, as well.

Communication

When communicating with Chinese people about business matters, it proves especially important to observe proper etiquette and manners. The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service recommends carefully giving out business cards and briefly looking at the cards provided by Chinese counterparts. Place such cards on the table, and keep them. Business Continuity Audit warns businessmen to avoid using hand gestures during conversation and urges them not to look directly at Chinese people's eyes. Allow for silences during communication. The U.S. Commercial Service recommends avoiding controversial issues, such as the status of Tibet or Taiwan.

Negativity

It's also part of Chinese business etiquette to avoid expressions of negativity whenever possible. The USDA-FAS warns against openly rejecting suggestions or proposals made by Chinese businessmen. Instead, say you will think about or consider it. At the same time, don't expect Chinese people to openly reject your suggestions. It's also important not to become openly angry or say negative things about Chinese people in front of others. Most cultures do not appreciate such behavior, but Chinese and other people in eastern Asia often will not forgive such actions. Instead, try to compliment or thank businessmen and government officials when possible.

Superstition

Every culture has superstitions that business owners must take note of; U.S. companies try to avoiding using the numbers 13 and 666, for example. In China, people consider the number four unlucky. It's also a bad idea to give Chinese people umbrellas, clocks or cutting instruments as gifts, according to China-Window.com. The color of gift wrap matters as well; Business Continuity Audit warns against wrapping gifts in black or white. Another superstition involves eating. The U.S. Commercial Service recommends that you don't turn over a fish on your plate while eating a meal in China; some people believe that doing this will make a fishing vessel sink.

Reserved Behavior

China remains relatively conservative culturally, though not to the same extent as some nationalities and religious groups. An essential component of Chinese business etiquette is to behave in a reserved manner. At the same time, try to become friends with Chinese business counterparts and build trusting relationships. The USDA recommends wearing formal clothing during business meetings. Under some circumstances, it may be acceptable to wear casual outfits after creating an ongoing relationship. The U.S. Commercial Service indicates that handshakes are considered normal, but business visitors should avoid going beyond this (such as hugging). Chinese people generally don't object to drinking alcoholic beverages, but you must use care to maintain proper manners and avoid insulting anyone.

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