6 Chinese Business Traditions You Should Be Aware Of

Hong Kong on the waterfront..

The Chinese have several business traditions and customs they follow. (Image:Barth63 via Pixabay)

Different cultures have their own characteristics and propriety of conducting business. China is no different. Whether it is dealing with customers, partners, superiors, juniors, and so on, Chinese business traditions mandate the observation of certain standards.

6 Chinese business traditions you need to know about

1. Generosity

According to ancient Chinese traditions, a businessman is said to become successful only when he is generous. Many traders used to observe this rule when selling goods to their customers. For instance, rice traders in olden times used something called a Sheng as a measurement tool for selling rice. A Sheng was a roughly square-shaped bowl. When customers wanted to buy one Sheng of rice, the seller would fill the bowl all the way to the top and then flatten the surface to get an accurate measurement.

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However, the sellers would then do something interesting — they would add a small quantity of rice on top as an extra so that the customers get more rice than they ordered. Other businesses like wine sellers, textile merchants, vinegar dealers, etc., would all follow this practice. Even now, some businesses continue to adhere to the idea of giving the customers something extra. 

2. Mianzi/Face

According to ancient Chinese traditions, a business is said to become successful only when the owner is generous.
According to ancient Chinese traditions, a businessman is said to become successful only when he is generous. (Image: via Pixabay)

The concept of mianzi insisted that businessmen be courteous when dealing with others. Things that would make the other party lose face, like exposing their faults publicly, disrespecting them, mocking, etc., were strictly prohibited. In short, any sort of direct confrontation or disagreement that would embarrass the people involved would be considered uncivilized. Instead, merchants are supposed to be courteous with each other, even complementing when required.

3. Hierarchy

There is a strict focus on hierarchy in Chinese businesses, a trait that dates back to ancient times. People are expected to show respect to those with higher status or seniority. In business, it means strict obedience to the decisions of the management. To brazenly go against the rules set by the upper management would be considered rude.

4. Integrity

In ancient times, merchants in China used to believe that cheating their customers would bring them bad luck and bad fortune. And if they carry on cheating on a large scale, it was said that their lives would be cut short. You will find many ancient stories that talk about merchants sacrificing their own profits for the sake of their customers. Today, such beliefs would be relegated as superstitions. However, many Chinese businesses do stress integrity in their dealings.

5. Guanxi 

The idea of guanxi is concerned with relationships between people. “It is a net of elaborate relationships promoting co-operation and trust and for many past years was the key way of accomplishing daily tasks. Creating a sincere, supportive relationship based on common respect is a significant aspect of Chinese ethnicity. In the global business, acquiring the right guanxi is important for ensuring the reduction of frustrations and difficulties that are frequently encountered,” according to Merar.

A handshake.
The idea of Guanxi is concerned with relationships between people. (Image via Max Pixel)

6. Doctrine of the Mean

The Doctrine of the Mean is basically a Confucian idea and proposes that people actively avoid conflict and competition. Instead, they are encouraged to maintain harmony. In a business, it would mean that the internal organizational structure is harmonious with each other, never trying to pull each other down. A lack of harmony means that trust between people will not be established, mianzi will not be observed, and guanxi cannot be established.

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