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Business Culture

China - Business Culture

It can take a long time to build up business in China, where the culture is based on associations of trust. Especially important is 'guanxi', a relationship in which there are mutual obligations and owed favours between the parties concerned. Hierarchy is also very important, and you should show extreme respect towards older or more senior people.

Arrange appointments in advance, sending multiple copies of literature, translated into the appropriate Chinese dialect. Arrive on time, as a lack of punctuality is insulting. Suits and ties, or conservative clothes for women, are appropriate for business meetings.

The usual Chinese greeting is a slight bow, but many Chinese will shake hands with westerners. When introducing yourself, give your company name first. Address your contact by their title followed by their family name, e.g. Mr Chu, Director Wong. When exchanging business cards, use both hands. Read a card given to you and place it on the table or into a card case, not straight into your wallet or pocket.

The most senior person will sit at the head of the table, and should always be addressed first. The Chinese will appoint someone to be their spokesperson and will expect the same of their visitors. Contributions by others should be kept to a minimum. Small talk is common at the start of meetings; avoid sensitive topics such as politics or religion.

The Chinese are skilled negotiators, and try to secure concessions, often appearing weak and vulnerable. Be firm but ready to make compromises, to allow them to save face. "Losing face" is very shameful in Chinese society, and you should never cause this by embarrassing or criticizing anyone. Outright negative responses should be also avoided: follow the Chinese example of giving more general answers.

Be prepared for delays in decision-making, as the Chinese will consider all aspects in details, and may wait for an auspicious date to conclude a deal. Exercise patience and self-restraint, as this will gain you respect.

Although it is officially illegal to accept business gifts in China, in practice this is commonplace. Gifts should not be too cheap, nor too expensive, as there will be a perceived obligation to reciprocate. Clocks, handkerchiefs, umbrellas, white flowers, knives or scissors are inappropriate as these are extremely unlucky. A pair of something is a good choice, as this indicates harmony. Alternatively, suitable gifts include hospitality in the form of a banquet, a craft from your home country, or a good writing pen. Wrap the gift, but avoid white, black or blue paper as these are associated with funerals. Red, gold and silver are lucky colours.

You will probably be invited to dine with your Chinese hosts, but business is not normally discussed over dinner. Communal dishes of food will be provided, from which you serve yourself. Never place your chopsticks upright in your bowl as this is unlucky. Leave a little food in your bowl at the end of the meal to signify that you have had sufficient.

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