Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Learning the Business Customs in China


Many professional expats are looking to China for a new home. Many graduate from top-notch schools and cannot find their dream job in their home country, so they look to the East. Before considering such a move, you should familiarize yourself with some of the common business customs in China. Keep in mind that many of these customs are taken more seriously with older generations than with younger ones.

One key factor is that Chinese people often won’t like to do business with people they do not know personally. It is a good idea, and sometimes completely necessary, to work through an intermediary. This person should be a good representative to vouch for the legitimacy of your company.

If you are going on a business trip to China, you should also send out some materials about your company translated into Chinese describing its history, facts and figures, prior to your departure. The Chinese company will often use other intermediaries to send information back and ask further questions. You’ll be able to build business relationships through time, but you must be patient and willing to put up with a load of bureaucracy. Patience is an important value in China, reflected by the business world.


Inspired by Confucianism, Chinese society is still very hierarchical, and this is true in the business world. A person’s rank in the company is taken very seriously, and you should be aware of this when communicating with others. High-ranking officials in the company are meant to be communicated with very formally. The business world and the social world usually do not mix. Do not discuss business matters outside of their proper environment.

In terms of meetings, you should make appointments well in advance, perhaps 4-8 weeks, in writing. If you have yet to meet someone from the company personally, you should have an intermediary arrange an introductory session. Arrive at Chinese business meetings either on time or a little early. Chinese people take being late seriously. Every Chinese business person will probably have an agenda with what they attempt to discuss. You should send them your company’s agenda prior to this meeting session, so they can have a heads up as to if they need to prepare anything (such as an overhead projector). You’ll have to be patient when listening to other people, as they may ramble on for a while.

Expect people’s cell phones to go off during the meeting too. At the table, you’ll probably be escorted to a designated seat. The seats are arranged in rank order, and seniors sit opposing other seniors. If you are not fluent in Chinese, you should bring an interpreter to help you out. If you are using a power point with images, you should try to keep them in black and white, because colors sometimes have certain implications that you did not intend.

If the business meeting involves negotiation, have the most senior person of your company take care of this. It is unlikely that a decision will be reached right away; be patient.

In terms of clothing, business attire is conservative and dark. Men should wear conservative suits. Women should wear either conservative suits or dresses that go up to the neck line and flat shoes. Try not to wear bright colors.

If you are going to exchange business cards, this process is done after introductions. Have one side of your business card translated into Chinese, in simplified characters. Your business card should include your personal title. When handing it to a Chinese person, hold it in both hands, with the Chinese side facing them.


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