How to be successful in China – Cultural business tips


Don’t be that bull in the china shop!

It would be somewhat arrogant and foolish to head east, clutching no more than a suitcase, a wing and a prayer, in pursuit of a new life in a culture that has no bearing to the one you are leaving behind. As the scout motto will advise… Be prepared!

Heading into the unknown is an exciting prospect, but could also be a rather daunting one.

Before you go read up or attend a day’s cultural business training course. Brush up on the political environment, the economy, history, religious beliefs. No one appreciates an instant expert, so just a basic understanding is all that is required to communicate effectively, helping to build relationships. Familiarity often breeds contempt, but not in this context! Becoming familiar with your surroundings will just take away the unknown.

Explore the country you are living in, step outside the expat comfort zone. Establish a routine, meet new people. Learn the language. No one is expecting a fluent summary of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, but everyone will expect you to have the ability to introduce yourself and extend common courtesies.

Key business tips:

  1. You may be greeted with applause if visiting a factory, and the usual response is to applaud back!
  2. Important decisions may be deferred if the day and hour is considered auspicious.
  3. Business lunches and evening banquets are routine, and the favour should always be returned.
  4. Business topics are not generally discussed during a meal.

Small but significant courtesies when extended will make for a more enjoyable time. Social courtesy tips:

  1. Tone down the volume on humour, laughter, speaking. Focus on how something is said and not what is being said.
  2. Do not ask excessive questions, and avoid prolonged and steady eye contact, which can be construed as aggressive.
  3. Always extend compliments on food, but politely deny a compliment for yourself.
  4. Speak softly and politely and avoid certain subjects like death, money, failure, all of which are considered offensive.

Get a CD or a few Mandarin classes under your belt before you leave. To know how to pronounce phrases correctly, understanding the four basic tones and the fifth neutral one. Here’s the technical bit, there is one tone in every syllable of every word. Tones are distinguished in writing by the accent above the vowels in pinyin…who knew, well really one should before one steps into Chinese culture.

You are indeed entering a minefield of cultural sensitivities, all of which can and should be researched before boarding the flight to the unknown and adhered to once you have landed.

Brace, buckle up and enjoy the journey!

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