Good Manners International: China

Last time, we gave you valuable tips on how to show excellent business manners in South Africa. This time, we guide you how to best behave during your next business trip to China.

Next to booming nations like India or Brazil, China has one of the world’s most vibrant economies. The East Asian People’s Republic has developed rapidly over the last 30 years and has come a lot closer to the Western way of life. This means foreign business travelers heading to cities like Shanghai or Beijing are usually not confronted with a typical cultural shock anymore. When it comes to business negotiations, however, there are still quite a few peculiarities.

The following introduces you to the most relevant business situations in which good manners are key.

General guidelines for good conduct in China

Punctuality: Always be on time. Punctuality and reliability are the traits the Chinese value most when it comes to their Western partners.

Politeness: The Chinese are very hospitable and this often means taking business partners out to popular sights or events. Invitations to someone’s home are hardly ever the case, though. So if possible, gratefully accept any kind of invite.

Gestures and facial expressions: Close body contact like hugging or exchanging affection in public is rarely seen in China.

The first encounter with the business partner

In China, the right “Guanxi”, or the building of close relationships with influential people, is very important for a person’s professional success. For instance, if two businessmen meet for the first time, they will initially find out if they have shared friends or partners. The aim is to create a trustworthy foundation for their business partnership.

Industry trade fairs are also a great way to establish a first contact with potential business partners in China. Handing over your business card and receiving it with both hands is a sign of good manners.

When meeting for the first time, it is also recommended not to jump into the subject of the conversation straight away. Instead, you should begin with some general topics to create a pleasant atmosphere and become acquainted on a more personal level. It is always a good idea to express some interest in the history and language of the country. Questions about family and kids are generally a good way to start off.

Meeting/negotiation process

Negotiations tend to follow a common pattern and are generally run by the person with the highest level in the meeting. It is recommended to always let the Chinese counterpart talk first. If any points are answered with dissatisfaction, simply ask for them to be clarified or mention the issue again proactively later on.

It is also worth mentioning that the Chinese tend to be passionate negotiators. They are normally well-prepared and make detailed notes during meetings. Furthermore, Chinese meeting delegations can be pretty large and are known for extensive negotiations.

In cities like Shanghai or Beijing, English has become the number one business language by now. However, it is always a good idea to include an experienced translator for very critical negotiations, especially when figures are involved. Starting from 10.000, for instance, the Western decimal system does not apply in China anymore. Our tip is to always have a scribbling board ready so you can write down large figures and convert them easily.

Business meals

Business meetings are often followed by lunch or dinner. Lunch generally starts no later than 12pm and dinner is usually at 7pm. You should remember to schedule at least an hour and plan your following meetings flexibly. Talking about tricky topics such as politics or using offensive expressions should be avoided.

If you are a passionate eater and you bring along a fair amount of time, then you have the best prerequisites for a successful business meal.


We hope that this article has given you some good insights on how to make your best impression on your next business trip to China!

Visit our SELLBYTEL Group website for more information on our business in Asia.

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