Travel China Tools
Dos and Don’ts in China

As many other countries, China has her own customary practices in social life and the business world. The Chinese have some taboos in doing things, too. But great changes have taken place since the reform from 1978 and dynamic China shows her difference and uniqueness to the outside world. We just put some points here for foreign friends’ attention and for their reference in communications with the Chinese people. But we remind you of having these remarks in mind when communicating with people from another culture: “That’s not right, that’s not wrong, that’s just different!”

1. Meeting with Chinese People

It is most important thing for people from different cultures to meet each other, which
creates foundation for understanding and mutual understanding. In China, it is common to extend right hand to shake hands with people when being introduced, but being a male, wait for the woman to extend hand first. It is considered awkward to hold a waoman’s hand long and strong or cover a woman’s hand with two hands.


It is common practice to offer business card while meeting people for the first time, especially meeting people for official or business purposes. There fore, you had better prepare some name cards for yourself when coming to China. When you hand over your card to others, you had better present it with both of your hands, holding the two corners of the card in a position that the receiver can easily read it. It will be appreciated to prepare the card printed both in Chinese and your native language, but it will also do in only your own language. It is polite to receive the business card with both hand and pronounce it carefully in the face of the person presenting the card to you, especially the name of the person. It is OK to ask for a business card from those you want to keep in contact with by only saying:” May I have a business card from you in case I need your help?” or “Could you give me your card to have your instruction in the future?” The person you ask a card from will feel important and respected by your asking.

It is polite to stand up when somebody approaches you or somebody is being introduced to you while you are sitting there. More attention and respect should be paid to the elderly and the higher ranking people by offering them to enter the room first or allowing them to be seated first. It will be practical, useful or welcome and appreciated to memorize some simple greeting in the Chinese language such as ni hao(hello) and xie xie (thanks), and practice them often in meeting Chinese, which will make your stay a more convenient and pleasant one. But do not feel bothered by these frequent questions such as: Where are you from? Is it first time you come to China? How long will you stay in China? How do you like China? Have you ever been to Beijing? Have you visited the Great Wall? Do you like Chinese food? These questions are by no means offensive, but just like the weather topic between people in western cultures.

2. Dinning with Chinese People

The Chinese people are considerate people, so you should not be surprised when seeing some strangers invited at the same time with you for s dinner. They may be the people the host thinks that you will work with in the near future, or that you may need help from or do business with in the future.

It would be nice if you could try to learn some phrase for practical purposes for the banquet: hao chi-at you will; bie ke qi – do not stand on so much formality, be at home; hao chi- delicious; chi bao le-I am full; and to find good topics is always welcome in the banquet. And it would be desirable to contribute to the good atmosphere of the banquet. If not, try not to be spoiling it.

You are not supposed to put your chopsticks straight on the rice of the bowl, because it is the way the Chinese lay for dead people in big festivals. You should observe the position the waitress starts serving the dishes. You are not supposed to pick up the dish before the principal host extends his chopsticks to the dish first, and do not drink before he invites you to drink, especially at the beginning of the banquet.

During the banquet, if you find some dish especially to your taste, you can turn the Lazy Susan- ratary, but if there is something such as dog’s meat or cat’s meat, or some internal organs of animals or Chinese favorite tonic food, you can put them on the plates to avoid more coming in. But you should not eat too much at first even if there are some dishes to your taste, and you may leave some space for other delicious dishes to follow, for in a Chinese banquet, cold dishes are served first in small plates and then hot dishes in bigger plater.

After the toast of the host, the guests are supposed to give return toast, especially the main guest. You are supposed to do bottoms up sometimes with your warm Chinese partners, and to do that at least once to show your sincerity. But if you are not good at drinking, you can also avoid it by giving some excuses such as allergic to alcohol, digestion problem, liver problems and so on..

