4 Things You Must Know Before Doing Business in China

Chinese General Business

Although some of my Mandarin Chinese students sign up for Chinese classes to impress their in-laws, enrich their cultural knowledge or just to exercise their brains, the vast majority of my students become interested in Mandarin Chinese due to its business and career applications. There is probably no other language that will open doors the way that Chinese can. It’s no wonder why so many students are signing on to learn the language today.
Although I am a Chinese teacher, not a business trainer, a topic frequently arises in my classes: How can I do business in China? Why is it so hard to do business with Chinese? What do I need to know about the Chinese people and culture before I undertake this challenge?
I’ve been a part of business projects in both the USA and China. Business culture varies greatly between the two countries. In addition, I have heard stories and followed developments among my foreign students pursuing business ventures here in China. There are many important things to know before getting started in Chinese business culture.

If you are doing business in China, I would highly recommend doing four things to help make your business ventures with Chinese clients run a bit smoother in the future.
1. Understand Chinese Business Etiquette
Chinese General Business2

China has a different culture from that which you are familiar. To the Chinese, we probably also think that there are problems trying to do business with foreign cultures. Business in China, and indeed in most Asian countries, doesn’t work the same way as it does in the West. So if you are going to business here, it is the responsibility of both parties to mutually understand the etiquette of each other. It is tough, but it isn’t impossible. Here are some reading materials on Chinese business etiquette. Have a read and it just might help your situation:
商务问候礼仪 Business Greeting Etiquette
商务介绍礼仪 Business Etiquette–Business Card Exchanges and Introduction
商务电话礼仪 Business Etiquette—Make a phone
商务就餐礼仪之敬酒 Toasting Etiquette at a Business Dinner
商务座次礼仪 Seating Arrangement Etiquette
中国商务送礼禁忌 Taboos of Giving Business Gifts in China
Key Business Etiquette You Can Put to Use in China

2. Build Relationships or “关系 Guanxi”
Chinese General Business3

Establishing good “关系 Guanxi” with Chinese partners can contribute to your business success in China. Eat and drink (wine or tea) is one of social engagement features, as well as 送礼 (sònglǐ) Business Gifts. Dining together is a common thing to do when the Chinese are getting together, which provides an opportunity for them not only to enjoy a meal, but also to communicate. Many Chinese people build close relationship though kind of social activities. They can help both sides get more trust and mutual respect.

Tips on how to build positive “关系 Guanxi” with Chinese Partners:

Understand 人情 (rénqíng)? Prepare for an Easy Life in China
How Do You Congratulate Someone in China?
Know 打交道 (dǎ jiāodào) to “Deal With” Chinese Business Clients
Chinese Dining Etiquette – Fighting at the Dining Table

3. Get Familiar with the Way Chinese People Interact with Others.
Chinese General Business4

This has to do with understanding the way Chinese people interact with others and what they mean by their words, expressions, and actions.

A euphemistic way of speaking:

Different from western countries, many Chinese people don’t like talk about the problem directly. They feel it is not polite to point out the problem, but rather infer a problem and allow others to make the same inferences. Chinese people are very modest and they don’t like conflict and confrontation. “以和为贵 (yǐ hé wéi guì) Harmony is precious” is a common belief in traditional Chinese culture which has deeply affected the Chinese and their behavior. For example, if your Chinese is not good, few people will ever say:
“你的中文很差 (Nǐ de zhōngwén hěn chà) Your Chinese is poor.”

Most of time, some Chinese people will prefer to say:
“你的中文还可以更好 (Nǐ de zhōngwén hái kěyǐ gèng hǎo)。”

“你的中文还有进步空间 (Nǐ de zhōngwén hái yǒu jìnbù kōngjiān)。”

They both have the same meaning: “Your Chinese can become better.”
For Chinese people, praise is more constructive than criticism. Be careful of this while doing business in China. Always be tactful and careful of which words you choose to use when making constructive criticism.

The Right Way to Compliment and Show Thanks in Chinese:

Flattering & Giving Compliments in Chinese
我的神啊 (wŏ de shén a) My God & 你太有才了 (nĭ tài yŏu cái le) You Are too Talented
“赞 (zàn)”- Must Know Word When Complimenting Someone in Mandarin
Popular Words-拍马屁 (pāimǎpì) Kiss Up to Someone
How Chinese People Respond to Praise?

4. Learn the Language
Chinese General Business5

This one is pretty obvious, but if you have the ability to speak Chinese at an above intermediate level, then you will most likely be able to understand how some things may sound rude in English but when translated into Chinese, the words may be perfectly normal and not at all impolite. It is tough to master any language, but if you are serious about doing business in China then learn their language and make allowances for mistranslations towards those who have learned your language.
Of course, depending on your particular business scenario and situation, you also need professional knowledge in your specific field and some knowledge of the legal framework to protecting yourself. While these business intricacies can’t be summed up in just a few sentences, maybe we can just save that for next time! Comment below if you do want more discussions!

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which of the following is not a common activity towards building a positive social “关系 (guānxi) relationship” in China?
A. 请客 (Qǐngkè)

B. 敬酒 (Jìngjiǔ)

C. 送钟 (Sòngzhōng)

D. 发红包 (Fā hóngbāo)

―Written by Becky Zhang―

Becky Zhang is a teacher at eChineseLearning.com. She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!
Business Chinese
Chinese Culture
General Chinese (Beginner Level) 
General Chinese (Intermediate Level) 

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