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7 Crucial Tips for Chinese Business Etiquette- Chinese Lessons in Perth

Navigating the Chinese culture without offending your business associates is not an easy task.

Understanding the cultural differences will not only earn you respect at work but may play a deciding factor when it comes to talking to prospects, meeting a client, or closing a deal.

Here are Intlang’s top tips for succeeding in Chinese business etiquette.  

1)      The importance of face “mianzi”

If you only remember one Chinese etiquette from this blog, make it this one.

Not only is “saving face” possibly the most important rule to abide by when dealing with the Chinese, it is often also the most difficult for those of us who are non-Chinese to fully understand.

Have you ever wondered why the Chinese seem so polite or placid? Have you ever travelled to an Asian country and wondered why the locals will shyly smile instead of saying no?

This behaviour and the vague responses that come with it are attributed to the fact that losing face in China (and in many other Asian cultures) can mean great shame and exclusion.

A common example:

In Australian office culture staff are encouraged to ask questions, make suggestions or even propose an alternative idea or disagree. In China however, these acts are the equivalent of shouting obscenities in someone’s face; Highly offensive and likely to result in a significant fracture in relationships- “Loss of face”.

Consequence:

A loss of face can have catastrophic consequences on any business negotiations. This may result in your Chinese associate completely cutting off all relations. Therefore “saving face” is more than necessary- it’s crucial.

2)      Business cards

The exchanging of business cards will likely be your first module in Chinese business lessons, as well as your first interaction with your Chinese counterparts. However, the correct etiquette goes beyond just accepting with both hands.

Did you know that the way you design, present, introduce and store your business cards all require careful consideration?

To really impress the Chinese, consider choosing a Chinese name and presenting this alongside your English name. Chinese appreciate these small gestures which will make pronunciation much easier for them.

3)      Business socialising

Socialising is an inseparable part of business and daily living in China, especially when Chinese prefer to do business with family and friends whom they trust.  

It is important to remember that Chinese socialising is all part of a greater character assessment process and relationship building.

For this reason, you should keep in mind that some discussion topics should be avoided.

Think Tiananmen, Taiwan and Tibet…best to not go there.

4)      Hierarchy

The Chinese have great respect for hierarchy, in fact, the topic can be traced all the way back to the philosophies of Confucius.

Respect for elders is accepted in Western countries, yet in China this hierarchy is taken much more seriously. Within businesses and the family home, school and university, the opinions of seniors have much more leverage.

Example:

Promotions in China are often based on seniority rather that the ability to perform, and advice from senior members of a business are more respected and valued than advice from a younger person.

Outcome:

Ageist? Maybe. Respectful? Definitely.

5)      Be Humble

There are many quotes that highlight the significance of Chinese modesty.

“He who speaks without modesty will find it difficult to make his words good” – Confucius.

“The Chinese have an excellent proverb: be modest in speech, but excel in action”- Horace Mann.

Often misunderstood as a lack of confidence, Chinese modesty is displayed as emphasizing action over words.  

If you’re in a business environment, remember that your Chinese colleagues will downplay their skills and shrug off positive praise by pointing out where they could have done better.

Do not mistake this as low self-esteem.

6)   Dining Etiquette (Another imperative Chinese lesson in business etiquette)

Chopsticks, toasting, seating and the physical act of eating. They all have their own unique best-practice etiquette. The Chinese love discussing business over food and drinks, so when doing business in China, you will likely be asked out for a meal.  

Chinese dining etiquette is complex. For the sake of brevity, here is an overview of some important considerations.

First and foremost, there will always be an order in which guests must sit down at a Chinese dinner. Simply wait until you are prompted to sit down to avoid any loss of face.

If you finish your plate of food and are too full for a second serving, don’t learn the hard way and end up so full you need rolling out of the restaurant. The Chinese will continue to refill an empty plate out of courtesy. If you’re full, leave some food on your plate to signify it.

Chopstick table manners are important. The way you place your chopsticks could either signify a funeral or that you’re begging for money. Don’t point your chopsticks at anyone and don’t use your chopsticks like you would a fork- learn how to use chopsticks before traveling to China.

Intlang’s Perth based Chinese lessons allow you to practice dining etiquette in person when you attend a local Chinese restaurant during your training.

7)      Gifting Etiquette

Gifts are often exchanged during official business meetings in China. Did you know that when giving money, certain amounts need to be avoided?

As should clocks, watches, knives and scissors.

Remember that thing called saving face? This applies to gift giving. Chinese will most likely not immediately open your gift, not wanting to appear greedy.

Much like dining etiquette, there are many nuances that revolve around gift giving in China.

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All in all, Chinese people are usually very aware of cultural differences and understand that mistakes can be made without meaning to ever offend. Your Chinese counterparts will simply appreciate the fact that you have made an effort.  

To really understand and immerse yourself in Chinese business etiquette, Intlang’s service provider, ICC offer a complete course on Chinese culture which is tailored for businesses and executives. ICC offer face-to-face or online culture training. The best of both worlds.

For further information feel free to contact us at or visit our website