Why China etiquette business is important?

In a relatively short historical process, China has returned to what it has been for most of history, one of the world’s great powers. The great decline came in the middle of the nineteenth century with the Opium Wars and continued until the early eighties of the twentieth century.

Throughout history, people have always had to understand the Etiquette of China. Many delegations who came to visit and give gifts to the emperor were required to adhere to strict rules of ceremony and to follow the Chinese Etiquette.

In this sense, not much has changed, anyone who wants to do business in China, anyone who wants to live in China, who wants to connect with Chinese, must understand the Code of Conduct with Chinese. This article details the basic rules of Chinese Etiquette.

My personal background in China

I lived and worked for a year and a half in Taiwan and visited many times in China and Taiwan. I have been working for many years with Chinese and Taiwanese customers and I have gained extensive experience. In addition to working with Chinese, and traveling in Taiwan and China, I have studied Chinese history and culture in depth.

Understanding Chinese Etiquette

In order to understand what not to do in China, it is important to know some basic history of China. It will help to understand Chinese customs and Chinese culture facts.

Chinese culture is one of the oldest civilizations in the world that have maintained cultural continuity for thousands of years. Other examples of such cultures are Hindu and Jewish cultures. Japanese culture is also ancient but much younger in comparison to the others. It dates to the second century CE.

For more than two thousand years, China was governed by an imperial rule, each time a line dynasty changed, until the end of an imperial rule at the beginning of the twentieth century.

From the mid-nineteenth century to the end of the 1970s, China lost more than 100 million people in a series of wars, internal rebellions, and apocalyptic man-made disasters.

The unity of China and the importance of a strong central government has been one of the cornerstones of Chinese philosophy for thousands of years. The trauma of the disintegration of the central government in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, together with all the disasters and the enormous price of human life, left their mark on China.

Chinese Etiquette and Chinese Business Etiquette

Disclaimer: It should be considered that China is a huge country with 1.38 billion people, so the list refers to the Chinese in generalization and there are obviously a lot of exceptions. Some of the things will fit other places in the world and not only in China but in China they have special emphasis.

Is there a difference between Chinese and Taiwanese?

Most of the Taiwanese I knew (and loved very much) saw themselves as different from the Chinese in China, and there are differences between Chinese and Taiwanese. But for a stranger like me who comes from outside, these differences are visible only to some extent.

Overall, in the most significant things for people, such as family, language, history, culture, holidays, food, business culture, communication and more aspects, there is a huge similarity between Chinese and Taiwanese, so from now on, when I use the term “Chinese”, I refer to both Chinese and Taiwanese.

The Importance of MianZi 面子  (“to save face”)

The meaning of this Chinese term is “to save face”. The veil or cover of the face is, in fact, the dignity of every person and is the most important thing for him. To harm Mianzi is considered an act that can not be done. There are many examples of this, here are two examples, one in a business environment and one when traveling in China.

Mianzi characters

When traveling: Say you are not satisfied with the service you received at a hotel or that the clerk in the lobby made a mistake. Under no circumstances, you should insult him or offended by near his colleagues by yelling at him or to comment him bluntly. For a Chinese person, this is an unforgivable act.

In a business environment: Suppose you represent an international company that works in China and you find that one of the Chinese employees misused the equipment your company sold to the Chinese.

The Chinese worker should not be scolded by you near his colleagues. For him, this is a social disaster. You must find another way to explain things to him.

Chinese Politics

China has been undergoing dramatic changes since the 1980s. A few years ago, I met a couple in the US who were present at the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and hear from them first-hand what happened there. Some things have changed since then and some things haven’t changed.

Political freedom to form parties has not changed, but economic freedom has changed dramatically. You can initiate and enrich in China almost freely.

According to my personal experience in China, the Chinese are very open to general discussions about politics, history and what is happening in the world. They are very interested in the way they are perceived by strangers and enjoy hearing especially good things about China.

Chinese business etiquette
Xi Jinping, China’s president

But this is definitely a topic that needs to be dealt with carefully. An absolute majority of the Chinese will not cooperate with a discussion of internal Chinese politics, which will include slander of Communist Party rule. They will not endanger themselves. Most of them are quite satisfied with the freedom and economic prosperity and are concentrated in this.

You can also talk about controversial issues like Taiwan or the United States, but in my personal experience, the Chinese are very patriotic and united on these issues.

The rule is: do not talk about the Communist Party and the Chinese government, but it is certainly possible to talk about political issues. 

Law in China

This is a recommendation that is valid everywhere but even more in a place where you do not understand the language and the mentality.

Do not risk yourself. China is a state with a strong centralized rule. There is no lawlessness, certainly not in the big cities. Just act normal and keep the law.

Guanxi (關係)

The second most important basic term (including the Mianzi) in China is Guanxi, which means a network of connections. It is a major part of Chines customs and traditions and Chinese family traditions

The family is an important component and is a significant part of the Confucian tradition that was resurrected in China after the death of Mao Zedong. The Chinese are very family oriented and they are very connected inside the family (extended family). Many businesses in China and Hong Kong are built on family ties.

