Different enterprises might express different approaches, though indirect ways of closing deals are a very common phenomenon in high-class (高雅 gāoyǎ) businesses or 'culturally sophisticated' circles of the Chinese society. Being eager to talk business and to skip the friendly interaction is impolite, even if one is generous with one's paycheck.
How does it work? It could be a simple friendly conversation, often involving drinking tea, and other elements which are associated with good cultural taste, creating an atmosphere where both parties are relaxed and smell the 'thick flavor of culture' (文化味挺厚 wénhuà wèi tǐng hòu). Another, more masculine and perhaps vulgar way, is to take the friendship level one step further with a big meal and getting drunk of beer and baijiu (strong distilled Chinese alcoholic drink), but this depends also on the scope of the partnership.
In today's China, it seems that many young business executives are western oriented and often neglect traditional, Chinese 'alcoholic behaviors', but on the other hand do cherish other elements of Chinese culture. Good tea and imperial Chinese art are examples for cultural elements which remain esteemed even by many 'westernized' executives. Chinese imperial culture is less of a mainstream in some circles of the modern Chinese society than it was a hundred years ago, but among new rich Chinese there are many who show new interest in such cultural elements and see them as a synonym of good taste.
When visiting a showcase room of a furniture design company (specializing in designs in the style of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)), on the 18th floor of a building in a Chinese north-eastern city, the 32 years old company's president, Mr. Lu, explained to me the way he conducts business in the environment he created.
Besides having a wonderful view from the windows and a very refined design inside, the showcase is also a tea-house, inviting wealthy personnel to come and have a drink with one of the owners. "Some people like to come here, sit on my chairs and have a drink on my long wooden tables, after a while they might continue and show interest in my products, either for their own personal usage or suggest a bigger scale companionship (合作 hézuò)", explained Mr. Lu.
Business is often conducted in this way among those who enjoy the 'high altitude' of the Chinese society, though Lu also added that this style of business-making is particularly appropriate in the furniture-design business he is managing: "I provide special furniture; in order for customers to truly appreciate them they must sit on them, drink quality tea, chat and relax. When it comes to design one can't decide in an instant and needs to examine the comfort and the ambience such objects produce. Only then we could move on to talk direct business".
One can decide whether this style of business making is a hypocritical approach - 'Pretending' to relax, while behind the friendly expression one is only thinking about money, or an appropriate method, adding some flavor and making business more than an utilitarian encounter.
In any case, westerners who intend to step into the Chinese business world must adapt to some extent and get accustomed to this approach, which has to do with the way personal connections are generated in China (and the guanxi culture) and traditional Confucianist values.