International Business Etiquette in China


China is considered one of the most rapidly expanding economies in the world today. Statistics show that by 2003, China had become the United States’ third largest and European Union’s second-biggest trading partner. China’s strategic importance of international business trading makes it necessary to understand its culture and business etiquette to be successful. This report investigates Chinese etiquette and its impact on business by studying the following key areas:

  1. Business relations
  2. Business meetings
  3. Dining Etiquette
  4. Gift-giving etiquette
  5. Superstitions

Business relations

The initial approach

Primarily, first Chinese contacts are referrals, and business relationships get sealed through associated recommendations. In a study done by RSM International Association, RSM notes that the Chinese hardly do any business with people that they do not know personally (Hunter 12). Due to this, Chinese business relationships eventually become social relationships unlike in the west where business relationships are likely to remain just that. Chinese people will do business depending on how progressive the social relationship with the other party is.

Chinese culture accentuates rank and seniority, and thus it is important to watch out for this. For example, if one of the contacts is a director Lee Chen, one should address him as director Chen. Secondly, most Chinese people will slightly bow as a form of greeting although a handshake is also widely accepted (Hunter 15). Thus, do not offer a handshake unless they offer to. Instead, slightly bow as a sign of respect. Also, consider having a gift in hand before the first business meeting begins.


Interaction between men and women is more reserved in China than in the west. After the first handshake avoids or bow, prevent any form of body contact mainly hugging and kissing on the cheek. The Chinese consider physical contact with a woman in public as inappropriate.

One of the essential concepts worth noting is giving face. Face refers to the prestige, honor, respect, and status accorded to a person due to their class. Hunter remarks that the more you “give face” (17), the more the personal and business relationship will flourish. To give face, do not point out mistakes from a senior in the presence of junior staff. Do not arrive late for meetings as this is considered insulting at times or do anything that will cause embarrassment in any way.

The Chinese give an allowance for people who are from outside their culture and hence one should not try too hard to speak Chinese. However, it is important to use whatever Chinese one has learned. It is because it is important to show an interest in the language of a business partner as this helps to build the relationship.

During the interaction, one may be pressed to give an opinion about a political situation or event in the country. In this case, if an individual is unable to steer clear of such instances, he or she should give an opinion and make it clear that that is not the viewpoint of the entire company. Observe neutrality and remain professional (Hunter 29).

Business meetings

One should note that the Chinese assume that the first person who comes into a room is the leader of the delegation. Before the meeting begins, give a corporate gift and hand it to the most senior official in the room. In case one carried gifts for everyone present, he or she should observe hierarchy and give the most expensive gifts to the highest first. This practice also applies to giving name cards or business cards and when issuing out corporate flyers and other printed information during the meeting. In the Chinese business culture, business cards are always issued after the first meeting. Therefore, carry an ample supply of business cards as one may meet more people than expected. The business card should have one side printed in Chinese (“International Journal of business communication” 19). When giving the company card, give it using both hands as these shows respect and receive one in return with both palms open.

Chinese people will sit at the table according to rank, and the visiting delegation should do the same. During the meeting, avoid excessive usage of gestures when communicating and especially hand-to-mouth gestures. Remember to call people by their title and surname. The dress code in business meetings is extremely formal. Men should be in suits and ladies should wear decently as well. Chaney and Jeanette point out those women should avoid short sleeves and high heels (24). One should be careful to wear neutral colors to the meeting as some colors are considered an evil omen. It is integral to note that meeting the Chinese will raise many questions on random topics. They do not follow the order of themes as would be the case in Western countries. Also, the senior person in the room should lead the meeting and not the juniors. It is important to build a face for oneself.

Avoid the use of slang and pause often to ensure that everyone understands everything that is said. Take care to get confirmation of this. The Chinese avoid saying no directly and therefore anything other than a yes should be taken as a no. It is also essential to have an interpreter accompany one of the meetings to ensure consensus. A Chinese delegate may laugh if they do not understand a question or have a precise answer to it. It is, therefore, important that one does not get irritated. In that case, it is important that one not press for a reply as this may cause the person to lose face in front of their juniors. The Chinese have good negotiation skills, and it is important to allow the negotiators to feel that they have gained some ground by allowing for compromise. Also, ensure that one sends the hosting company corporate information about the business in advance (“International Journal of business communication” 23).

Dining Etiquette

It is most unlikely that a business decision can be reached in the initial meeting and before the visiting company gets hosted for dinner. Due to this, ensure that one adheres to the expectations of the Chinese hosts. Usually, the venue will be a grand Chinese restaurant. In many cases, a private room will be booked for this purpose. Dress in a casual official manner. Jeanswear is allowed in this scenario, but not informal meetings.

Visiting delegates from the West should master the use of chopsticks. After all, it has been said that in Rome, do as the Romans do. Make sure to compliment the hosts on the dishes as this helps build a face and develop a social relationship. If one does not like a dish or something, they should not say it. Leave it instead.

