Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos: Communication Guidelines for China By Gayle Cotton 3

(Gayle Cotton is an international diversity speaker – here is one of her articles. Enjoy – Brian Moore)

Before your visit, it is a good idea to prepare yourself by studying aspects of Chinese culture, history and geography.nYour hosts will appreciate your initiative. When scheduling your appointments, be sensitive to holidays such as the Chinese New Year, which changes yearly, as many businesses will be closed.

Being late for an appointment is considered an insult in Chinese business culture. You’ll find it beneficial to bring your own interpreter, if possible, to help you understand the subtleties of everything being said during meetings. Since there is such a strong emphasis on hierarchy in the Chinese culture, ensure that you bring a senior member of your organization to lead the discussions. The Chinese will do the same.

In accordance with Chinese business protocol, people are expected to enter the meeting room in hierarchical order. For example, the Chinese will assume that the first foreigner to enter the room is head of the delegation and will acknowledge the most senior person first. Watch and do the same.

The Chinese will nod or bow slightly as an initial greeting. Handshakes are also popular however, so wait for your Chinese counterpart to initiate the gesture.

The Chinese are very keen about exchanging business cards. Be sure to bring a plentiful supply. Ensure that one side is in English and the other is in Chinese. It’s an asset to have your business cards printed in gold ink. In Chinese business culture, gold is the color of prestige, prosperity. Present your card with two hands and the Chinese side facing the recipient.

When receiving a business card, examine it carefully for a few moments, and then place it into your card case or on the table. Not reading a business card or stuffing it directly into your back pocket will be a breach of protocol. The

Chinese do not use many gestures or demonstrative expression when speaking and will become annoyed with someone who does. Emotion is repressed and humility is a virtue, so avoid displaying emotional or boastful behavior. The Chinese will not directly say “no” to you. Instead, ambivalent answers such as “Perhaps”, “I’m not sure”, “I’ll think about it”, or “We’ll see” usually mean “No.” “Small talk” is considered especially important at the beginning of a meeting. The question “Have you eaten?” is the equivalent to “How are you?”. Simply answer, “Yes”, even if you haven’t actually eaten. Never interrupt during meeting discussions.

At the end of a meeting, you will be expected to leave before your Chinese counterparts.

In Chinese business, responsibility for many decisions rests with the Communist party and government bureaucrats. Individuals working within this business network are held accountable for their actions and must adhere to the protocol.

You may have to make several trips to China to achieve your objectives. Chinese businesspeople prefer to establish a strong relationship based on ‘trust’ before closing a deal.

Use your whole hand, rather than your index finger, if you ever need to point.

Welcome Topics of Conversation

The Chinese scenery and landmarks The weather, climate and geography in China Your positive experiences traveling in China and your travels in other countries Inquiries about family, especially children (but don’t probe) Chinese art and culture

Conversation to Avoid

  1. Avoid mentioning Taiwan. If the subject comes up, never refer to this country as “The Republic of China” or “Nationalist China.” The correct term is “Taiwan Province”, or just “Taiwan.”
  2. Refrain from using the terms such as “Red China”, “Mainland China,” and “Communist China.”
  3. Don’t say anything that could be considered insulting as it will cause “loss of face” and could damage the relationship. “Saving face” is an important concept to understand.
  4. Avoid any discussion around communism and the government.
  5. Avoid discussing anything that would cause the Chinese to feel inferior in any way. Bon Voyage!

Author: Gayle Cotton,

International Keynote Speaker & Cultural Expert

Contact Gayle for More Information!

Share on Social Media

Leave a comment

3 thoughts on “Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos: Communication Guidelines for China By Gayle Cotton

  • Brian V Moore Post author

    Hi Linda,

    There are a number of cultural taboos – these often fade away when people become more Westernised in their ways and belief systems.

    Here are a few to kick off a conversation:-

    1. Generally, men should not shake the hands of Muslim women.
    2. People of Indian descent – do not take well to have a finger pointed in their faces, or excessively hard handshakes.
    3. Many traditional African people do not take well to hugs and kisses.
    4. Do not take alcohol to a Shembe or Muslim event.

    Let’s see if we can get some more, or discussions on the above.