With its population of 1.3 billion, China is the world’s most populous nation and is currently undergoing an identity crisis. Many corporations still see China as simply a low-cost manufacturing nation, but China has begun to shake off this image with some solid economic expansion, a rapid market transformation and a series of government reforms.
China’s population is incredibly diverse, which is no surprise considering the residents are spread out over 9.6 million square kilometers. That said, the people of China cannot be compartmentalized into several neat consumer profiles. Instead, as corporations begin to tap China’s growth and the expanding middle class market, companies need to remain flexible and innovative when finding their consumer base niche. For example, Starbucks began serving green team lattes in an attempt to convert a tea-drinking nation to coffee.
Despite China’s growing influence, several challenges remain for those looking to conduct business in China, including: language barriers, strong competition, distinct cultural differences and a singular business etiquette. Below are some tips to help ease past a few of these roadblocks.
Meetings and Communication:
- The Chinese place a great deal of importance on “face.” “Face” roughly translates as “honour” or “respect.” It is paramount that you avoid losing face or causing others to lose face at all times.
- Be willing to bury your own feelings for the good of the group. If you disagree during a meeting, rather than publicly calling attention to both yourself and the other individual—which would cause you both to lose face—confront them privately and explain your issue.
- Non-verbal communication speaks volumes. Frowning or an obvious lack of attention is interpreted as a sign of disagreement. This is why most Chinese people maintain an impassive expression while speaking.
- It’s considered disrespectful and an invasion of privacy to stare into another person’s eyes. Make eye contact and then avert your eyes to save face.
- Greetings are formal and the oldest person is always the first to be greeted.
- Handshakes are the most common greeting with foreigners, and it’s not uncommon to see Chinese people look toward the ground when greeting someone. You should do the same.
- It is important that you bring your own interpreter, especially if there are plans to sign paperwork or close deals with legal ramifications.
- In terms of gifts, do not give any sharp object or cutting utensil, as they symbolize the severing of a relationship. Also, do not give clocks, flowers, handkerchiefs or straw sandals, as they are associated with death and funerals. Do not wrap gifts in blue, black, or white paper, and always present gifts with two hands. Gifts are not opened when received and gifts may be refused up to three times before they’re accepted.
- Men should stay traditional and stick with dark coloured, conservative business suits.
- Women should wear conservative business suits or dresses with a high neckline. Leave the high heels at home, ladies, and stick with a comfortable flat.
- Avoid bright colours.
- Always arrive on time, or slightly early, and eat well to demonstrate your enjoyment of the food.
- Wait to be told where to sit, and always wait to dive in until your host begins to eat.
- You should try everything offered to you, but never eat the last piece from the serving tray. Yes, you may find yourself in a bit of a catch-22 here!
- Learn to use chopsticks, and hold the rice bowl close to your mouth when eating.
- Slurping and belching sounds are normal and indicate enjoyment of the food. However, leave them for the locals and try to remain professional.