Top 10 Chinese Business Culture “Dos” and “Don'ts”

By: Hubert Hopkins

1. The traditional Chinese "handshake" consists of interlocking the fingers, waving them up and down several times. This greeting is rarely used today (except during festivals, weddings and birthdays of the elderly), instead using the Western-style handshake. A slight bow should often accompanies the handshake, but do not bow from the waist in the style of the Japanese. The Chinese prefer a gentler handshake than the firm grip expected in Western cultures. Physical contact other than a handshake is highly discouraged unless you know someone quite well.

2. Chinese names are "reversed" from Western names. The surname is said first and then the given name. For example, Bruce Lee's name in Cantonese is Lee Siu Lung. Lee is his surname and spoken first, and the given name (Little Dragon) is spoken second.

Professional, social, and family titles always follow the name as well. Dr. Wong would be Huang Yi Sheng (Huang Doctor). Likewise, Xiansheng (Mr.) and Taitai (Mrs.) are said after the surname. Never call someone by only his last name, and unless specifically asked, do not call someone by his first name; always address your Chinese associates by their surname followed by their title.

Also, never address anyone as "Comrade."

3. Business cards are routinely exchanged at the first meeting. Carry bilingual business cards with one side in Chinese, and the other in English. Include:

* Company's name
* Job title
* Special qualifications

When receiving a business card, receive it using both hands and compliment the card itself. Instead of immediately putting it away like in the West, keep the card out during the meeting.

4. Color symbolism is very important in China.

* Red is considered lucky and used in many celebrations. However, do not use red ink to write correspondence. That symbolizes the demise of a relationship.

* Yellow is associated with prosperity, and gold is especially appropriate.

* White is symbolic of death, which distinctly contrasts with Western cultures.

5. Lavish gift-giving was once an important aspect of the Chinese culture. Official policy currently forbids gift-giving since such gestures may be considered as bribes. For this reason, approach gift-giving with discretion. The policy is softening, but sometimes a gift will be declined under all circumstances. Be gracious if this circumstance is to occur, and politely withdraw the gift. Smaller. Less expensive items usually avoid this scrutiny.

The Chinese will politely refuse a gift several times to reflect modesty and humility. Accepting a gift quickly is believed to make them seem greedy or aggressive. Opening a present in front of the giver is also judged the same.

6. The Chinese will often avoid eye contact during conversations, especially when talking to the opposite sex or to strangers. Traditionally, it was considered impolite and aggressive to look directly into another's eyes while talking, and as a sign of respect, the Chinese sometimes lower their eyes slightly when they meet others. The Chinese typically have a "blank" facial expression during introductions. This is not a sign of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or unfriendliness, but reflects the belief that there is virtue in concealing emotions. Chinese communication is ambiguous, indirect and highly contextual. In conversation, the real meaning, especially if it's negative, is often implied rather than stated. What is not said is often more important that what is said.

7. Chinese typically share food from a number of dishes placed in the center of the table rather than the Western practice of individually served dishes. Each party at the table will take food from the common plates. Sometimes, in order to show their friendship and sincerity, Chinese hosts will pick from dishes with their own chopsticks or spoons for you, and place food on your plate. Never place your chopsticks upright in a rice bowl; it replicates the bowl of sand or rice with two upright incense sticks that is traditionally
placed at the shrine of deceased loved one.

8. When meeting someone for the first time for a China sourcing business meeting, you should engage in general conversation before turning to business. Casual conversation topics in China differ from that of English speakers. It is not impolite to ask about:

* A person's job
* Annual salary
* Marital/dating status
* Age

Your answers do not have to be extremely specific, but avoiding direct questions will be viewed with wariness and suspicion. The willingness to answer questions is the important take-away from the conversation. Questions about family tend to be deflected or avoided which is nearly the direct opposite of Western culture.

9. Six, eight and nine are considered lucky numbers, since their homophones have auspicious meanings. Six, liu in Chinese, implies that everything about you will go smoothly. Eight was originally deemed lucky by the Cantonese, since in Cantonese, the word for eight is fa, which means to make a great fortune in the near future. Later, the auspiciousness of eight was taken up by all Chinese. Nine, jiu, implies lasting forever, especially in friendship and marriage. Four and seven are unlucky numbers; the former implies death and the latter means gone.

10. Many common Western gestures are considered rude in China.

* Showing the soles of shoes

* Pointing with the index finger - use a face-up, open hand instead

* Beckoning someone with the index finger - use the hand with fingers motioning downward as in waving instead

* Whistling to get someone's attention

* Finger snapping

Following the aforementioned 10 tips will add help build relationships with your Chinese business partners and greatly increase the prospects for success of your china outsourcing project.

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Hubert Hopkins' China Sourcing firm, US China Business Solutions, has negotiated outsourcing of products with a value in the hundreds of millions of dollars and has been involved with China outsourcing since the early 1980s. Outsourcing metal products to China can be easy and affordable with the correct help. US China

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