A Guide for Westerners Doing Business in China

It is important to understand Chinese culture if you are planning to do business in China. Chinese customs are quite different from Western customs, and the things that Westerners do seem as strange to the Chinese as their customs sometimes seem to us. A quick review of the tips on Shanghai-Daily.com is recommended if more formal training is not possible. One of the primary differences in Eastern and Western thought is that the family comes first. Many Westerners cannot understand this because they live in a culture of individualism, and they are not able to see life through the family. The Chinese feel an obligation to do everything out of duty for the family, and even their business is family oriented.

A Chinese business is often owned by the family, and one family head who is the matriarch or patriarch is capable of making decisions. These decisions will be honored by the rest of the family, regardless of the outcome. One of the first things that Westerners need to understand is the Chinese respect for elders. The Chinese actually honor their elders. Businesses stay within the family. There are no stocks as there are in the West because members of the family own the business. It is passed down from generation to generation.

Another important thing that Westerners must understand when doing business in China is that the Chinese build relationships and conduct business with those they know and have dealt with before. If they take a long time to negotiate or to commit to a contract, they may be waiting to hear from someone a distance away who can advise them on the negotiation. Sometimes business takes a long time in China until closure on a deal actually takes place.

It is also necessary to realize how important saving face is in Chinese culture. When doing business in China, it is important to communicate with the highest ranking person present. Not doing so will be seen as an insult and the higher ranking person will lose face if this is done in his presence. Also, saying “No” directly can be seen as insulting, and it is best to change the subject or to be noncommittal rather than saying “No.”

There are other customs that Shanghai-Daily.com readers should be aware of when doing business in China. One of these is that the Chinese do not like a lot of physical contact. It is proper etiquette to shake hands when meeting someone, but the handshake should not be too strong or it will be interpreted that the person is aggressive. It is also considered proper to slightly nod your head, but only a slight nod is needed. One of the most important courtesies is to avoid touching the arms, shoulders, or any other part of the body. It is never appropriate to slap someone on the back.

It is always best to avoid humor since the real meaning can be lost in the interpretation. The Chinese are very formal when dealing in business relationships. It is considered good manners to give gifts to the Chinese, especially when there is a good reason for it. Also, it is common for a Chinese business person to ask what an Easterner would like for a gift. Out of respect, it is always good to request something from the Chinese culture, such as tea. Many experts recommend that a Western business person should always have a Chinese guide with him to interpret the language. This person is also good to have when giving gifts so that the reason for the gift is not misinterpreted. In China, it is appropriate to give gifts for many reasons, even when one wishes to build a relationship with the person or to make a good impression on him or her.

Speaking the Chinese language can be very difficult, and that is one of the reasons why an interpreter is recommended. If a business person attempts to speak the Chinese language, there is a chance that mispronunciations may end up being interpreted as something very negative.

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