Chines customs and traditions 

For Chinese, personal contact is the most important thing. It will come mainly expressed in business but certainly not only. The Chinese like to sit together, eat together, drink together, get drunk together, laugh together, smoke together.

It is much easier then to be with them in any relationship. This is very different from Europe or the US where the business ties can be very dry and crisp, without any personal touch. In China it is impossible. Therefore, if you want a relationship or partnership with Chinese, you can’t skip the personal contact stage.

Do not assume they understand you

Do not assume that you are being understood unless you know for sure that the Chinese person you are talking with, speak good English (or any other language you are speaking with him).

If a Chinese person speaks stuttering English and you speak fluent English, even if you explained something and the Chinese nodded his head as if he understood, do not assume that he did.

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The Chinese will not humiliate himself and show you that he did not understand you and he wouldn’t like to make you feel uncomfortable by being misunderstood.

How do you make him understand (assuming he does not speak English very well):

  1. Talk slowly, slightly, stop and ask if understood, and then ask what was understood
  2. Use apps that can help translate

True, it really slows down the conversation, but on the other hand what is better? A quick conversation and he did not understand anything?

Sex traps for tourists

In the big cities of China, young cute girls walk around, looking completely innocent. They make contact with tourists on the main streets and tourist areas and offer massage. These girls are lures of criminal organizations that operate brothels and squeeze out tourists who have been caught in their trap.

Those who fall into the trap and join the “innocent” girl will fall into the hands of Chinese criminals who will extract large sums of money before releasing him.

how to behave in China

In the past, I hung out with a friend on one of Shanghai’s main streets in the evening and a cute young girl turned to us, spoke excellent English and tried to make friends with us. After a few minutes, a few policemen appeared on the patrol, they stopped the girl and prevented her from continuing with us.

She yelled at them and tried to protest but they simply stopped her physically. Later we realized through a local friend what was behind things.

Do Not Get Lost in China 

The vast majority of Chinese do not speak English and do not read English but it is still the easy part of the problem …

Tourist places, streets, hotels, get two names, one name in a Chinese and second name is an English name (not in all cases). The ordinary Chinese knows the Chinese name and not the foreign name…

how to behave in China
There is always a Chinese name

If you leave the hotel and want to go back to it, or if you want to go somewhere, you must have a Chinese text (a note or in your smartphone) that says the name of the place in Chinese, otherwise, you will not be able to reach it …

Do Not Be Too Blunt

The Chinese do not appreciate the expression of feelings too blatant. If you are angry or nervous about something, do not lose control of yourself and do not shout and make movements with your hands. The Chinese will not appreciate it, on the contrary, they will underestimate you. They’ll be deterred from you.

Age Reference

Confucian tradition is hierarchical. It defines five basic relationships between people in each hierarchy. An adult will always be more senior than a young person. In the business context, this is very significant. If, for example, you are sitting with a few  Chinese people, do not contact the young person in the first room unless you know clearly that he is the most senior.

Chinese business culture  

If you are an adult with grey/white hair, you can win their respect faster. Of course, there are other parameters that will influence but this is rule of thumb in China, age plays an important role. By the way, this is also true for Japan, which also absorbed a very strong Confucian influence. 

Business Cards and Chinese Greetings 

If you exchanged a business card with Chinese, never push the business card into the back or front pockets of your pants.

Get it with both hands, bow lightly, put it in front of you on the table for the session and then insert it respectfully into the bag or the front pocket of your shirt.

Chinese Conservatism

Chinese society is a conservative society and as already written, the Confucian tradition is very dominant and conservative. Exposed clothing is not recommended anywhere, definitely not in the business environment.

Chinese communication

The dress code both for men and for women, should not be as meticulous as in Japan but still need to uphold it.

Eating, Drinking and Discussion Limits

The Chinese are very curious to hear what foreigners think of them. I had the privilege of being a guest in many breakfasts, lunches and dinners with Chinese, customers and colleagues. As long as we did not drink too much, the Chinese were very curious to hear how foreigners see China, what they think of China, its place in the world, it’s future. The Chinese love to entertain, they like to be happy, to eat, to drink together.

They highly value those who drink with them and they definitely gain points… Unlike the past, the Chinese do not criticize or speak about the ruling party, but they are not afraid to talk about more general politics, and especially to question (positively) foreigners about it.

do and don't in china
Typical Chinese table

A typical Chinese meal takes place near a roundtable with a rotating round glass plate. The dishes served are central dishes and everyone shares them. Rotate the glass plate and move the dishes from one to the other.
Many of these restaurants have private rooms for business meals. Smoking is almost always allowed, and Chinese people drink business meals, even in the midday hours.

You will need to adapt yourself to the atmosphere, rules, and customs, it will help you build your connections with the Colago from China and in any case, make your stay in China more enjoyable.

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