Chinese Business Etiquette: How to Address People in Chinese

In China, a Chinese personal name consists of two parts: a surname and a given name. The surname comes before the given name, which is the opposite of Western naming conventions.

In Chinese culture, the form of address used in business settings is often based on the hierarchical structure and the level of familiarity between individuals. Let’s explore some common forms of address:

Business Chinese

Zūnchēng (尊称) – Respectful Titles

In Chinese business culture, honorifics like “xiānsheng (先生) – Mr.” and “nǚshì (女士) – Ms.” are commonly employed as polite forms of address. It is considered appropriate to address unfamiliar individuals directly in business settings.

In daily life, people may use terms like “měinǚ (美女) – beautiful lady”  and “shuàigē (帅哥) – handsome guy ” to address others. Recently, while walking down the street, you might also hear terms like “xiǎo gēge (小哥哥) – younger brother ” and “xiǎo jiějie (小姐姐) – younger sister”. These terms, although not literally implying age, are commonly used to address individuals, even younger ones.

Xìng (姓) + zūnchēng (尊称) – Surname + Honorifics

If you know the person’s surname, you can add it before the honorific. For example, “Wáng xiānsheng (王先生) – Mr. Wang ”  or “Lǐ nǚshì ( 李女士) – Ms. Li” . Or “Liú xiǎojiě ( 刘小姐) – Miss Liu”. Please note that if the surname is not known, it is not appropriate to address someone as “xiǎojiě (小姐)“, as in Chinese, “xiǎojiě (小姐)” has other meanings that may be impolite.

Zhíwù chēnghu (职务称呼) – Position-Based Address

In business occasions, if you know the person’s position, addressing them based on their specific roles or positions is a common practice in Chinese business interactions. For example, “zhǔguǎn (主管) – Manager”  or “zǒngjiān (总监) – Director “.

Xìng (姓) + zhíchēng (职称) – Surname + Title

This form of address is commonly used in formal business settings to show respect and acknowledge the individual’s professional title or position. For example, “Wáng jīnglǐ (王经理) – Manager Wang ” , “Lǐ zhǔguǎn ( 李主管) – Supervisor Li” , or “Lǐ lǎobǎn (李老板) – Boss Li”.

Quánmíng (全名) – Full Name

In more casual or familiar business relationships, individuals may use the full name without titles. For example, “Wáng Míng (王明)” or “Lǐ Xiǎohóng (李小红)” .

It’s important to note that married women in China do not carry their husbands’ surnames. However, sometimes in spoken language, people may use the format “husband’s surname + wife” to address women. This is a form of social courtesy in terms of addressing.

For example:

Zhāng Qiáng: Nǐ hǎo, Wáng Xiānsheng, wǒ shì Zhāng Qiáng.
Zhang Qiang: Hello, Mr. Wáng, I am Zhāng Qiáng.

Wáng Bō: Nǐ hǎo, Zhāng Jīnglǐ, wǒ lái jièshào yīxià er, zhè shì wǒ tàitai.
Wang Bo: Hello, Manager Zhāng, let me introduce, this is my wife.

Zhāng Qiáng: Nǐ hǎo, Wáng Tàitai, hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ.
Zhang Qiang: Hello, Mrs. Wáng, nice to meet you.

Lǐ Jìng: Wǒ yě hěn gāoxìng rènshi nǐ.
Li Jing: I am also pleased to meet you.

In China, they say a good beginning is halfway to success. Polite communication in business settings creates a positive impression. Follow me for further insights into mastering Business Chinese.

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