It is not considered bad manners to use hand to deal with crabs or chicken with crabs or chicken with bones. You can put shells or bones on the desk or your own plate. Sometimes a bowl of cleansing water is served for cleaning your hands before eating hard dealing as above-mentioned and after.

Fish is the last course of the dishes. The host will ask the guests what kind of “food” they prefer. Food here means white rice or Cantonese rice, Chinese noodle, Chinese dumpling or Chinese cake, etc. When the dessert comes, such as fruits, it suggests the end of the banquet. And before leaving the banquet, show your thanks and appreciation for the host’s kindness and express your willingness to return the kindness or the hospitality when your host visits your home country.

3. Communicating with Chinese People

As we all know that the Chinese culture belongs to high-context culture in which people tend to be more aware of their surroundings and their environment and do not rely on verbal communication as their main information channel. So people from the opposite low-context culture will think the Chinese are indirect and not clear-cut in expressing ideas while the Chinese people think the westerners are so direct as to lead to conflicts easily in communication.

Hierarchy in China makes people ready to accept orders or tasks given from higher level authority, but reluctant to share information at the same level or with people under them, though this might not be then case with the economic development for the moment. In a high-context culture such as that in China, people expect their communication partner to “read their minds”. So many westerners from low-context culture think that the Chinese are ambiguous and vague in communication. When exchanging information the Chinese tend to give others all the necessary information except the crucial piece, the most sensitive piece that may cause some unpleasantness for present harmony. For instance, “No” is considered impolite to the person rather than to his idea in the Chinese culture. The direct “no” is rude and against the rule of Li (politeness) of Confucius in interpersonal relations. ”No” will be conveyed by the following forms:” We will think about it a bit”: “ We will discuss it before giving the answer”; “We will report it to our boss”; “ That is a good question”; “ You can contact me later”; “It will be done in the near future”; or “we will consider your good suggestion”, etc. And sometimes behavior like smile, shaking hands or silence implies that the question goes beyond the speaker. A Chinese proverb says: you’d better say three times “Yes” than once “No”. It suggests that a positive statement is considered more important than a negative one in Chinese communication.

When asking a favor of a Chinese, you had better leave a space for the Chinese to react. Try to ask in a way to make the Chinese easily convey the “no” in the answer. For example: A person who needs help is conveying his message to a potential helper:” Are you very busy these days? I am busy with a meeting, I think maybe somebody is needed to take care of my baby a few hours a day.” The expected negative answer:” Oh, I am very busy these days with my family visiting me and I cook for them and show them around.” The “No” is aired without embarrassment. Sometimes, subjunctive mood is used in asking for help:” If only I can find somebody who likes to help me…” or “I would be luckier to have somebody here to take care of my baby.”

Harmony is one of the primary principles in communication in China. If the message can affect the harmony or make the person lose face, then transmission of the message will be delayed or even deleted. The third party or middleman is often used between two parties to avoid direct conflicts. And finally, Qingke (invitation to dinner) is the usual way to help further communication, and is used among friends, colleagues, partners or authorities.

4. Gotiating with Chinese People

The Chinese like to do business with friends to avoid the risk of being cheated. If you want to do business with Chinese, you had better use a third party whose reputation is accepted by the Chinese partner to introduce you to the business field.

When you arrive in China expecting a contract, you should fully understand the kindness and hospitality shown in the Chinese partner’s arrangement of putting you in hotels, taking you for the local sightseeing, or entertaining you with delicious food. The Chinese think the host should try his best to show his sincerity and hospitality toward friends or guests from far away, and it is a great pleasure for the Chinese to make the guest feel at home.

The Chinese think it takes time to know each other better and become friends. To many foreigners, the Chinese are not efficient in doing business with them. The Chinese tend to find out the hierarchy situation of their partner in negotiations. There should be a leading member in the delegation. If this member wants to be more convincing, he or she had better be an elderly in the group.

