April 13th, 2012

Chinese Business Etiquette Tips

by Jacqueline Whitmore

Jacqueline Whitmore was featured on Entrepreneur.com

I was surprised and delighted to learn that I was recently recommended as one of the top five Twitter feeds to follow by Entrepreneur magazine. According to the article, Five To Follow, my twitter feed (@etiquetteexpert) offers invaluable insight for entrepreneurs who want to better understand Chinese business etiquette and want to avoid blunders that could foil a potential deal.

If you’re looking to capitalize on the opportunities available in the growing Asian economy, here are my top five tips for doing business in China.

Eating and Drinking: If you are more senior to the person you are toasting, you should raise your glass slightly higher than the other person’s glass. Don’t stick your chopsticks into your food, and especially not into your rice. This is only done at funerals with rice that is put onto the alter. When not in use, leave your chopsticks side by side, down on the table or on a chopstick stand.

Introductions: Never omit official titles, and never call your Chinese contact by his or her first name unless you are invited to do so. Chinese names are traditionally listed in the opposite order from names in the West. Family names (or surnames) are written first, followed by the first name. To show respect, Chinese are addressed only by their family name and title. For example, Hsin Wu would be addressed as Director Hsin or Chairman Hsin, not as Wu.

Personal Space: Typically, Chinese businesspeople bow slightly when greeting another person. Stand approximately 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart. Give yourself enough space to bow without infringing on your counterpart’s space. When greeting foreigners, the Chinese often follow up their bow with a handshake.

Business Cards: Like most aspects of greetings in China, the exchange of business cards should be treated with respect. The Chinese use two hands to present their card. Receive the card with two hands and acknowledge it before putting it away. Your cards should be printed with Chinese on one side and your language on the other.

Negotiations: Generally the Chinese like to build a trusting relationship first before discussing business. Don’t talk business right away. When a contract or other document is presented to you, never sign your name in red ink. In Buddhist traditions, personal names should never be written in red unless the person is dead.

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2 Responses to “Chinese Business Etiquette Tips”

  1. Chinese Business Etiquette Tips | Jacqueline Whitmore | exportcomms on April 15th, 2012 7:26 pm

    […] Via jacquelinewhitmore.com Share this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

  2. Jacqueline on April 16th, 2012 1:33 am

    Thanks to my new friend, Mary Scott, for adding these tips:

    With toasting, you should not assume the higher position unless you’re considerably older. Someone will try to take the lower position with you, and you should try to be lower still. You should think more in terms of deferring humbly to the other person rather than than claiming your “right” to the senior position. This will usually result in a round of “no, no, you are senior,” to which you must respond,” No no, I insist.” Take your cue from whenever the other person gives in. If you are linguistically able to initiate a round of toasts, you’ll get a lot of points. If you drain your glass, even more points.

    This general principle also applies to seating arrangements. The host sits on the inner (back to the wall) seat, the others compete in out-humbling each other until seating is resolved appropriately through a round or two of “no no” and “I insist.” Even if you are clearly the honored guest, you should engage in at least one round of “no, no, I wouldn’t presume, Mr. So and So (someone older than you) should sit there.” But there is a point at which efforts at humility become ridiculous and you should just give in.

    It is understood, however, that the person who invited the others should pay, although there will be a round or two of “no, no” and “I insist” before that happens. One absolutely never proposes splitting the bill, it is Not Done, being considered prima facie evidence of western selfish individualism.

    All of this is done with much joking about who’s senior and who’s older and why any particular other person has a better claim to a particular seat than oneself.

    The rest of what she writes is all correct. The only thing I’d add is to greet the person by name with a smile and a slight bow, then wait a half second to see whether he or she extends a hand before extending your own. If he or she doesn’t, you shouldn’t. People who are used to foreigners often shake hands, but others are a little put off by it.

    There is also gift etiquette. Do bring a gift if you are invited to someone’s home. Fruit– especially if it’s a bit special– is a common and appropriate gift. Good cookies or nuts are welcome, but most Chinese find western sweets are too sweet. A bottle of wine is (red, not white– if they drink wine at all, they drink red. Most Chinese seem to think white wine is sour and nasty) or spirits (a prestige label, so that even if they don’t drink it themselves they can regift or sell it) is a good gift for business associates, as are small luxury items like fountain pens. People often appreciate good quality souvenirs of the US: an uncirculated silver dollar in a frame, for example. Don’ts: anything with a cutting edge, cut flowers, anything white (which suggests death and mourning), anything too intimate like clothing. Home-made gifts do not have the cachet in China that they do in the US, quite the reverse in fact. Some of these don’ts will not apply to younger people or those who are used to foreigners.

    If you have Chinese guests, you should be sensitive to their food preferences. The most conservative people will be repelled by cheese, butter, rare or underdone meat or fish, and rich creamy or chocolate desserts, and they will be nervous about eating raw vegetables and salad. Some people still feel that it’s not a real meal unless there’s rice or noodles. Many people’s food habits have evolved toward more international kinds of food in recent years, but most people still prefer Chinese food to all other kinds. There are regional differences, too: most people are not used to hot, spicy food, but people from Sichuan and Hunan usually prefer it.

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