Your Etiquette Toolkit For Doing Business in China


Xīn nián kuài lè! That is, Happy New Year! Before you think that it’s a bit late to issue new year’s greetings, a clarification: Happy Chinese New Year. On 16 February 2018, we will officially enter the Year of the Dog. According to the Chinese astrology, owing to the dog’s combined characteristics of intelligence and discipline, the Year of the Dog is an ideal time to begin a new business venture.

Businesses with an eye on expansion are always keen to develop opportunities in new markets, and as the world’s most populous country, China currently represents the third largest consumer market in the world and is the second largest economy and importer of goods. But as the spending power of Chinese consumers continues to expand, its potential for growth is staggering. As you can imagine, western companies are clambering over each other to get the edge in this gigantic market. The successful ones are those that take the time to master the nuances of Chinese business customs.

Know Before You Go

Just like finding the right investor for your company, building a strong network of potential Chinese business partners requires a proactive approach backed by thorough research. Research not only about the company you’re seeking to do business with, but also about cultural sensitivities that could stop a deal dead in its tracks.

A few basic pointers worth noting:

  • Chinese culture places a high value on respect and formality, so while it’s important to be yourself, avoid being too casual in your manner.
  • Dress to impress at personal meetings but keep it low key and conservative. You want to convey prestige without being showy.
  • Avoid too strong a grip when shaking hands as this can be perceived as aggressive.
  • Establishing and maintaining connections is important. If you have the resources, hire a local representative to keep up regular contact with your Chinese clients.
  • Learn at least a few Mandarin or Cantonese greetings. Even when you have an excellent interpreter, this extra effort is much appreciated.
  • Keep your schedule in China flexible to be able to accept any offers of hospitality. A declined invitation will be interpreted by your host as “losing face.”
  • Similarly, if a Chinese delegation is visiting your company in the UK, be prepared to wine and dine your guests with a sit-down meal.
  • Occasions such as the above are seen as an opportunity to build relationships, but not to do business.

The Art Of Gift Giving

Being aware of gift giving etiquette is particularly important. While the Chinese are loosening restrictions on gift giving, the gift may be refused if it could be interpreted as a bribe. For this reason, gifts should only be presented after the business has been concluded, and then only in the context of friendship. When giving something of value, make sure this takes place in private rather than in front of a group, as this could be embarrassing for the receiver of the gift. Typical luxury brand business gifts will certainly be appreciated, but there’s also a risk that they could be interpreted as pressure to reciprocate. Best to reserve the Montblanc item for occasions where a genuine relationship has been established or for special celebrations.

Do make sure the gift is wrapped – red wrapping is considered a lucky choice – but don’t expect it to be unwrapped in your presence. Lastly, be sure to present the gift with both hands. This also applies to business cards and anything that you would hand to another person.

If you’re intrigued to learn more about Chinese business etiquette, extensive information is available here. May the Year of the Dog bring you much success in the Middle Kingdom!

Dragan Sutevski

Posted by Dragan Sutevski

Dragan Sutevski is a founder and CEO of Sutevski Consulting, creating business excellence through innovative thinking. Get more from Dragan on Twitter. Contact Dragan