The Basics of Business Etiquette in China

Date: June 12, 2014

The Basics of Business Etiquette in China

A simple guide to understanding the DO’s and DON’T’s when doing business in China.

Like every other student of Chinese, during my studies I had always stumbled across various stories and articles that aimed to enlighten us about what to do and what not to do when living in China. As expected I hardly followed these ‘etiquette commandments’ to a T. I often asked myself; does strict etiquette still exist in the 21st century, even in China?

The answer is, yes!

More importantly, an understanding of etiquette differences is essential when doing business in China. Sure enough, the age of Cross-cultural communication has never been so strong during a time of rapid globalization.

But before we delve any further, what are the basics of Chinese business culture?

China is a very traditional country and the main aspects of Chinese business culture can be summed up in these 3 concepts; ‘Mianzi’, ‘Guanxi’ and ‘Renqing’.

Don’t be alarmed, these Chinese terms are easy to understand once broken down.

Guanxi: (Relationships) 关系
Building lifelong relationships is crucial in Chinese business and culture as a whole. Building and sustaining a ‘Guanxi’ is achieved through knowledge of ‘Mianzi’ and ‘Renqing’.

Mianzi: (Face) 面子
Face is a deep concept within all aspects of Chinese life. It is important to “save face”, yet equally important to “give face” through appraisal and gratification. On the other hand, to “lose face” is to cause great denouncement of business status and power.

Renqing: (Personal favours) 人情
Renqing is connected with the act of “giving face”. It refers to gift-giving and exchanging favours, i.e. with a business partner.

Now that we know the basics, imagine you have been invited to a Chinese business conference in Shanghai, where you will have the opportunity to build your networking contacts. You also want to showcase your knowledge of Chinese culture.

Well, in order to ensure a smooth business exchange, we have listed 8 do’s and don’t’s to help you on your way!


 - Respect a high degree of formality during greetings and business talks, i.e. use honorifics
   and titles as much as possible.
 - Always receive business card with both hands instead of one – two hands show a sign of
   respect for to the recipient.
 - Always arrive on time or a little earlier.
 - Learn a few Chinese words or phrases; many will appreciate your effort even if you may
   pronounce incorrectly.


 - Don’t adopt a very direct and blunt way of communication as many Chinese will perceive
   this to be rude and an attempt to lose ‘face’.
 - Avoid talking about politics or anything overtly serious over a business dinner. Expect some
   personal questions to build relationships.
 - Don’t greet with an overly-long handshake or hug – a short handshake will do.
 - Don’t lose your composure or get overly emotional during the meeting. It will show a sign of
   considerable weakness.

If you can remember these eight points, you will surely be on your way to a bright and successful future in China!

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