It is important to show respect to those to whom respect is due – this is one of the ways in which you can show yourself to be honourable and in turn worthy of respect.
Respect should be shown to age, seniority, party membership, the history and traditions of China, political sensitivities, the company, the region… the list is almost endless. Stand up when a senior person enters the room, offer the seat of honour and be attentive even if the key persons English is weak.
Business cards are always exchanged on first meeting a new contact. Cards are held in both hands when exchanging and then scrutinised in detail. It is best to have your card printed in Chinese on the reverse and always offer it Chinese-side up. Treat the card with great respect as the card is the man.
Handshaking is the norm but a Chinese handshake will tend to be light and lingering. As it is considered impolite to look people straight in the eye, it is customary to look down, lowering the eyes as a mark of respect.
It is common to be involved in a series of meetings rather than one big meeting at which all major issues are disclosed and assessed. Meetings are about building relationships and exchanging information – it is rare for a decision to be made within the meeting. Decisions will be made elsewhere in consensus-style discussions, which involve all the relevant people (including possibly the Party.) As a result of this approach to meetings and their serial nature, patience is very definitely a virtue. Impatience will achieve nothing other than delaying things even more.
Although there is a large amount of well-documented corruption which takes place within the Chinese business environment, the giving of gifts is endemic to Chinese culture and has been for thousands of years. The giving and receiving of gifts is part of the ritual of business relationship development – and in a country where relations are placed firmly before business, gifts are therefore an important business tool. A mere thank you for a favour done is considered rude by the Chinese.
Avoid expensive gifts, as this could be mistaken for bribery (a serious criminal offence) and always wrap the gift. If visiting an organisation, take one gift to present to the whole group. Gifts are often refused two or three times before being accepted and, if wrapped, rarely opened in front of the giver.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
China seems to grow more confident by the day. Is it too strong a statement to say that China is starting to regain its historical position as the pre-eminent global economy? The Chinese government is steadfastly following a policy of internal economic consolidation and international engagement. Wherever you are in the world you can start to feel the impact of Chinese investment and influence. China can no longer be classified as an emerging market. China has emerged and is taking on the world – much as America did in the early twentieth century and Japan in the 1970’s.
How the traditionally pre-eminent global economies such as the USA, Germany and Japan react to the growing strength of China will be fascinating to watch over the coming decades but one thing is sure – China is a force to be reckoned with and cannot be ignored. If you are not currently doing business in (or with) China, you probably should be.
However, China is not easy – somebody once said ‘in China everything is possible – but nothing is easy.’ Before starting to do business in China it is essential that you try to get an understanding of the cultural drivers and expectations of your Chinese contacts. Do you really understand the importance of ‘face’ in China and do you feel confident you can navigate the complexities of Chinese corporate hierarchy? How are you going to develop those all-important relationships and what impact will Chinese long-termism potentially have on your cash-flow forecasts?
China is a land of opportunities but it is also a land of potential bear traps. Do your homework – don’t fail through lack of research and planning.
This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Chinese business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on: