16 basic etiquette tips for doing business in China _United Travel

September 07, 2017

United Travel

Doing business in China can be a daunting task. Imagine that you’re travelling to China for the first time. You have read all the brochures, guides and learnt the basic phrases to get by in China. You even checked the weather and packed all the essentials. But, one thing you neglected is learning the basic etiquette for doing business in China. Etiquette could be make or break a deal in Chinese work culture. The last thing you want to do is offend your Chinese business associates when trying to close a big deal. Chinese etiquette is important to learn and remember, as it is much different from Western cultures. Here are 16 basic etiquette tips for doing business in China and succeeding.

16 basic etiquette tips for doing business in China:

Before the Meeting:

1. Over prepare before your meeting.
The Chinese can be very detailed orientated. This means they would have done their research on your company and would expect the same in return. Some research you might want to do in advance is checking Chinese public holidays and who the key decision maker is. There’s nothing worse than scheduling a meeting during the Chinese holiday, demonstrating disrespect towards the Chinese culture.

2. Print high quality printed material.

If you need some print materials for the meeting, make sure to print everything out in black and white on premium paper. Colours could have a different meaning in different cultures, so to be on the safe side avoid it all together. And, always bring extra copies, so you don’t offend any Chinese colleague who doesn’t get a copy.

3. Dress to impress.

First impressions are everything in Chinese culture. Dressing in high quality clothing can imply high status and modesty. Try avoid wearing bright colours, conservative suits or dresses work best.

4. Is your gift appropriate?

Giving gifts is a tricky topic in China. Officially it is illegal to give gifts, as it is considered bribery making it illegal in the country. However you may find in the business world, gift giving policies are slightly more relaxed. A gift can be given a sign of a growing business relationship. But, make sure your gift is not too expensive. Also beware, do your research before purchasing any, old gift. As some gifts might even offend your Chinese business associates, such as clocks, watches and green hats.

Entering Meeting Room:

5. Entering the room in order.

When you enter the room make sure you enter in order of authority. The person with the highest seniority should enter first, followed by the next highest ranking individual.

6. Handshakes to greet.

It is traditional in Chinese business culture for individuals to nod or bow in greeting. These days handshakes can also be used to greet. Handshakes are soft and short in Chinese culture with minimal eye contact. Too much eye contact could imply a threat or interpreted as a challenge. When shaking hands, let your Chinese associate initiate the shake, followed by introductions.

7. Formal introductions

After the quick handshake address your business partners. Let your Chinese counterpart start. They will commonly say their company name, then their title and finally their name. If in doubt, follow their lead.

8. Giving out business cards

The exchange of business cards is very common, so bring plenty. When taking the business card use both hands and look at it carefully before putting them away. Also, make sure your business card is bilingual, so both the English and Chinese can read it.

9. Receiving Gifts

When accepting a gift use both hands. Never open the gift immediately, unless you are told to do so. You don’t want to be seen as a greedy person. If done wrong, this could be the most offensive of our etiquette tips for doing business in China.

10. Small talk

Just like in Western culture small talk is good before a meeting. To break the ice, you might want to ask simple questions, such as “Have you eaten?” or “Where have you been?”. Keep conversations simple and never ask political questions, such as about Tibet or human rights.

11. Save and give face

Most important of all our etiquette tips for doing business in China is save and give face. Face is key to Chinese culture, it relates to respect and dignity. In order to give face, pay attention to elders and rankings. You can save face by being careful not to make any  strong negative statements. That means any blunt “No’s”, should be replaced with “Maybe’s” or “we will think about it.”

During the Meeting:

12. Never point with a finger.

It is extremely rude in China to point with one finger. You should instead use an open hand or make eye contact without using any hands to grab someone’s attention. 

13. Seat and order

When you are about to sit, let more senior members sit before you and then wait for your Chinese counterparts to show your seats.

14. Eating and manners

If your meeting is in a restaurant, then you must never eat before others. Especially others higher in rank than you. Also, no matter how hungry you are, never finish all your food. This might make them think you are still hungry and they will carry on bringing out food. If you have chopsticks on your table, never stick them straight into your bowl, this action is only for funerals. And never tap your bowl with the chopsticks, as this action is linked with begging.

Ending the Meeting:

15. Paying the bill.

If you have initiated the meeting by inviting others to a certain restaurant. This makes you responsible for paying the bill. When you are paying the bill, never show off your money in front of the other guests and never expect someone else to pick it up for you.

16. Allow the Chinese to leave first.

In order to show respect, wait until the host ends the meeting and stands up. Then you can also do the same. The Chinese will leave the room first in the same order they came in (hierarchical). When you are ready, you should also leave the room in order of rank.


By following these 16 etiquette tips for doing business in China, you should be able to build stronger relationships with your Chinese counterparts. Please contact our team of travel experts at United Travel for some friendly support on business travel.

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