Business Etiquette in China

by Cate Rushton; Updated September 26, 2017
Business in China

China has seen major changes in its economy since the 1970s. Once closed off to participation in the global market, China now enjoys trade with many countries and is becoming increasingly advanced and accustomed to international business.

The Chinese culture is steeped in tradition, and it is advisable to have a good working background of the country before traveling there for business.

Dress and Appearance

Chinese business people are very conservative in dress and appearance. Avoid wearing bright colors or loud patterns. For meetings, wear a suit and tie in muted, dark colors.

Business women should avoid clothing that is revealing; stick with high necklines and skirts at or below the knee. High-heeled shoes should be avoided as well; flat shoes or those with a small heel are the norm.

For casual events or sightseeing, jeans are appropriate. Shorts are not worn in public.


Meetings

Be on time for your meeting. It is a serious offense of business etiquette to be late and your hosts will be greatly annoyed.

Bring an interpreter with you for meetings. Speak slowly using simple, common words. Pause frequently to make sure that everyone is following the conversation.

Be aware that the Communist Party and its beliefs will be prevalent during discussion and decision-making. Facts and statistics should not go against party beliefs.

Avoid embarrassing your hosts or catching them off guard. In Chinese society, composure and respect are part of social status.

Be prepared to make presentations multiple times, to different levels of executives in the company.

Chinese business people will enter the conference room in order of status and importance. When traveling, bring at least one top executive along; your hosts will expect this.

Business Cards

Bring plenty of business cards when traveling to China. The business card is a source of status here.

When given a business card, do not stuff it into your pocket or wallet. Inspect it carefully and hold it along the edges in a respectful manner. Place it into a business card case or on the table in front of you.

Have business cards printed in English on one side and the local Chinese dialect on the other. Gold ink printing will show status and impress your Chinese clients.

When handing your business card to a client, present it using both hands, with the Chinese side face up.

Dining

When dining in China, do not place your chopsticks on the bowl; this is considered bad luck. Also, do not stick them straight up in the food.

When approaching the table, wait for your hosts to begin sitting; there is a hierarchical method to sitting.

Do not begin eating until the person with the highest status has made a toast and begun to eat.

Do not discuss business at the table.

Leave a small amount of food on your plate and some tea in the bottom of your cup. Leaving an empty plate is a sign to your host that he did not provide enough food and will cause embarrassment.

References

About the Author

Cate Rushton has been a freelance writer since 1999, specializing in wildlife and outdoor activities. Her published works also cover relationships, gardening and travel on various websites. Rushton holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Utah.