Business culture

in China


  • Although Chinese people themselves may be late, make sure that you are punctual. If you are late, be sure to offer an apology for your tardiness. Allow a 10-minute interval for others to arrive.
  • In China, people enter a meeting in order of importance, the highest-ranking person arriving first, and so on. The same goes for introductions
  • Chinese colleagues may applaud when you are introduced as a way of greeting you and showing approval. If so, it is appropriate to applaud back.
  • You are expected to greet everyone in the room individually, even if the group is large.
  • Allow a few moments of social conversation to pass before mentioning business.
  • Traditionally, the host will give a quick speech greeting everyone before discussing the topic of business.
  • Be sure to emphasise the status, size, reputation and wealth of your company.
  • When it’s your turn to speak, begin by providing in-depth information about your company, its history, the context of the negotiations and all of the corresponding details. If you do not, expect to be asked many questions until you’ve covered all of this information.
  • Business cards in China are also called ‘name cards’.
  • Receiving Business Cards: Chinese culture interprets the attention and respect you show someone’s business card to be indicative of the respect you will show the individual in business. Either use both hands or the right hand alone to receive a business card. Do not put the card away immediately, but regard it carefully and place it before you on the table until everyone is seated. Do not put it in the back pocket of your pants as this could be interpreted as you sitting on their face. Similarly, do not write on a card unless directed to do so.
  • Presenting Business Cards: Either use both hands or the right hand alone when giving a business card and ensure that the writing is facing the other person. Do not deal out your cards as if you were playing a game of cards, as this risks being interpreted as rude.

Business Communication

  • The Chinese often nod while a person speaks. This does not necessarily indicate agreement, but rather suggests that the listener understands what the speaker is saying.
  • For the sake of saving face, the Chinese will seldom give a flat negative response to proposals made, even when they do not agree with it. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation. Listen closely to what they say, but also pay careful attention to what they don’t say and double-check your understanding.
  • It is considered rude to interrupt, so refrain from doing so. Furthermore, if the natural conversation dynamic between you and your colleagues is to talk over one another, a Chinese person will not interrupt you to make their point heard. Therefore, try to slow down and pause between your points to give them an opportunity to speak.
  • Do not immediately reject a proposal from a Chinese person or company. When you reject someone’s idea, there is a risk of this being interpreted as you rejecting the person. Similarly, lead into criticism gradually rather than doing so bluntly.
  • Never write something in red ink. Writing in red indicates that you are someone’s blood enemy.
  • To avoid confusion with your Chinese business counterpart regarding dates, write out the month in letters. If you do write a date in numbers, list the year first, followed by the month then the day. For example, 2017.09.30
  • The number 8 is considered the luckiest number while the number 4 is considered unlucky.


Business in China largely operates on the reciprocity of favours. Once a good business relationship is established, it is likely the Chinese will voluntarily do something for you with the assumption that you will return the favour later. The idea of reciprocity is interconnected with guanxi, which are relationships that may also result in the exchange of connections or favours that benefit both people. Guanxi refers to ‘networking’, which is reflected in the Chinese saying, “nei wai you bie” (“insiders are different from outsiders”). Mutual trust is essential to Guanxi. In turn, many Chinese will prioritise relationship building, particularly in a business context.

The principle of Guanxi commits friends, family and, at times, business colleagues to assist one another. Guanxi  plays a large role in business interactions and relations. Good Guanxi can sometimes be necessary to create opportunities that otherwise would not be accessible. Guanxi can manifest in nepotism, whereby family members or friends may be hired for jobs. In Chinese business culture, is common and is considered to guarantee employee trust and security.

Gift giving

The Chinese like to give many gifts in business, as this can signify gratitude and appreciation, and sometimes a request for a favour. When choosing a gift, keep in mind that it is a professional gesture, and therefore the gift should not be a personal object. If you are at a loss for what gift to give, you can invite your business partner for a drink or to dinner (unless it is a member of the opposite gender, in which case the intention may be misinterpreted).


In companies with many employees, it is best to give gifts of equal value to all individuals and a more valuable one to the senior staff member (or only give gifts to the senior persons). Do not give gifts that are difficult to reciprocate or match, as this will cause the Chinese recipient to lose face. Giving expensive gifts to a business partner can also be interpreted as bribery and therefore may not be accepted.



  • Workplaces in China are definitively hierarchical based on age and position, and everyone has a distinct place and role within their company. 
  • Women are usually given respect in accord with their role and rank within the company hierarchy.
  • In recent years, organising or attending private banquets between companies has been forbidden by the Chinese government. Therefore, a Chinese business associate may turn down a dinner invitation out of professionalism instead of personal reasons. 
  • On the Corruption Perception index (2017), China ranks 77th out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 41 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector is somewhat corrupt

Author : Scroope, Chara. (2019).  The Cultural Atlas