Home to one of the most ancient cultures globally, China is a diverse country comprising many different regions with their own customs and dialects. This makes it difficult, almost impossible, to speak of just “one” China, because what is acceptable in the north, might not be acceptable in the south. The diversity of culture and customs derive largely from the different ethnic influences and the varied religious and philosophical evolutions that have occurred over time.
When working in a country with a history of thousands of years, and ways of doing business that go back just as far, it is crucial to develop an insight into China’s business culture and social etiquette. Studies suggest that a foreign entrepreneur in China will have a good reputation amongst the Chinese business community if they accept invitations, give expensive gifts and show sensitivity towards the Chinese culture. On the other hand, entrepreneurs are likely to go down less well in China if they insult someone in public, refuse invitations and gifts or behave inappropriately (e.g. losing their temper or crying).
Achieving Business Success
1. Learn About China
Many people who move to China do not have a detailed knowledge of the market, the differences in culture and the type of business world they are getting into. As the Chinese market is in constant change, international companies around China are continuously learning and adapting to these changes. It’s vital, especially because of the significant differences in culture and business practice between China and other countries that you come prepared to face and adapt to these differences. Without this knowledge you may be heading towards a big cultural shock that could cost you your business.
2. Conducting and attending meetings
In China, meetings are extremely important. Be on time. Arriving late is considered rude and if you do arrive late, apologising for your tardiness is a must. When conducting or attending a meeting, it is vital to come prepared. Know your company, your product and your market well. According to China’s cultural terms, spending time to prepare and conduct a meeting shows special care for the relationship, and in effect gives a good impression of you within the business. If you are conducting a meeting, after handshakes and the exchange of business cards (very important!), make sure you allocate seats accordingly. Remember to dress formally! Even though only government officials and top managers have to dress formally in meetings, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
3. Giving gifts
When working in Chinese businesses, you need to be aware of the gift giving custom. Chinese business people love gifts and it’s a fabulous ice breaker. In China, gifts are given for holidays, during official meetings and at special events. The value of gifts depends on the occasion and your relationship with the recipient. In business, hierarchy is key: the most senior person should receive the most expensive gift, and it is extremely important to never give the same gift to people in different ranks within the company. Never give a Chinese person a clock as a gift — the word for Clock is “zhong” which shares the same pronunciation as the word for “the end or finish” so you are technically expressing the wish for an early departure from this world for the recipient of the present.
These are just a few examples of why it is important to enhance cultural understanding so that faux pas are avoided. If this has whetted your appetite, then Dialogue runs business cultural courses that might be of interest to you and your business! Click here to learn more.