Deeply rooted in Chinese society is the need to belong and
conform to a unit, whether the family, a political party or an
organization. The family is the focus of life for most Chinese. Age
and rank are highly respected. However, to the dismay of older
people, today's young people are rapidly modernizing, wearing blue
jeans and sunglasses, drinking Coke and driving motorbikes.
Meeting and Greeting
- Shake hands upon meeting. Chinese may nod or bow instead of
shaking hands, although shaking hands has become increasingly
- When introduced to a Chinese group, they may greet you with
applause. Applaud back.
- Senior persons begin greetings. Greet the oldest, most senior
person before others. During group introductions, line up
according to seniority with the senior person at the head of the
Names and Titles
- Use family names and appropriate titles until specifically
invited by your Chinese host or colleagues to use their given
- Address the Chinese by Mr., Mrs., Miss plus family name. Note:
married women always retain their maiden name.
- Chinese are often addressed by their government or
professional titles. For example, address Li Pang using his title:
Mayor Li or Director Li.
- Names may have two parts; for example: Wang Chien. Traditional
Chinese family names are placed first with the given name (which
has one or two syllables) coming last (family name: Wang; given:
- Chinese generally introduce their guests using their full
titles and company names. You should do the same. Example: Doctor
John Smith, CEO of American Data Corporation.
- The Chinese dislike being touched by strangers. Do not touch,
hug, lock arms, back slap or make any body contact.
- Clicking fingers or whistling is considered very rude.
- Never put your feet on a desk or a chair. Never gesture or
pass an object with your feet.
- Blowing one's nose in a handkerchief and returning it to one's
pocket is considered vulgar by the Chinese.
- To beckon a Chinese person, face the palm of your hand
downward and move your fingers in a scratching motion. Never use
your index finger to beckon anyone.
- Sucking air in quickly and loudly through lips and teeth
expresses distress or surprise at a proposed request. Attempt to
change your request, allowing the Chinese to save face.
- Chinese point with an open hand. Never point with your index
The Chinese are practical in business and realize they need
Western investment, but dislike dependency on foreigners. They are
suspicious and fearful of being cheated or pushed around by
foreigners, who are perceived as culturally and economically
corrupt. It is very difficult to break through the "them vs. us"
philosophy (foreign partner vs. Chinese). In personal relationships,
the Chinese will offer friendship and warm hospitality without
conflict, but in business they are astute negotiators.
- Punctuality is important for foreign businesspeople. Being
late is rude. Meetings always begin on time.
- Business cards are exchanged upon meeting. Business cards
should be printed in English on one side and Chinese on the other.
Make sure the Chinese side uses "simplified" characters and not
"classical" characters, which are used in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
- English is not spoken in business meetings, although some
Chinese may understand English without making it known. Hire an
interpreter or ask for one to be provided.
- Be prepared for long meetings and lengthy negotiations (often
ten days straight) with many delays.
- The Chinese will enter a meeting with the highest-ranking
person entering first. They will assume the first member of your
group to enter the room is the leader of your delegation. The
senior Chinese person welcomes everyone. The foreign leader
introduces his/her team, and each member distributes his/her card.
The leader invites the Chinese to do the same.
- Seating is very important at a meeting. The host sits to the
left of the most important guest.
- There may be periods of silence at a business meeting; do not
- A contract is considered a draft subject to change. Chinese
may agree on a deal and then change their minds. A signed contract
is not binding and does not mean negotiations will end.
- Observing seniority and rank are extremely important in
- The status of the people who make the initial contact with the
Chinese is very important. Don't insult the Chinese by sending
someone with a low rank.
- Chinese negotiators may try to make foreign negotiators feel
guilty about setbacks; they may then manipulate this sense of
guilt to achieve certain concessions.
- Two Chinese negotiating tricks designed to make you agree to
concessions are staged temper tantrums and a feigned sense of
- If the Chinese side no longer wishes to pursue the deal, they
may not tell you. To save their own face, they may become
increasingly inflexible and hard-nosed, forcing you to break off
negotiations. In this way, they may avoid blame for the failure.
Dining and Entertainment
- Dining is used to probe positions without any formal
commitment. Business is generally not discussed during meals.
Meals are a vehicle for indirect business references.
- The Chinese are superb hosts. Twelve-course banquets with
frequent toasts are a Chinese trademark.
- The Chinese sponsoring organization generally hosts a
welcoming banquet. Foreign guests should reciprocate toward the
end of their visits. Invite everyone with whom you have dealt.
- Always arrive exactly on time for a banquet. Never arrive
early for dinner. This implies that you are hungry and might cause
you to lose face.
- Spouses are not usually included in business entertaining,
however, businesspeople may bring their secretaries.
- Be prepared to make a small toast for all occasions.
- The first toast normally occurs during or after the first
course, not before. After the next course, the guest should
- Three glasses -- a large one for beer, soda or mineral water,
a small wine glass and a stemmed shot glass -- are at each place
setting. The shot glass is the one used for toasting.
