China has become a manufacturing and industrial hotspot over the past five decades, and your chances of effectively doing business there largely depend on your actions in business meetings. Business etiquette in China starts with being prepared, composed, and willing to take the time to establish a trusting relationship.
Officially known as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), China is home to more than 1.35 billion people. Business hours typically run from 8 A.M. to 5 P.M., with many businesses and operations shutting down for a two-hour break between noon and 2 P.M.
Scheduling appointments in advance is recommended, especially during the months of April, May, June, September, and October. While Chinese business people typically forgive faux pas in visitors’ behavior, having a firm grasp of business etiquette in China is apt to impress your overseas colleagues, contacts, and clients.
A smile and nod are appropriate for greetings, with a handshake acceptable if your Chinese counterpart initiates it. Business etiquette in China also emphasizes an exchange of business cards, which is done with both hands. Be sure to take the time to read the card you received.
Address business associates by their title and surname – their titles are listed on the business cards you received.
Pay attention to the order in which your business team enters the meeting. In Chinese culture, the first person to enter is the most important, with others following in hierarchical order. You also want to show up well-prepared, with at least 20 copies of whatever paperwork you intend to share.
Restraint and composure are essential for business etiquette in China. Presentation materials should be printed in black ink on white paper. Strong emotions of any sort should be curbed.
Meetings kick off with small talk. Safe topics include food, travel, the scenery, and the weather. Avoid discussing political topics, particularly those involving Taiwan and Tibet.
Patience is key for negotiations, with the Chinese known for extending negotiations far beyond established deadlines. Accept the delays with grace, and never mention deadlines being missed. Building a strong relationship is typically a prerequisite before the Chinese will close a deal, so you may need to meet multiple times to establish an adequate level of trust.
Gift giving in China is a ritual that comes with several rules of etiquette. Gifts should never be overly expensive, and they should not be watches, clocks, green hats, or chrysanthemums. Watches, clocks, and chrysanthemums are associated with funerals, and green hats are symbolic of a husband being unfaithful to his wife.
Expect gift recipients to decline the gift once or twice before they accept it. Also, expect a gift in return as a thank you.
Once you have a solid overview of business etiquette in China, you’re nearly set. All that’s left is to ensure you have an updated passport, a Chinese business visa, and neatly pressed business attire to make a memorable and polished impression.