Also, make sure to try all the dishes offered, but leave a little food on the plate when done eating. The Chinese may mistake was cleared everything on a plate for not having enough. During an official dinner, men are allowed to drink. It is not the norm when it comes to the ladies. When offered a traditional wine or drink, try it. Otherwise, give a satisfactory reason for not. An example includes issues of health complications with the women. Interestingly, the Chinese are more likely to trust someone who drank more at dinner or exhibits drunkenness at the time. It is due to the belief that alcohol reveals the real motives of a person. A recommendation is that if one cannot drink, he or she should tag along with someone who can drink on their behalf (Hunter 31).

If one is hosting, certain foods such as noodles should be served whole with longevity and not cut. Also, serve tea and not water. It is essential to beware that one should not be offended by belching if it occurs. It may cause embarrassment and loss of face. While it is normal in the Chinese culture to “fight” to meet the bill, splitting the bill is not applied, and one should avoid suggesting anything like that. The hosts should fit the bill. During dinner, always be ready to inhale second-hand smoke.

Gift-giving etiquette

Frequently, gifts are given during formal meetings though doing it during an official dinner is acceptable as well. Ensuring that one carries an excellent gift from his/her home country when meeting a Chinese delegate for the first time is important. Refusing to accept a gift from the hosts or visiting the delegation is considered offensive.

However, it is important to note that gifts such as handkerchiefs and clocks have a negative connotation. Moreover, not all colors and numbers are acceptable. Hunter indicates that blue, white and black, as well as the number four, are considered evil omen (31). Make sure to reciprocate the gifts when offered some. It is also important to consult on gift-wrapping to ensure it is correctly done (Chaney and Jeanette 41).


As mentioned earlier, the Chinese take the time to come to a business decision (Hunter 35). They may use the time in between to the stars. So it is wise to exercise patience, so as not to put them under unnecessary pressure. When invited to dinner, certain habits such as turning over a whole fish should be avoided as the belief is that a fishing boat will capsize. One should not stick up the chopsticks right up a bowl of rice as well. Do not carry flowers as a gift. Also, it is important to take off one’s shoes at the threshold before going in.


The findings and implications discussed show that it is inevitable for companies intending to trade with the Chinese to conform to their various forms. One has to compromise to accommodate a different culture to ensure progressive relationships. International business etiquette will require people to go beyond their comfort zones to provide for others and benefit mutually.

What to say about the slides

Slide one: General behavior

The presentation is one of the most sensitive factors when it comes to dealing with the Chinese for the first time. People who have and exhibit face-to-face conversation are more likely to enter into trade ties with the Chinese. The factors here are speech, personal contact, and dressing. The delegations should be sociable and able to make friends quickly as the Chinese give preference to friends first when it comes down to choosing trade partners. They should be accommodating to allow for cultural and personal differences.

Slide two: Gift giving and respect

A gift speaks volumes. Thus, investing in a real gift could help set a company for a good business partnership. Some of the dos are when it comes to gift-giving are; giving gifts bearing company logos, high-quality pens, home country’s specialty gifts wrapped in red or yellow colors. Similarly, respect cuts across the board in every aspect of interaction are it is gift-giving, behavior, or negotiations. The Chinese pay particular attention to one’s way of addressing people. Classes are given a greater emphasis (Chaney and Jeanette 45). However, very expensive gifts should be avoided as this is may appear as bribery. Also, one should not expect them to open the gifts in the visiting delegation’s presence.

Slide three: business meetings

The use of proper etiquette during business meetings influences outcomes. Etiquette here ranges from arriving early, to observing protocol when carrying on the meeting and conduct during meetings. The meetings are themselves very formal and usually must be scheduled in advance. A common practice is to ensure that the talk throughout the meeting remains active and positive. It is the case when discussing matters within China. When speaking, it is always prudent to address the most senior representative of the Chinese company.

Slide four: dining etiquette

The process of deciding to partner to enter into trade ties is incomplete without a formal dinner. Here, friendships that shape future involvements are struck or undone. Etiquette is important in allowing the host to serve his guests adequately and destroy any fears. It helps develop trust as the Chinese will only do business with people who treat others with decency.

Slide five: Business relationships

Putting a greater emphasis on the vitality of the relationship-building process is important. A good relationship opens the doorway to many other opportunities within and without that particular organization. It is because business in China is mainly through referrals. The most important thing is employing appropriate business etiquette in ensuring that one is keeping and contacting the right contacts from time to time. Certain aspects of business relationships are important in China. For example, how one handles a business card once he or she receives it and where one keeps it. Therefore, being keen on the small details of relationships is key.

Slide six: Business negotiations

The key thing in negotiation with the Chinese is patience and understanding to arrive at a mutually beneficial agreement. The Chinese like to consult among themselves, even on small matters, and to allow for this is essential. In business negotiations, always expect a group of Chinese. One should not assume comprehension from any party, especially when it comes to particular legal matters.

In China, One has to keep in mind that ensuring that one wins the hosts’ heart through friendship is part and parcel of business negotiation.

Works Cited

Chaney, Lillian, and Jeanette Martin. Intercultural Business Communication, College Station, Texas: A & M University Press, 2014. Print.

Hunter, Amie. Business Communication, Hoboken, New Jersey: Pearson, 2014. Print.

“International Journal of Business Communication.” The Relationship Between Leader Motivating Language and Self-Efficacy: A Partial Least Squares Model Analysis, 1 (2014): 19-23. Print.

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