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Business Guide

• Basic Business Etiquette in China

Business cards are exchanged during an initial meeting. Using both hands to distribute and accept business cards demonstrates respect. Always hand your card to the person instead of putting it on the table, as this will normally be regarded as being arrogant, and ensure that the writing faces the person to whom you are presenting your cards. Once accepted business cards, do not immediately put the cards in a pocket or wallet, which is considered rude in China. It is better to print the business cards in English on one side and simplified Chinese on the other. Foreigners inevitably have different habits and customs from the Chinese, and the Chinese accept that.

When doing business in China, it is of crucial importance to build contacts you may employ to act as intermediaries. This will bring about multiple benefits, as they can act as a reference, be your interpreter and navigate the legal, political and local systems and local business networks.

Chinese people demonstrate friendliness by asking personal questions related to family, marriage, children and working experiences, even at the first meeting. Chinese married couples are very pleased to talk about their children, when asked. So it is safe ground, and even polite, to begin with these personal topics during business meals. However, be cautious about bringing up potentially sensitive topics such as politics and human rights, as the ensuing result may be a heated (and sometimes quite patriotic) debate with one’s Chinese hosts.

Exchanging small gifts is very common between business partners as tokens of friendship and links in China. It is important to bear in mind that it is the intention that matters, not the value of gifts.

The concept of hierarchy influences all business relationships in China. Chinese companies emphasize equal seniority of counterparts, for example, General Manager meets General Manager, and salesperson meets salesperson. It is the title which is pivotal when asking for a meeting or formal introduction with a VIP, not the actual responsibility borne by that VIP.

Prior to any meeting, always send an agenda. This will allow you to have some control over the flow of the meeting. The Chinese approach meetings differently, so rather than beginning with minor or side issues, work your way up to the core issue.

Meetings must be made in advance. It is suggested that some literature regarding one’s company be provided to one’s Chinese counterparts. Avoid meeting on all national holidays, especially Chinese New Year. Punctuality is vital when doing business in China. Ensure you are early, as late arrivals are seen as an insult.

Guests are generally escorted to their seats, and are seated in descending order of rank. Senior staff members generally sit opposite other senior staff members from the other company. Written materials should be available in both English and Chinese simplified characters. In large meetings, the provision of visual materials is quite useful. Attention must be paid to the color arrangement in the visual materials.

It may be common to meet many negotiators in a meeting and their titles may be confusing. At the earliest opportunity, try to identify the decision-maker: bear in mind that only the “big boss” decides the deal


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