- It is not necessary to always drain your glass after a ganbei
(bottoms up), although a host should encourage it.
- Do not drink until you toast others at the table. Chinese
consider drinking alone to be rude. Simply raising your glass and
making eye contact is sufficient. If you are toasted, sip your
drink in reply.
- A toast to friendship among companies will help cement a
- Unless you are totally drunk, it is not advised to refuse a
drink. Sipping your drink is perfectly acceptable.
- Leave some food on your plate during each course of a meal to
honor the generosity of your host. It is bad manners for a Chinese
host not to keep refilling guests' plates or teacups.
- Seating is very important. The guest of honor is always placed
at the head of the room, facing the door. Allow the host to begin
eating before joining in.
- Do not discuss business at dinner unless your Chinese
counterpart initiates it.
- Slurping soup and belching are acceptable. Cover your mouth
with your hand when using a toothpick. Put bones, seeds, etc. on
the table, never in your rice bowl.
- Chopsticks are used for all meals. Tapping your chopsticks on
the table is considered very rude.
- When finished eating, place your chopsticks neatly on the
table or on the chopstick rest.
- When hosting, order one dish for every person present and one
extra. In addition, order rice, noodles and buns. Soup usually
comes at some point during the meal. The host should tell his/her
guests to begin eating a new dish before he digs in himself.
- The host (the one who invites) pays the bill for everyone.
- If you are the guest of honor at a dinner, leave shortly after
the meal is finished, as no one will leave before the guest of
- Breakfast meetings are rare, but you may request one.
- Guests are rarely invited to a Chinese home. It is an honor to
be a guest. Be on time or a little early for an invitation, and
take a small gift.
- Bedrooms and kitchens are private. Don't enter these rooms
unless you are invited to do so.
- All dishes are served at once in a home. The host will place
portions of each dish on guests' plates. Sample each dish.
- Rare beef is considered barbaric by the Chinese.
- Conservative, simple, unpretentious, modest clothing should be
worn -- nothing flashy or overly fashionable.
- Women should avoid bare backs, shorts, low-cut tops and
- For business, men should wear sport coats and ties. Slacks and
open-necked shirts are generally suitable in the summer for
business meetings; jackets and ties are not necessary.
- Women should wear dresses or pantsuits for business and should
avoid heavy make-up and dangling, gaudy jewelry.
- Present a gift with both hands. Gifts are generally not opened
upon receiving. Always give a gift to everyone present or don't
give gifts at all.
- Older Chinese usually refuse a gift at first to be polite.
Offer a second time.
- Never give a gift of great value until a clear relationship is
established. This would cause embarrassment and may not be
accepted. Never give gifts in sets (i.e., dishes), but never in
sets of four (a number associated with death).
- Avoid white, which is symbolic of death, especially of
parents, and black, which symbolizes tragedy or death.
- When invited to someone's home, always bring a small gift for
the hostess, such as brandy, chocolates or cakes.
- Be prepared to exchange a modest gift with your business
colleagues at the first meeting. Not giving a gift could start a
business meeting off on the wrong foot.
- Always give gifts to each member of the Chinese delegation
that meets you in the order in which they were introduced.
Suggested gifts: cigarettes (especially Marlboro and Kent), French
brandy, whiskey, pens, lighters, desk attire, cognac, books,
framed paintings. Give more valuable gifts — like cellular phones
or small CD players — to senior level people.
- Give a group gift from your company to the host company.
Present this gift to the leader of the delegation.
- Chinese find "no" difficult to say. They may say "maybe" or
"we'll see" in order to save face.
- Always refer to China as "China" or "People's Republic of
China," never as "Red China," "Communist China" or "Mainland
- Always refer to Taiwan as "Taiwan" or "Province of Taiwan,"
never "China," "Republic of China" (the name adapted by the
Nationalist forces after they fled to Taiwan) or "Free China."
- Do not in any way suggest that Taiwan is not part of China.
- Show respect for older people. Offer a seat or right of way
through the door to a colleague or older person as a polite
- Return applause when applauded.
- Refrain from being loud, boisterous or showy.
- Do not be insulted if the Chinese ask personal questions such
as "How much money do you make?" "How many children do you have?"
or "Are you married?" Just change the subject if you do not want
- Asking about divorce would cause a Chinese person to lose
- Forcing the Chinese to say "no" will quickly end a
- Never say or act like you are starving and don’t ask for a
- Most Chinese women don't wear wedding rings. Don't assume
Especially for Women
- China is a difficult place for anyone to conduct business. A
woman may gain acceptance, but it will take time and will not be
- China is a male-dominated society. However, there are many
women in business in China and some occupy high-ranking positions
and important managerial jobs. One of the principles of the
Chinese communist system is to work toward sexual equality.
- Negotiating teams may have women members. Women may be used to
decline unpopular proposals.
- Businesswomen attend business dinners, but rarely bring their
- Chinese women rarely smoke or drink. However, it is acceptable
for Western women to do so moderately.