Business Culture in China

China has one of the world’s fastest growing industrial economies, and is playing a larger role in international business dealings than ever before. International companies doing business in China can gain a competitive advantage by familiarizing themselves with China’s unique cultural expectations for business attire, communication, gift giving, greeting ceremonies, and business meetings.

Business Culture

Greeting Ceremonies

The Chinese greeting ceremony is a unique and time-honored tradition that is vital in making a good first impression. Business travelers can expect to be greeted by several representatives from their company’s Chinese counterpart. The most senior representative will be first in line, and should be regarded and greeted before the others. The remaining representatives will be lined up in order of seniority, and should be greeted in that specific order. Visitors’ delegations should also be arranged in this manner, and each representative should greet their Chinese hosts in order quickly without spending too much time with each person.

Aside from greeting a visitor at the airport, greeting ceremonies are also commonly held at restaurants or other such venues. International visitors may be greeted by a large applause. If this happens, the custom is for the visitor to applaud in return and thank the host.

Communication in China

Although a slight bow is the traditional Chinese greeting, according to Chinese business meetings usually begin with a handshake and a slight nod. As in greeting ceremonies, it is customary to address the most senior Chinese representative first in business meetings.

Family names are preceded by given names in China, and Chinese businesspeople prefer to be called by their title and last name rather than a more personal expression. According to, Chinese businesspeople that often travel abroad may adopt an English first name, and may print their family name after their given name on business cards and correspondence.

Business Cards

Business cards are an important aspect of developing business relationships in China, and international businesspeople should bring an ample supply and expect to receive just as many as they give. It is prudent to print a double sided business card, with a Chinese translation on one side. Advice should always be sought when choosing which Chinese characters to use on business cards, since characters can carry positive or negative connotations. Business cards should be presented and received with two hands and a slight bow, with the words facing the recipient.

Business cards should be treated with absolute respect. Careless handling of business cards is perceived as disinterest in the relationship. Cards should be kept on the table during meetings, and should never be written on, folded, or tossed around.

Business Gifts

Gifts are an important part of Chinese business culture, and visitors should bring a large supply of gifts that are uniquely representative of their home country or company. Gifts are customarily given to each member of a delegation, with the most senior Chinese person receiving the first and most thoughtful gift. Other members of a Chinese delegation should receive gifts equal to those given to others of their rank or seniority, and always in descending order. It is not customary for gifts to be opened in public; however, Chinese international businesspeople may have become accustomed to the practice of opening the gift right away.

Gifts should not be too lavish; more emphasis is placed on the thought behind the gift than on the value. Gifts such as handkerchiefs, white flowers, clocks, and umbrellas should be avoided, as these are associated with death or funerals. Gifts should not be given in increments of four, since the pronunciation of this word in Chinese closely resembles the Chinese word for “death.”

Business Attire

Formal dress is prevalent in Chinese business culture, with conservative business suits being the norm for both men and women. More informal dress, such as short sleeves and jeans, is appropriate on hotter days and at informal gatherings, but shorts should only be worn while exercising.

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