Chinese Business Etiquette


Apart from the Chinese who have studied or lived abroad, most Chinese find foreigners “uncivilized” and bashed. Foreigners are called “Gweilo” in Cantonese or “Laowei” in Mandarin which literally means “Foreign Devil,” or “Ghost.” Don’t take this offensive. It is only an expression defining “white” foreigners. Black people are called “Heigui” or Black ghost, “Lao Maozi” is for Russians, and so on. We have such connotations in all societies.

To do business in China, you have to have connections. You cannot walk in someone’s office in China, no matter how knowledgeable you are, or who you represent, without an introduction and expect to conduct business. You can start with the commercial section of your consulate. They have good contacts with local business people who may be interested to do business with you, especially if you want to sell products from your country. This would be a good introduction for you. Other sources of contact would be your branch bank in China, or through friends. This is called “Guanxi” which is generally defined as “having connections.” Guanxi takes many meanings such as “I scratch your back, you scratch my back.” It could also mean bribery. No matter what, never get involved in bribery in China. It could be very risky for you as the law enforcement authorities usually pursue foreigners more than the locals.

Set up an appointment and be on time. It’s OK for the Chinese to be late for an appointment, but not a Laowei. When you meet your business counterpart, give him your business card with both hands looking directly at him. When he or she gives you a business card, take it with both hands looking at it, and then making eye contact. Latter study it. Place it on the table in front of you and don’t forget to take it with you when you leave. Treat the business card with respect. Don’t start going into the business discussion right away, but comment on his office and company. Perhaps, it would be better to show up at 11 am or 11:30 am before lunch or dinner. After a brief business discussion, you would be invited out for lunch or dinner. Eating is very important in China. They have a popular expression “When the Gweilos are happy, they dance; when the Chinese are happy, they eat.” During lunch or dinner, you can be more personal and relaxed. Remember that they are always sizing you up by what you say and howthanksgiving-347306__180 you behave.


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