Peak Translations

How to conquer the ‘Great Wall’ of Chinese business

China not only stands out from the international crowd for being the world’s most populous country with a massive 1.35 billion population, but also for housing the world’s largest man-made monument, the Great Wall of China (apparently held together by a mortar comprising sticky rice!). It is also the world’s 3rd largest country by area, made up of a diverse and stunning geographical landscape stretching for 3,747,879 sq miles. On top of that, with its incredible ethnic diversity, rich culture, staggering $10 trillion economy (making it the world’s 2nd largest economy after the USA, with an annual increase at 7%) and fast-growing consumer market, it’s hard not to be seduced by the jewels that China has on offer (and that’s just scratching the surface)!

As one of the UK’s largest expanding business markets, it would be a fool’s errand for investors not to invest some time in getting to grips with Chinese business culture and etiquette before embarking on the international business voyage. With numerous cultural pointers with which to acquaint you, here is just the tip of the iceberg: –

Overcoming Business card etiquette
Business cards are as essential to a business meeting in China as air is to breathe!

  1. Not only bring a bucket load with you, but also ensure to have them translated on the other side into Simplified Chinese (depending on region).
  2. The etiquette of giving and receiving the business card is important in China. Offer with two hands showing the translated side face up and receive with attentiveness. It is disrespectful to write on it, as well as to shove it into your wallet or pocket, (best to bring a small card case).

Master the art of conversation
Chinese business language can be a little mind-boggling to say the least.

  1. The English phrase “it’s not a serious problem” actually translates as the opposite when negotiating in China.
  2. A blunt “no” is ill advised, as the Chinese are not keen on negative responses. “It’s a possibility’ would sit much better.

Getting to grips with Chinese business mentality
Remember your Scout and Girl Guide motto ‘Be Prepared’. The same applies to a business meeting in China.

  1. Arrange meetings well in advance (1-2 months) and preferably in writing.
  2. Proposals need to be in plentiful supply, translated into Simplified Chinese and printed in black and white; colours have many different meanings, which if misconstrued could trip your business negotiation up at the first hurdle. They should also highlight long-term benefits of the potential business relationship.

Learn how to walk the tightrope of gift giving
Although it has become increasingly commonplace in the world of business, there are many pitfalls as to the correct type and how and when to give and receive the gift. In other words, do your research! One steadfast rule is never offer a gift to a government official; it is looked on as a bribe and therefore illegal!

Lead by example
Hierarchy is of great significance in Chinese business. If their most important person walks in first, be sure that the head of your team mirrors the protocol.

The business greeting game
The most common Chinese greeting is bowing or nodding, although the handshake is used and it is advisable to wait for them to initiate contact.

Dress to impress
Arriving to a business appointment looking like Joseph and his Technicolor dream coat is best avoided if you want to make a good first impression, as colours are considered inappropriate for business attire. Subtlety is key.

Rules of entertainment
Business entertaining entails many conventions such as

  1. Cultural courtesy requires you to try everything offered to you, as refusing would offend, even such Chinese delicacies as locusts!
  2. Avoid sticking your chopsticks upright in your bowl as it has a connotation of death.
  3. Leaving something on your plate is customary if you’re full; otherwise an empty plate suggests you’re still hungry.

There is so much more to the Chinese cultural and business etiquette game, it is worth making sure you go in with the best hand!

By Madeline Prusmann (Project Manager) October 2016

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