5 Chinese Business Etiquette Rules

Shanghai skyline.

Chinese businesses have their own etiquette, which is different from the U.S. (Image: via Wikimedia Commons)

Business cultures in the U.S. and China are quite different. If you plan on visiting China for professional reasons, it is necessary that you educate yourself about basic Chinese business etiquette. This will make the other party view you favorably since it indicates that you have put in the time to know exactly how to interact with Chinese people.

Chinese business etiquette rules

1. Communication

Americans are accustomed to communicating in a direct manner, and aggressively pursuing their clients. However, such an attitude in China can make your clients feel uncomfortable and wary of you. Be polite and never show any aggressiveness when dealing with your Chinese counterparts. Treating them with respect will earn their trust. Do not be shocked if the clients start asking personal questions since this is quite normal. In fact, this might also indicate that they are seeing you as someone trustworthy.

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When giving a handshake, never be as firm as in the U.S. Just give a soft, short handshake. The Chinese usually bow to show respect. So if you see the other party bowing, do the same toward them. Do not make eye contact for a long time. Avoid using your index finger when pointing toward any Chinese person in the room as this is seen as impolite. If you wish to point to someone, use an open palm.

As far as possible, avoid saying “no” excessively in discussions. If unsure, say: “I’ll need more time to think on the matter,” or something similar. Plus, never ever talk about politics or criticize the Communist Party while in China. Most businessmen will run away from you as far as possible if they think that your views are against the Party to avoid any future problems with the state.

Business cards should have Mandarin on one side and English on the other.
Business cards should have Mandarin on one side and English on the other. (Image: via Pixabay)

2. Business cards

When you print business cards for China, ensure that they have Mandarin on one side and English on the other. “Present your card with two hands, with the Chinese side up and facing the other person. Receive a card with two hands, study it briefly, and place it into a business card holder — never your wallet or pocket. In China, business cards are treated as extensions of the person, so you’ll want to treat any business card you receive with great respect,” according to CNBC.

3. Addressing colleagues

When addressing someone, use their family name or surname. Plus, keep in mind that the Chinese use family names first followed by personal names. For instance, a name like John Tudor will usually be named Tudor John according to Chinese tradition. When you meet someone with the name ‘Chen John’, address them as “Mr. Chen” and not “Mr. John.” Plus, if the person you are talking to has a respectable title, use that title in their name. So if Chen is the president of the company, call him “President Chen.”

4. Giving gifts

It is normal for people to give gifts to their clients when meeting, especially for the first time. The gift should represent the place you come from. To the other party, a gift indicates the sign of respect and the desire that you want to sincerely develop a relationship with them. Remember to give the gift with both hands. 

Giving gifts is normal in Chinese business etiquette when meeting important people.
Giving gifts is normal in Chinese business etiquette when meeting important people. (Image: via Pixabay)

Avoid gifting the following since they are seen as inauspicious — handkerchiefs, clocks, white flowers, and umbrellas.

5. Hierarchy

In America, subordinates might offer opinions that challenge those of their seniors. This is usually taken as good team spirit. However, hierarchy plays a big role in China. Decisions taken by people who are above you are considered final in the country. To challenge their decisions in front of others is seen as an insult. So if you are assigned to work under someone, avoid challenging their opinions. Talk through other indirect channels to let your opinion be known. 

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