Chinese Business Etiquette Having been born to Chinese parents and having a relatively strong grasp of the Chinese language, my expectations were that I would easily integrate into its business culture during my first business trip there. However I quickly discovered that my understanding of its business etiquette was severely limited when the client visited rejected all of our proposals and signed with a local bank. After consulting with a local friend, the realization that mianzi (face) was not emphasized enough. The understanding of mianzi is fundamental to conducting business in China.
Mianzi is the ability to avoid any type of embarrassment for the counterpart and show respect through the performance of multiple unwritten rules. None of these business etiquettes are more rigorously respected than at the dinner table, where most of business is discussed in China. Almost all SME companies conduct and finalize part of their deals during meals. This is due to the importance of building guanxi, personal relationships with other businesses or government officials, in China. Mianzi business etiquette is observed preceding the meal itself.
One must cordially invite the other well in advance with a relatively luxurious place in mind. Families should be invited in order to show respect for the whole family but is not often required to attend. Unlike the western world, where more quite and elegant atmospheres are preferred, Chinese business meals are often done in private rooms within a large noisy restaurant. The grandeur of the restaurant and the amount of clientele tells the opposite party of the quality of the location while the private room offers exclusivity.
Also, since most restaurants charge an elevated minimum expenditure for usage of the private room, the opposite party sees one’s commitment in achieving a deal. Seating at the table is extremely important in Chinese culture. In often-used round tables, the host always seats across from the door while the main guest seats to his/her right. According to tales this is a tradition that started early in Chinese history, as the host would have to protect its guests against any malicious spirits.
The host must always order the food ahead of time, with no first plates and plenty of seafood. This is due to the fact that rice or noodle dishes are considered cheap. The main guest must be offered the first taste of food, and only following that everyone else at the table can lift their chopsticks. The guest must never finish all the food in its plate as it shows that the host has not ordered sufficient food, and hence is considered very embarrassing to the host.
It is also very disrespectful to refuse any Chinese white wine shots offered. In western China, the meal begins with three shots, each honoring the sky, the earth and ancestors. Towards the conclusion of the meal business matters can be officially discussed or finalized with details worked out in the following days. Gifts are then exchanged with the most acceptable being cigarettes or wine and if children present, a hongbao (red bag) containing money are given to them.
Gifts to government officials are not often presented at the dinner itself but are sent to their private residences on a later day. The night ends with the host accompanying its guest to the car, though it is also common for the night to end at a karaoke bar if discussions were successful. The guest never sees the act of paying as it is considered embarrassing for the guest. Though business meals are common everywhere in the world, the understanding of Chinese business etiquette at those occasions is vital for the successfulness there.