Chinese Business Etiquette

Shanghai at night - Chinese Business EtiquetteChina’s emergence as one of the top economic powers has created an influx of interest by foreign businesses looking to expand their operations in Asia. This article highlights some business etiquettes that should and should not be practiced when doing business in China.

Dress appropriately

  • Men and women should both dress conservatively and avoid certain colors. In China colors can represent many different things both good and bad, generally you want to avoid white. Green hats represent infidelity and white represent death and mourning.
  •  Women should not wear anything revealing, wearing revealing clothing is considered an insult by Chinese businessman.


  • Do not be over animated when speaking or presenting to a Chinese audience. Waving or using your arms excessively when talking is unnecessary and distracting in Chinese culture.
  •  Avoid personal contact with people, especially contact between a man and women.
  • Never point when speaking to people, pointing is an insult.

Gift Exchange, giving gifts can be viewed as a nice gesture in business relations, but giving a bad gift can make a horrible impression.

  • Make sure to Avoid giving the following gifts: Clocks, handkerchiefs, straw sandals, four of the same item, gifts that appear or are wrapped in blue, black or white wrapping paper. All of these things are associated with death.
  • Do not give gifts that are obviously very expensive.
  • Some good or acceptable gifts include: nice liqueurs, a nice pen (not with red ink), collectable stamps, a nice lighter if the person is a smoker.
  • Do not be alarmed if your gift is declined at first, it is Chinese custom to decline a gift three times before accepting so they do not appear greedy.
  • Keep in mind that the numbers 8 and 6 have good connotations.


  • Try to book meetings well in advance and make sure that your meeting is not on a national (Chinese) holiday.
  •  Make sure to arrive early for meetings, punctuality is extremely important.
  • Avoid conversations about religion and politics. China is technically a communist country, about 90% of the country is considered atheist.
  •  Before the meeting make and send an agenda to the other party.
  • Be patient in meetings and never show frustration or anger. The Chinese are notorious for their tough negotiating and will exploit your feelings if it can help their position.


  • If you do not know how to use chopsticks it is important to learn how to before you go to China.
  • Always dress appropriately when going out to a restaurant.
  •  Wait to be told where to sit by the host and do not begin eating until the host starts.
  • Try everything that is offered to you even though you may not like it.
  •  Always put your chopsticks on the chopstick rest when you are not using them. Placing your chopsticks upright in a bowl connotes death.
  • Try hard not to drop your chopsticks, this is considered bad luck.
  • Do not eat everything on your plate when you are done with the meal, to Chinese people this means you did not get enough food.
2 Responses to “Chinese Business Etiquette”
  1. Bucko says:

    Good list of starter tips for getting involved in business in China. You’ll find typically Chinese are very impressed with just showing that you’ve made an effort to learn the customs, even you weren’t able to get it right. It’s not uncommon for a Westerner to simply say “Ni Hao” and be rained upon with complements of how good your Chinese is. Same with the chopsticks in fact.

    That said, business relationships in China, known as Guanxi, can run much deeper than just performing the proper gestures. There are subtleties that it takes decades, not just years, in China to understand, and even then, as an outsider you’re only just starting to scratch the surface. This is why it’s often best not to go in alone. For manufacturing for example, it’s best to have a Procurement Specialist that guide you through the process. Full disclosure: that’s what my company in China specializes in. 30 years in China as a foreign company helping foreigners connect with Chinese manufacturers can help make progress in understanding the proper business etiquette and building relationships.

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  1. […] Before we move on, you might also be interested in checking out these general Chinese business etiquette tips. […]

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