(The following information is from Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, so there is quite a few reference to Canada. Please substitute the reference to USA instead)
China’s culture and business practices differ from Canada’s. As you start or expand your business in China, having an understanding of Chinese business etiquette is important to your success. Knowing and practicing common customs will also help you relax, avoid embarrassment, and focus on the matters at hand on critical occasions. This document provides a brief set of guidelines on Chinese business customs and practices based on queries that have been received by Trade Commissioners at our Embassy and Consulates in Greater China. For further information, there are reference links at the end of the document. While nothing can beat your own personal experience, we hope that this information will be of assistance in sensitively guiding your activities.
In your business dealings in China, you will make many friends, both Chinese and foreign, who can help you learn the ropes. Follow their advice and example! The toughest business people you encounter will often also prove to be genuinely warm and accommodating hosts, and will overlook simple errors of table manners or business etiquette – as we would in Canada – if your purposes are serious and your conduct respectful.
Before beginning, recognize that the following qualities are valued by the Chinese and therefore relevant to your Chinese business interactions today:
Approaching Business in China
Top tip: Business in China relies heavily on personal relationships: make sure you have some!
Doing research on the market is important in China, but personal relationships are equally essential to business success here. It is crucial to establish and maintain good relationships with key business contacts and relevant government officials. Attending industry networking events, contacting industry associations and municipal or provincial investment promotion bodies, and following up on personal introductions are all good ways to start the relationship-building process.
While many Canadian firms have done business successfully with credible firms in China, it is important to remain aware of potential scams that you may encounter as you approach business in China.
Attending and Conducting Meetings
Top tip: Don’t be late, and know who’s boss!
In general, meetings in China follow the same format as those in Canada, albeit with a bit more ritual. The Chinese value punctuality, so arrive on time or even slightly early for meetings or other occasions. The following points should be kept in mind:
Top tip: Follow the leader!
Business often gets conducted during meals. As with business meetings, food and seating are determined by the hosts. The following points should be kept in mind when dining formally with the Chinese:
Top tip: Buy Canadian… and make no allusion to the passing of time!
Gift giving is a common Chinese custom that business visitors to China should prepare for and use to advantage. The advice of a Chinese friend or colleague is invaluable in doing this properly, but here are some simple guidelines: