7 Chinese Etiquette Tips for Doing Business in China

China has grown to become the most attractive market worth investing in. If you want to expand your business to China, learning Chinese business etiquette is a must. 

Having a solid knowledge of the country you’ll be investing in will help you create a positive work environment as well as develop a strong reputation. In today’s article, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of seven business etiquette tips that you should follow.

1. Greetings and exchanging business cards

Before the influence of Western culture, Chinese people used to greet each other with a nod or a bow. But as handshaking is now globally widespread, it’s used for greetings in China as well. On the other hand, when introduced to a Chinese group, they may greet you with applause. Applaud back and smile.

Use titles and family names when addressing a Chinese person, for example, Director Li. But if they introduce you using their full titles and company names, you should follow the same rule. For example, when Doctor John Smith, CEO of American Data Corporation, introduce you with his full title and company name, you should introduce him back as “Director Li, CEO of Alipay”.

Chinese business cards are exchanged upon meeting. Chinese will use both hands to present their cards, facing the person receiving them so that they can read them. Cards are exchanged individual-to-individual. Remember to always give a business card to the highest-ranking individual first. When you receive a card, always make a comment about it. Focus on the positives, like the logo, business name, and other such elements you will see on the card. Then politely save it in a cardholder or a briefcase, but never a purse or wallet because purse and wallet are considered personal belongings, which would be an inappropriate place to store such business documents. 

2. Dressing 

When you enter the business world, it’s important to know how to dress appropriately. Dress codes can vary from culture to culture, with Westerners preferring more casual outfits and Asian people favoring a more professional style. It’s no surprise that jeans and T-shirts are the favorite outfit combo for many Americans. And if they’re asked to wear formal attire to work every day of the week, 33% would rather quit their job or decline an offer.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the Chinese dress code leans more toward the conservative. If you’re working in the office, you’re expected to wear a suit regardless of your position. And not just any style of suit is accepted; only plain, dark or neutral colors are worn. Men often stick to dark suits ranging from gray to black to brown. And for women, they should be wearing tans and muted pastel dresses. This color rule is also applied to your scarf, tie, and shoes.

Accessories including cuff-links, necklaces, or earrings are acceptable, but you have to keep them subtle and not overwhelming. For women, simple stud earrings are more welcomed than drops or hoops earrings. For men, remove all piercings entirely. 

3. Passing information

The majority of local Chinese companies are either family-owned or government-run and, as such, tend to operate within a hierarchical structure. This hierarchical approach is underpinned by the influence of thousands of years of Confucian philosophy and teaching. Though Confucianism is simply the philosophy of living, it greatly impacts business practices. 

In the business context, the hierarchy concept highly impacts how information is transmitted. Within a company, information flows in the direction of the hierarchical lines, which means an employee isn’t allowed to give a piece of information directly to the boss. Instead, the information is sent from a subordinate to his leader, who will pass it on to his boss, and his boss will pass it on to another boss until it reaches the relevant party. When the information is sent back, it follows the same path in reverse.

See also: 5 Proven Unique Chinese Business Cultures Need To Know

4. Entering and leaving the room

Following the same ideas of Confucious about hierarchy, when a group of Chinese delegation comes for a meeting, they’ll enter the room in order. The person of the highest seniority level should go in first, followed by the next highest-ranking individual. Also, the top-tier of the group will be the one who introduces other team members. 

When the host ends the meeting, everyone in the room is expected to stand up and exchange farewells before leaving. The Chinese will leave the meeting in the same order they came in with the head of the delegation to take the first move.

5. Showing respect

Influenced by the hierarchy concept, senior Chinese managers only expect to deal with their counterparts rather than juniors. For example, when you first meet a Chinese group, the Chinese team leader might first go to your boss before introducing him- or herself to anyone else. 

Chinese juniors always have to take action with great caution if they don’t want to be seen as disrespectful to their leaders. For example, Chinese employees may be unwilling to voice their opinions during the meeting before the boss speaks. Or they may ask for permission from the boss if they want to present their ideas. 

6. Understanding guanxi

Guanxi is literally translated as “relationships.” In the business context, it’s referred to as networks or connections but with mutual obligations and goodwill in order to open doors for new business and facilitate deals. In Western business culture, being rich simply means having lots of money, while in China, you’re called rich if you have both money and a strong, healthy network of relationships. Thus, guanxi is often seen as a cause of corruption under the eye of Westerners. In China, however, it is a normal way of doing business.

In Chinese business culture, guanxi is important in two fields: social ties with suppliers, buyers, and other business intermediaries; and social ties with government officials at various government-regulated agencies. Having a good relationship with your suppliers will have lower overall transactional costs and result in a more efficient supply chain. As a result, your business is more likely to have higher profitability and sustainable growth. And your strong bonds with government officials will result in increasing knowledge about government regulations and receiving privileged access to stocks and resources.

See also: How to Maintain A Strong Business Connection with China

7. Understanding the “face”

In Chinese culture, pride and reputation are highly valued. And when Chinese people talk about those qualities, they use the word “mianzi,” which is translated as “face.” How you are perceived by others and the respect you command from them is very important to Chinese business. There are three concepts centered around “face”: gaining face, losing face, and saving face.

  • Gaining face: Simply put, “gaining face” is the prize you receive for your action, which doesn’t only bring benefits to you but also contributes to the whole community. In the business context, you can gain face in such situations as getting more sales contracts.
  • Losing face: In contrast to gaining face, when you receive criticism for any actions you’ve taken, you’re “losing face.” But you can also lose face through the actions of others, and others can lose face through yours. For example, if you make a mistake in the shipping date, which leads to a late delivery for your customers, it’d devalue the image of your company. In this case, you’ll lose face, and your company will suffer reputational damage.
  • Saving face: Saving face is actually referred to as any action you might take to avoid losing face. For example, if you found out you’ve made a mistake in the shipping date, which might cause your customer to feel irritated to receive a package late, contact them to notify them about the situation. Show them that you always care about customers and take quick action to fix your mistakes is a way to save face. 

The bottom line

Doing business in China may not be as hard as it seems if you have a good understanding of business culture and etiquette in China. By following these tips above, we believe you will create a professional and positive image for your business.

If you’re interested in Chinese culture, history, or language, find more posts like this on Pandanese. Pandanese is a Chinese learning platform that helps users learn Chinese easily by employing mnemonics and Spaced Repetition System (SRS). We encourage you to check out our blog and read as much as you like about language and culture topics before starting your learning!

The easiest way to learn Chinese

Learn more than 6,000 hanzi and vocabulary in a single year.

Try Pandanese!