Doing Business in China: Dispelling the “Mysteries” of Chinese Business Etiquette

Chinese currency yuan and U.S. dollarsThe Internet abounds with an overload of websites – supposedly written by “experts” – about the “correct” way of doing business in the People’s Republic of China: that there is a specific, procedural “etiquette” one must follow to the dot if one hopes to get anywhere with one’s Far Eastern counterparts. Not to name specific names… but there are whole English-language websites devoted to the concepts of “Confucianism” and “losing face,” and how an awareness of these factors increases one’s chances of scoring a big contract. We can say, from over two decades of personal experience that while adhering to some of these guidelines can sometimes be of great use, there are exceptions to the rule. In fact, we can personally recollect so many exceptions to the rules as to state with some degree of certainty that there is no one pertaining set of rules. Adherence to soft-spoken Confucian “understatement” in a loud and fast-talking city like Wuhan, for example, may very well get you laughed out the door in a most un-Confucian sort of way.

The fact of the matter is simple: the “etiquette” of doing business in China is very much the same etiquette as doing business anywhere in the modern world. Profit is king. Content is king. The means by which these qualities are delivered, whether by way of a handshake or otherwise, are of little import. So long as you are polite, and friendly, and adhere to the corporate “bottom line” rule: i.e. so long as you bring valuable content or an ingenious product to the table; something by which both parties in the room can profit from; than you can go far in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Ningbo, Shenzhen, or wherever else you care to name. The same as you would in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, or Sheboygan, U.S.A. Globalization has had its impact on doing business with China to such an extent that there is very little lost in translation when it comes closing the deal.

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