Editor’s Note: The International Business Etiquette Series is designed to help students at the David Eccles School of Business navigate different cultures and countries as they conduct business around the globe.
Did you know that China is known to be the oldest continuous civilization in history? China has more than 4,000 years of verifiable history. As it currently stands, Beijing is the capital of China and the central point of the large country. The official language is Mandarin Chinese. Despite the many dialects in China, there is only one form of the written language. With the growth of China’s economy, it is important for business people to understand the dos and don’ts in China. In this post, we will explore the business etiquette of China along with several cultural aspects of the Chinese culture.
Note: These etiquette tips are generalized, so be aware and sensitive when you’re doing business in China. Not all Chinese people are going to behave this way, so be adaptive and conscientious of your situation.
What should you wear if you do business in China?
- Gentlemen: Conservative suits for men with subtle colors are the norm.
- Ladies: Women should avoid high heels and short sleeved blouses. The Chinese frown on women who display too much. Revealing clothing for women is considered offensive to Chinese businessmen.
- Subtle, neutral colors should be worn by both men and women.
- On casual occasions, casual dress should be conservative as well. Men and women can wear jeans. However, jeans are not acceptable for business meetings.
What are the “dos” and “don’ts” when addressing people in China?
- Do not use large hand movements. The Chinese do not speak with their hands. Your movements may be distracting to your host.
- Personal contact must be avoided at all cost. It is highly inappropriate for a man to touch a woman in public.
- Do not point when speaking. To point, do not use your index finger, use an open palm.
- It is considered improper to put your hand in your mouth. Avoid acts that involve the mouth.
- Gift-giving is a very delicate issue in China. The following gifts and/or colors are associated with death and should not be given:
- Straw sandals
- A stork or crane
- Anything white, blue or black
- Always arrive on time or early if you are the guest. Do not discuss business at meals and do no start before the host does.
How should you communicate with Chinese people?
- Bowing or nodding is the common greeting; however, you may be offered a handshake. Wait for the Chinese person to offer their hand first.
- Applause is common when greeting a crowd; the same is expected in return.
- Introductions are formal. Use formal titles.
- Oftentimes, Chinese people will use a nickname to assist Westerners.
- Being on time is vital in China and appointments are a must.
- The decision-making process is slow, so do not expect to conclude business quickly. The reason is many Chinese will consult the stars and find a lucky day before they make a decision.
- Never write on a business card or put it in your wallet or pocket. Carry a small card case. Present and receive cards with both hands.
Other things to consider:
- Do not drop your chopsticks because it is considered bad luck.
- Do not eat all of your meal. If you eat all of your meal, the Chinese will assume you did not receive enough food and are still hungry.
- Develop a working knowledge of Chinese culture.