Before negotiating with the Chinese, you had better know the structure of the Chinese company and try to reach the person who has real power to give the last decision. The people who are active in the negotiating process sometimes are not the decision makers. In the first rounds of the negotiation, the powerful person sometimes does not show up. He will show up, say in some cases, only in the contract signing ceremony.

Lacking patience in the negotiation makes the Chinese think that the partner is lacking sincerity in doing business. The “Letter of Intent” only shows that the two parties have strong interest in some business for many Chinese businessmen. It could not be taken as a legal contract or a guarantee for the business even if both parties have signed it.

The Chinese tend to treat a partner to special accommodation for the sake of long- term relationship. They do compromise when taking long-term cooperation and friendship into consideration. But do not take for granted that the Chinese compromise easily and ask for more. The Chinese think that goes beyond modesty.

5. Complimenting Chinese People

Harmony for interpersonal relationship is so important in China that people developed a system of rules to enforce it. One way, this is easy and at low cost, is to give compliment. The Chinese compliment can cover almost all aspects or everything, complexion, hairstyle, new promotion and so on. And it eventually develops into a fine art of polishing interpersonal relationship. If you give compliment again and again to the Chinese on one thing such as painting or craft, you will find it your farewell gift; the Chinese like to read others mind as they expect others to read their.

The Chinese like very much to give compliment to others because that will give enough”face” (honor) to people at any time. The Chinese like compliment so much that criticism finds it hard to make its way out. In all business setting, compliment is seldom deleted from its main part of the occasions such as opening ceremony, closing ceremony, daily report, weekly meeting and so on. In China, you have to build a strong sense of judgment to tell true compliments. In attending a ceremony or an event, do not forget to tell the host you appreciate the arrangement. After attending a banquet, do not forget to give compliment to dishes, although they are not so delicious as you think.

When you are given compliment by the Chinese, you should not be so frustrated by the overstated compliment and you had better show your “modesty” by saying in Chinese: “na li na li”(not so good); “ ma ma hu hu”( just so so). When a Chinese is trying to point out something wrong with you, he will probably start from your good point in one way or another and lastly he will give you some hint to let you figure it out by yourself.

6. Keeping in Contact with Chinese

The Chinese like an established relationship to remain a long time. So the Chinese people try to contact each other from time to time by making phone calls, visiting each other or by dining with each other, though some changes have taken place, due to the ever increasing activities in life and work. The Chinese think that relationship is reciprocal, and do not like those who come when they need help and vanish when they are needed for help. The Chinese

Reciprocation can be found in every aspect of social activities. For example, a friend you once helped may pay your favor back by taking part in a celebration of your father’s birthday with a gift. The Chinese can not be at ease if owing somebody a favor for too long.

Gifts play an important role in social activities of Chinese life. The value of the gift can suggest the intention of the gift giver. If it is high-valued, it is means the giver will ask a favor from the gift receiver. If it is a small gift, it just shows the intention of greasing the relationship. It will make the Chinese lose face if the gift is declined. Most often gifts of similar value will be exchanged between the gift giver and receiver. It is considered bribery to receive high-valued gift such as a gold, cash or brand products from business partners. Gift exchange is a common activity in Chinese social life for relatives, friends and business partners. But now it is a fashion to use small things as gifts to avoid inconvenience for both gift sender and receiver. Almost anything can be chosen as a gift now in China but you had better not choose a clock.

“Give a clock” in Chinese is the same as saying the Chinese with the meaning of attending somebody’s funeral! In the past, “give somebody a knife” has meant bad feeling for cutting relationship with somebody. But nowadays, it is a fashion to give Swiss knife as a gift because it is famous for its good quality.

It is common for business people to hold dinners and attend dinners often during weekends or holidays. Most business people think it is the most effective way to make friends and keep friendship tight. What is more, the dinners are usually arranged a few days before a few holidays, say the New Year’s Day, the Spring Festival and so on for providing an opportunity for you to express your gratitude for the favor you have received from the invited.

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