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Chinese Business Culture


Before your visit, it will be a good idea to prepare yourself by studying aspects of Chinese language, culture, history, and geography. Your hosts will appreciate your initiative. If you speak Chinese, they will really appreciate your efforts and take your initiative of doing business in China more seriously than if you do not speak any Mandarin. Moreover, your ability of being able to understand Chinese language will help you to establish a better "Guanxi" among your Chinese associates.

Negative replies are considered impolite. Instead of saying 'no', answer 'maybe', 'I'll think about it', or 'We'll see' and get into specifics later. You'll find that the Chinese will do the same. When your Chinese counterparts smilingly and politely or even enthusiastically say 'No big problem' or 'The problem is not serious', they usually mean 'There are still problems.' And you should inquire more about the potential problems that still exist.

You may be asked intrusive questions concerning your age, income, and marital status. If you don't want to reveal this information, remain polite and give an unspecific answer. However, revealing your age and marital status (not income, though) could benefit you in doing business in China. But don't express irritation with the questioner, since 'losing face' has such negative implications in this culture. On the other hand, unless you are a very familiar personal friend, do not ask your Chinese hosts about their family although, typically, you can ask 'How old is your child?', 'How long have you been in the work force?' or 'Where is your child studying?' as a means of determining their marital status and age.

Again, make an effort to learn and use at least a few words in Chinese; your initiative will be noticed and appreciated.

You may make general inquiries about the health of another's family, such as 'are all in your family well?'

There is no need to avoid mentioning Taiwan. If the subject comes up, just ask how they feel about the Taiwan issue. Listen to them, and be hesitant to express your opinion.

When you are in China, please remember that most Chinese people still have vivid memory about the Japanese invasion of China during World War II. Ninety percent (90%) of Chinese people in the mainland does not have a very good impression towards the Japanese government. Also it would be nice to learn about the cultural similarities and differences between China and Japan.

Like in Latin culture, 'Small talk' is considered especially important at the beginning of a meeting; any of the topics suggested in the next set of points will be appropriate for this occasion.


Welcome Topics Of Conversation

  • Chinese scenery & landmarks.
  • Weather, climate, and geography of China.
  • Your travels in other countries.
  • Your positive experiences travelling in China and the recent economic developments in China.
  • Chinese art.

Topics To Avoid

Refrain from using terms such as 'Communist China' as China is no longer communism. You will discover that cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou (Canton), and Shenzhen are more capitalist than cities in other countries you have visited.

First Name or Title?

Addressing others with respect.

Most people should be addressed with a title and their last name. If a person does not have a professional title, use ?Mr.?, ?Madam?, ?Miss?, plus the last name.

In mainland China, a married Chinese woman usually retains her maiden name. She will rarely use her husband's last name. In Taiwan, a married Chinese woman will use her husband's last name occasionally.

Many Chinese adopt an English first name to make it easier for North Americans and other Westerners to address them. You can expect to hear some rather odd and rare English names as they try hard to be different from others.

Address people using official titles such as ?General? ?Committee Member?, or ?Bureau Chief? whenever possible. It is customary to address the deputies by skipping the word 'deputy,' such as, 'Chief' for 'Deputy Chief,' 'Chairman' for 'Vice Chairman' 'General Manager' for 'Assistant General Manager.'

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