News & Views

Tips for overcoming language and cultural barriers when doing business in China

There are some vast cultural differences when it comes to working with Chinese businesses, and in order to have a successful working relationship, it is imperative that you fully understand and embrace these differences. Here are some tips to help you when doing business in China.

  1. Relationships are key – Personal relationships are of vital importance when doing business in China. Respect and honour are key when developing your relationship.
  2. ‘Lose Face’ – It is important that you do not make people ‘lose face’ or embarrass them in front of their group or peers.
  3. ‘Yes’ can, in fact, mean ‘No’ – It is difficult for Chinese businesses to say ‘no’ directly, therefore anything other than a direct ‘yes’ could mean the opposite.
  4. Be prepared and have a long-term view – Chinese businesses are very interested in long-term commitment so you must build long-term goals and objectives into your proposals, as this will illustrate you are interested in building a good working relationship. Very often the meetings are extremely long and this is an exercise in moving the relationship forward rather evolving a business transaction.
  5. Gift giving – This is an everyday part of Chinese business culture. The giving and receiving of gifts can help to strengthen the relationship. There is a certain gift etiquette to follow as the wrong gift can be insulting, for example, the translation of ‘book’ in Chinese means ‘to lose’, therefore this is seen as an unprosperous gift. All gifts must be wrapped and are rarely opened in front of the gift giver. Chocolate is always a good gift!
  6. Greetings – It is a sign of respect to greet your guests at the door. You should always take a business card with two hands and place it in a holder or jacket and not in a trouser pocket.
  7. Learn key words and sentences – Learning how to greet your prospective business associate in Chinese shows them you have made an effort which will be greatly appreciated and demonstrates a willingness to understand and develop the relationship.
  8. Be prepared for long negotiations – It can take several very long meetings before any tangible progress is made. Patience is essential!

Top tips for overcoming cultural differences in China.

The above hopefully explains some of the differences in culture, business practices and etiquette and demonstrates the difficult areas where challenges may be encountered. Cross-cultural understanding is an important tool for any international business person, company or organisation when doing business internationally.


For more information please contact head Head of our Chinese desk Laurel Zhang and Paul Marmor.

Laurel will be speaking at Going Global Live on 11th May on ‘Doing Business in China’. For more information, please visit the Going Global website.

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