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Understanding the subtleties of business etiquette in China is of paramount importance if you hope to be successful in business interactions with the Chinese. Good business etiquette in China, therefore, requires a good working knowledge of the language or a reliable translator, as well as a firm understanding and respect for the particular customs and values unique to Chinese culture. For instance, at business and social meetings, gifts are always appreciated, but never offer your Chinese host flowers or a clock, as both are associated with death. You will do well, however, to offer a good quality bottle of alcohol wrapped in elegant gold and red paper.
Business etiquette in China does not require that a businessperson be fluent in Chinese. If you do not speak Chinese, an interpreter is crucial and says to your Chinese colleagues that you are serious about reaching out and initiating effective communication. It is also helpful to learn and practice a few key phrases to demonstrate respect and your willingness to embrace the Chinese language and culture.
In many parts of the world, an initial greeting is accompanied by a handshake, but proper business etiquette in China does not involve this custom. Instead, Chinese business people often greet a person by offering a business card. Such should be graciously accepted and read immediately upon receipt. Afterward, do not put the card in your pocket right away, but hold on to it or place it on the meeting table. Experts on business etiquette in China further recommend having special cards printed with your name and contact information repeated in Chinese on the back of the card.
If a handshake is granted, do not expect a second one at the end of the meeting and refrain from having any further bodily contact with your colleague as a rule when practicing good business etiquette in China. Never attempt to hug or even place your arm on the shoulder of a Chinese colleague and never offer a friendly kiss on the cheek as a greeting to someone of the opposite sex. Do not be alarmed or offended, however, at a person standing very close to you, as personal space is not a widely acknowledged concept China.
Business etiquette in China often involves dining out. While doing so, you can expect to be seated at your host’s right side and served before the rest of your party as an honored guest. Drinking alcohol is encouraged, but if you do not drink, it is best to cite medical reasons so as not to offend your host. It is also a good idea to practice using chopsticks ahead of time so you are comfortable using them at meals. Be aware that business etiquette in China rarely involves spouses attending a business lunch or dinner, so do not attempt to bring yours if she or he accompanies you on the trip unless expressly invited to do so.