Oct 19, 2020

Traveling in China – Business Etiquette and Culture

(Source image: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/chinese-new-year-family-salute-etiquette-1619435935)

Planning a business trip to China can be really different as compared to planning a vacation in China. China has very ancient roots and strong cultural values and etiquettes that you need to know as a foreigner. The etiquettes followed in China are unique and different from what is being followed in the west, which is why one should study about them before visiting.

You have to be careful while planning your trip and learn a few Mandarin phrases to ease yourself in the business dealings. The Chinese pay special attention to business etiquette and are concerned with small details. Therefore, take the time to understand the Chinese culture before you go on your business trip. 

The Concept of Face

The Chinese believe firmly in the concept of face; it is a belief that dominates all their business etiquettes. There is no specific translation of face, but you can equate it to “dignity or honor.” The Chinese believe that they need to observe dignity and honor in all business dealings, and so should you. 

In the Chinese language, there is a proverb, which roughly translates to “Men can’t live without a face, trees can’t live without bark.” Therefore, you should ensure that your behavior shows respect and dignity for your Chinese business associates. It could be as simple as ensuring impeccable cleaning of the meeting room, and as hard as mastering the art of small talk. 

If you’re not mindful of it, you may even lose face, which means you will lose the respect of your Chinese counterparts. Here are a few ways to help you save face and prepare yourself for a business trip to China:

Be Well-Prepared for Your Meeting 

The Chinese people take their meetings very seriously and would expect the same from you as well. So, it is advised that you research well on the company and the deal that you are planning to do. Chinese are detail-oriented and like to focus on all aspects of a topic, which is why doing your homework and preparing beforehand is important before you go to a meeting. 


When you meet your Chinese business associates, shake their hands along with a nod and bow. Although its Chinese custom to bow upon meeting, shaking hands is becoming increasingly common. Your greetings may be met with applause, as it’s common in the Chinese culture. You must reciprocate the applause and show respect. 

To endear yourself to your Chinese counterparts, learn a few mandarin greeting phrases. Simple sentences like Wéi, nín hǎo (Hello) and Hěn gāoxìng rènshi nín, xiānsheng (I am very glad to meet you, sir) will work in your favor.  

Bring Your Business Card 

When you come to a meeting with your Chinese associates, bring plenty of business cards with you. In China, the exchange of business cards is a common practice. If you don’t have a business card, you may be perceived as ill-mannered or ill-prepared. Hold the card in both hands to present it, you should hold it such that the index finger of the right hand is at the top of the card and thumb is at the bottom. If you have had the foresight to translate your card in mandarin, present it side face up. 

Decide If A Gift Is Appropriate

(Source image: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/asian-family-gathered-celebrate-chinese-new-562049545)

Giving a gift is considered as a goodwill gesture in Chinese business etiquette. However, you have to be very careful to make sure the gift doesn’t appear as a bribe and cause an insult. Therefore, it is advised that you do research on the company policies to avoid any trouble. 

Anticipate Language Differences

The language barrier in China can be a problem for foreigners, which is why you need to sort this beforehand. It is advised that you confirm if the people with whom you’re going to do the meetings can understand and speak English or not. If they cannot, then you need a solution such as a translator. Moreover, for the documents you can get them translated into Chinese, so there is no issue in understanding the handouts. Even if people can understand or read English, it’s better to respect the language difference and get the documents translated for them.

Dress to Show Respect

(Source image: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-photo/colleagues-meeting-conference-room-shot-through-146643572)

The Chinese culture prefers formal dressing for meetings, which is why you need to dress up formally for the meetings. The choice of colors should be dark such as black or navy blue, whereas bright colors should be avoided for business meetings. For women, a low-cut blouse should be avoided as conservative dressing is preferred in the Chinese culture.

Show Up on Time

One of the most basic business etiquettes is to show up on time or a little before time; in the Chinese culture, punctuality is important, so make sure you are not late for the meeting. You must prepare a night before and look at the commute and mode of transportation to the location, so you don’t get stuck in traffic. 

Enter and Exit the Room in Proper Order

The Chinese respect authority, and they prefer discipline in every aspect, including entering and exiting the room for the meeting. The pattern that they follow is that the highest-level person goes into the room first, and the rest follow him in order. The hierarchy that they follow should be respected, and you should also follow the same pattern while entering the room.

The Takeaway

By following these etiquettes, you are showing respect to your Chinese peers. The more you value the trends and traditions of culture, the more would be your chances to build better business relationships.

By Arslan Hassan | A Super Chineasian

Arslan Hassan is an electrical engineer with a passion for writing, designing and anything tech-related. His educational background in the technical field has given him the edge to write on many topics. He occasionally writes blog articles for Classic PDF Editor.

Tell your Chineasy stories

Want to write for the Talk Chineasy blog? Share stories about China, its language, or its culture with those who share your passion!

Apply Now