Careful consideration of the country’s customs and values is key to a successful business transaction in China. Throughout the globe, corporate dealings are underpinned by elaborate and varied systems of rules and traditions. Understanding such cultural differences will allow you to handle business situations with confidence and sensitivity.
Preparation and punctuality
Locally known as ‘guanxi’, a network of well-placed connections is even more essential in China than in standard international business. A foreign businessperson who nurtures relationships from abroad will be at a distinct advantage whilst there in person. Be aware, however, that Chinese business meetings do not operate with the same flexibility as Western negotiations, and usually adhere to a formal structure. Show your commitment by being unfailingly punctual.
It’s essential to ensure that dialogue between parties remains smooth and simple for every interlocutor. Going to the trouble of forwarding agendas and materials in your host’s language will be well-received, and arranging your own interpreter for meetings can demonstrate beneficent qualities that are particularly admired in China.
Err on the side of formality when it comes to dress code. Although professional standards of dress are relaxing in China as in the rest of the world, there are many important figures who will still expect you to be dressed in a soberly-coloured suit.
Seniority and rank
Politeness and deference are valued in China and a person’s status within a company dictates procedure in meetings. Seating is arranged accordingly, and senior company members are expected to introduce themselves first and declare their position on the first item for discussion. Junior attendees generally only participate in conversation on the invitation of the highest authority.
As in Europe and America, a handshake is customary when introducing yourself, although it is worthwhile noting that a gentle handshake is favourable to an enthusiastic one. Business cards are vital, and may be translated into Chinese on one side as a courteous gesture. In China, precious objects – including business cards – are presented with two hands. If given a card, you can demonstrate respect by handling it purposefully and placing it in a dedicated card case.
Formal business dining is common in China, with intricate rules of etiquette to accompany proceedings. Participants may expect to be served several courses, with frequent changes of plates. It is polite to try a little of everything, but be aware that leaving a clean plate may be interpreted as a sign that you aren’t yet satiated. Toasting – usually with distilled Chinese alcohol or baijiu – is commonplace and several toasts may be proposed during a meal. Practises vary across the country, so follow your host’s lead or take the opportunity to discuss local customs with one of your counterparts.
Gifts are generally exchanged between the most senior members of two companies at their introductory meeting. Do not be surprised if your gift is initially refused; this is considered polite in Chinese culture and it will be subsequently gratefully accepted. Red is an especially apt choice of colour for wrapping, as it is associated with prosperity in Chinese culture.
If you find yourself travelling to mainland China or Hong Kong on a regular basis and are considering investing in local property, visit the experts at Engel & Völkers Hong Kong.