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Home  /  Inside China  /  Cultural Codes for Doing Business in China – Essential Knowledge or Overrated Stereotypes?
Cultural Codes for Doing Business in China – Essential Knowledge or Overrated Stereotypes? print version
As more and more business people find their way to China, more guides about the Chinese business culture are written. Advice about Chinese negotiation methods and business etiquette can prove to be valuable but perhaps some of us unnaturally stress the difference over the similarities.
One cultural value that is always strongly linked to Chinese people is the concept of 'face' 脸 (lian), which is coupled with numerous courtesy conducts, aiming not to undermine one's honor, one's face. Respecting the wise and the elder, not exposing one's questionable deeds in front of others, showing respect and giving compliments to the person you are dealing with - Are all manners stressed by Chinese culture and its Confucianist origins. Perhaps one should be aware of several customs which represent saving or losing face (丢脸 diulian), but this doesn't mean that this concept isn't present when western 'barbarian' business people deal on with each other.

Since I've mentioned Confucianism, roots of this doctrine can be noticed during business meetings or negotiations, apart from the 'face' issue, in the importance of harmony (at least on the surface) and avoiding conflicts. Perhaps high pitched arguments and curse words can be less casually forgotten by Chinese colleagues, compared to people of certain other cultures, but as long as you repress your 'Latin' tendencies things should be ok.

Some codes are important, such as accepting every document, check or envelope by holding it with both hands and treating business cards given to you with maximum respect, inserting them to your wallet rather than putting them in the back pocket of your pants (I have heard of a big business deal that blew up, 'just' because one of the western directors was amusing himself during the meeting by using a business card he had just received as a toothpick).

However, the excessive thoughts and fears as if you are entering a complete new sphere, in which no culture norms could be predicted without a wise guide, could be a problem by itself, leading to awkward interactions and treating one's counterparts as aliens. The most alienating fact is perhaps the language barrier, a problem that can be overcome only by an interpreter or dealing with Chinese who speak a language you are familiar with. Apart from this obstacle, 90% of misunderstanding and social inconveniences could be avoided be maintaining a formal attitude and showing respect to the other side in any given moment.

There is never any harm in taking (good) advice from the wise and the experienced, just remember that sometimes common sense would also do. After all, some experts use the exotic mist of our lack of familiarity with China as opportunities to make some money.

 


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