7 Chinese Etiquette Do’s and Don’ts

Factory Visitations

Asian business people listening to a presentation

If you are new to doing business in China there are important cultural differences to be aware of. Chinese business etiquette and customs are quite different to what you are used to in Australia or the US. To help you, we have put together this list of seven etiquette do’s and don’ts to help you succeed during a business trip to China. Pay attention to your manners, know the cultural differences and pay attention to Chinese social norms so you can come away with some valuable business relationships!
 

#1 DO Expect “Awkward” Silences in China

While Australians and Americans don’t like long silent periods in conversation, Chinese people don’t have a problem with it. If you ask a question and someone doesn’t answer immediately, resist the impulse to jump in and talk to avoid an awkward silence. Chances are the person you are talking to has understood your question and they are now thinking of a measured response. There’s no rush to fill brief silences in Chinese conversation. In fact, pausing before answering a question and taking the time to consider the question carefully shows respect  in many Asian countries, not just China.
 

#2 DO Change your Business Card

Your Australian business card needs changing before visiting China for business. It’s best to take bilingual cards with one side in English and the other side in Mandarin. Include your name, company name and any special qualifications. Business card etiquette requires that you hand it over with both hands and the Chinese side up facing the receiver.

When receiving a business card from your Chinese contact, use both hands to accept the card and compliment them on their card. Keep the card on the table in front of you during the meeting rather than putting it away. When it is time to leave the meeting, place the card into a business card holder or your shirt pocket - not your wallet or pants pocket! With the card in your pocket you could accidentally sit on it, which is offensive to the person named on the card.  
 

#3 DO Carefully Consider a Gift

It is polite to give a gift to your host when meeting for business, but be careful with your choice of present. Don’t give a clock, it denotes death. Any kind of sharp object symbolises the severing of relations. Misfortune can come in the form of a handkerchief, stork or crane.

At Chinese funerals, the custom is to use white or yellow flowers so never give these as gifts. Don’t wrap the present in white, blue or black as these colours represent death and sadness. Yellow, pink and red wrapping are safe festive colours. Hand the gift over with two hands no matter how small. Don’t be surprised if the recipient declines the gift, you may need to offer it two or three times. Don‘t expect your host to open the gift in front of you, gifts are usually opened in private.
 

#4 DO Watch Your Table Manners

Your mum may not have taught you how to use chopsticks but she probably said table manners were important. Chinese business customs often include sharing a meal before finalising a deal. As a guest, etiquette at the table matters in all countries but there are a few things you need to know about Chinese table manners.

Firstly, don’t expect to do any business. Chinese people don’t mix business and pleasure like we do in Australia. Let your host sit before you. Don’t eat the last piece of food on the tray, no matter how good it tastes. With the chopsticks, use them only for eating. Don’t use chopsticks to gesture or point while talking. Never place your chopsticks inside the bowl when you’ve finished eating, place them on top of the bowl.
 

#5 DON’T Use a Firm Handshake

In most Western countries, a firm handshake is the norm. But in China use a short, soft handshake around three to five seconds. There is also no need to look your host in the eye for too long as they can interpret this as a challenge. When you are shaking hands with multiple people, do so in the order of seniority or age.

I’m often asked “Do the Chinese bow or shake hands?” In business, a brief handshake has become the norm in China. It’s ok to bow slightly with a small nod of your head but don’t bow from the waist.
 

#6 DON’T Use Your Hands Too Much

Hand gestures, particularly pointing your finger around, can be considered rude in Mandarin speaking countries. Only use an open hand if you like to talk with gestures but it’s safest to keep your hands by your side. If you want to gain someone’s attention, try to use eye contact instead of your hands.
 

#7 DON’T Insult Anyone

Most Australians don’t worry too much about other people’s opinions of them but it’s not the case in China. ‘Mianzi’ is what they call face and it represents a person’s reputation, honour and place in society. Chinese people are very concerned about gaining and keeping face. Criticising or making fun of someone even in jest can cause a Chinese person to lose face. Giving praise for a job well done is fine if it’s genuine.   

When meeting for business in China be sure to address people using their title and last name. Remember, the name on the card puts their surname first and first name last! If you don’t know their job title then use Mrs., Miss, or Mr. with their surname. Addressing someone by their first name without being invited to could insult them.
 

Conclusion

Don’t underestimate the importance of etiquette to Chinese business people. If you don’t have the time or enough interest in improving your knowledge of Chinese cultural norms before attempting to do business there, ask a professional to do it on your behalf rather than risk a deal.

Vara Allied visits China regularly to meet with manufacturers. For more information on how we can help you with manufacturer sourcing, call us on (08) 6161 8041 or contact us online.