What you Should Know about the Business Culture in China

Business culture in China is essential! With the opening up and overall increase of globalization, China became an essential player in the business world. It is also interesting to note that the rise of the Chinese Culture at the global level is not just the trade figures out there, but its local market is gigantic. Many foreign companies built up facilities here to take advantage of the domestic market’s size of over 1.4 billion consumers. 

Several Business executives are trying hard to understand Chinese culture and be successful in doing business here. Due to the increase in demand for international talents by Multinational companies based in China, there is a rising market for bilingual job seekers. I will not hesitate to add that talents seeking a job in Asian economies must take a keen interest in understanding the local culture and work ethics. 

In China, everything can be possible but challenging for those who do not understand how life works in China. So before starting your business or searching for jobs in China, you should first learn about Chinese culture, behavior, etiquette to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunication. Below we have summarized the most crucial fact about the Chinese culture in business.

Basics of the Business Culture in China

The values, including business culture in China, are based on the principles of Confucious principles. Therefore, you must understand the business relationship differences between the West and East. In the West, business relationships are based on agreements, contracts, and rules. However, in China, relationships are significant for a successful business. Those relationships are based on trust and mutual commitment, following the Confucian values. Business contacts in China are made to last, which means that contracts are also based on trust, loyalty and sincerity.

First Meeting

Chinese people tend to be aloof and suspicious of a stranger when they first meet. To avoid this mistrust, it helps bring in an intermediary who understands how business works in China. It could be a mutual friend or a seasoned Chinese business person. As mentioned above, your business intermediary should understand the nuances of selecting words and steering the conversation on your behalf. The intermediary builds up the trust quickly before negotiations begin.

Meeting Dress code

Chinese Business Culture and Dressing

Time Management as a business culture in China

Punctuality is crucial in China. Delays are not welcomed in the business world of China as they are a sign of disrespect. If you are late, make sure to call your partner. Not only do you inform him or her here, but also apologize for it and probably come with a gift. Chinese meetings usually do not follow a fixed agenda, as they prefer to leave an open end for the meeting.
Generally speaking, the business hours in China are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., although in most cases, there is a general lunch break from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. during which almost all employees in the company stop working. It would help if you always considered those timings while scheduling a meeting.

Greetings and Titles

Smiling and nodding are standard practices to greet someone in China. However, in official business meetings, a handshake is routine. Here make sure your Chinese counterpart makes the first step. If you are initiating the handshake, make sure you greet from the While shaking hands, other physical contact needs to be avoided, and it is common practice to look down rather than in face to face. 

If you want to impress your counterpart, make use of some easy Chinese phrases. Besides 您好 ninhao, the expression 很高兴认识您 “hen Gao xing ren shi nin” is also a good and easy phrase to learn. You can always ask your Chinese partners or friends to teach you some useful words to impress; they will be more than happy to teach you their mother language.

In China, the way of addressing someone also differs from the practices in the West. Here people in business will be addressed with their position, followed by the surname of the person.

For example, Manager Wang would be addressed like this in Chinese: 王经理 Wang jingli. If you are not sure about the titles, you can also use Mr. and Madam’s English equivalent plus the name. Be careful to notice that Chinese names always start with the first name, so Mr. Wang Hong is addressed as Mr. Wang.

Quick Conversation Starters

In China, people often start a conversation with sentences like 你吃了吗 ni chi le ma? “Have you eaten? “. Simple Chinese Sentences like this don’t require you to go into detail, it is simply the Chinese equivalent to “How are you?”. Chinese People will always be impressed if you use some simple Mandarine phrases because it shows that you are interested in the culture and are well prepared for a meeting. However, make sure you use those phrases the right way and know their meaning.

Some good topics for small talk are climate, landscape, art, or geography, as well as your own travel experience in China and abroad. Always try to avoid addressing political discussions or religion-related topics. 

In China, you need to learn how to read between the lines because not many Chinese people will say negative answers out loud because they are considered rude. You may have heard of the expression keeping one’s face, which is one essential part of Chinese culture. To not let people lose their face, you should pay attention to rankings, communication topics, and answers. It would be best if you also adapted to phrases like “I will think about it” or “maybe”, to avoid the simple “no”.

Business Meals

There are few issues to consider when inviting or being invited to a business. It would be best if you showed up prepared and well vexed in the Chinese dining etiquettes. Here you should note that if you are inviting people, you also have to pay the bill. Even if you were invited, make sure you try to settle part of the bill.

business culture in China at the dinning table

Seat order of a business meal

A Chinese banquet takes place on a round table and typically has a strict seating arrangement you have to follow. The banquet host will always sit facing the door, while the main guest will sit next. The rest of the attendees sit in decreasing order of importance. Most of the time the inviting part and guests will sit alternately. The sub-host will sit next to the door to easily communicate with the waiter and waitress.

Customs of a business meal

During the meal, typically around 20 to 30 courses will be served; here, you should make sure to try as much as possible and not just stick to one meal. Never start eating before the others, especially the most important host. In China, you always have to consider how much you eat. If you eat too less, it will indicate that you didn’t like the food. If you overeat, they think that the food was not enough and you are not satisfied, so they will continue to order food. Moreover, Chinese hosts always try to present you with expensive and unique kinds of meals and alcoholic beverages.


Dinning manners differ significantly from the Western ones. First, it is well known that the Chinese eat with chopsticks. You should avoid sticking them into your bowl or food because it’s a sign of mourning and sorrow. Please do not lose your face when the Chinese start slurping while eating; this is a common practice to show that one likes the food and is not considered rude.
Drinking alcohol is another practice during every business dinner. It is rude if you reject an offer to drink. However, you should know that it is even more disrespectful to stop in the middle once you started drinking Baijiu. If you cannot drink a lot, excuse yourself from the beginning due to medical reasons, for example.

Dress Code

The dress code in China also varies with the industry you are working in, but the style is more controversial. Classic suits in traditional colors are preferred for business usage. Bright colors may consider inappropriate. Your clothing should reflect success without being too extraordinary. An expensive pair of shoes, high-quality cloth or a watch can build up a good impression.

Gift as a business culture in China

Giving gifts in China is an art in general; however, it is a significant part of China’s business culture. There are so many rules to follow not to send the wrong impressions. Although giving gifts is not easy in China, it is one of the first steps of building a good relationship. If you give gifts away in China, make sure they are not too expensive not to send the impression of bribery. Most of the time, the Chinese will reject your gifts two to three times before accepting them and won’t open them in front of you. This is due to cultural connotations and not because they don’t appreciate your gift. Moreover, make sure you always give away and accept donations with both hands as a gesture of respect.

If you want to find out more about the art of gifts in China, you can find out more here.

China’s business culture might seem overwhelming at first, but you will get used to the customs. For further insights in how to start your Career in China feel free to reach out to us!

Now that you have studied the basics of Chinese culture, its time to find jobs in China. Oriental Career is serving you a comprehensive platform that helps you secure your dream job in China faster, through vetted companies