Came across a post on the Fili World blog on “How to Succeed at Doing Business in China.” Fili World is written by an Israeli computer scientist who recently spent a year in Taiwan and some time in China and now frequently blogs on China. I like the blog because its Israeli perspective sometimes differs from that of a U.S., British, Dutch or even French blog on China.
Th Fili Nation post consists mostly of the following etiquette list for those doing business in China from an article (in Hebrew) in Haaretz, a leading Israeli newspaper (with my minor translation changes as well):
- Take an interpreter to the first meeting. Never expect to convey a technical message in English. The Chinese person with whom you are dealing will never admit he does not understand. A Chinese interpreter will cost between $50 to $1000.
- Present your business card with both hands. You must study your Chinese colleague’s business card and you should never stash it in your back pocket.
- Talk only to the Senior manager when negotiating.
- Determine who is really the decision maker.
- The most important part of negotiations is spending time together in a good restaurant, or at a Karaoke (KTV) Bar. Some deals will not be signed before drinking Chinese liquor together. Some Israelis have commented that it tastes awful.
- Chinese are not impressed with using body language. They consider it a weakness.
- Arriving late is considered an insult that might undermine the deal.
- Gifts should be given, but not in front of other members of the organization, so as not to be considered a bribe.
- The Chinese refuse gifts three times, but will accept them on the fourth.
- Wrap gifts in red paper as it symbolizes luck and fortune.
- Recommended topics for conversation : The weather, domestic tourism in China, Chinese art, good experiences in China.
- Recommended conversation topics to avoid : Political subjects, especially China’s politics regarding Tibet and Taiwan.
Fili World then goes on to say that though there is “some value” to this list, it stereotypes the Chinese and “might result in doing more harm than good.” I tend to agree. I also note that this list tilts more towards etiquette than business advice, and though etiquette is important for not squelching a deal, I find it hard to believe it ever seals one.
As for the list itself, I agree that if you do not speak Chinese, it is essential to have good translator, but good translators can be had in China for less than $1,000 a day.
I also agree it is a good idea to present your business card with both hands and not put someone’s business card in your back pocket, but I also suggest you be sure to look closely at the card handed to you. After looking at the card, I also usually make a gesture acknowledging the high position of the person with whom I am dealing.
It does always make sense to try to figure out the decision maker when negotiating and to talk with that person. This is a good idea everywhere in the world, not just China.
“Some deals will not be signed before drinking Chinese liquor together. Yes, and some will be. If the list is talking about Baijiu, it is not just the Israelis who think it tastes awful. I compare its taste to what I imagine gasoline filled mud puddles taste like. I actually think the banquet/dinner is at least as important.
I do not know what this list is talking about in terms of body language.
It is not a good idea to arrive late in China; it is generally not a good idea to arrive late anywhere.
It is important to understand gift giving in China and this rendition is too simplistic. At some point, I will do a post on Chinese gift giving etiquette, which can be hugely complicated.
It probably is not a good idea to talk about Taiwan or Tibet. However, the views of the Chinese are hardly monolithic.
For more on Chinese etiquette, I suggest you check out the following:
1. Chinese American Etiquette Association. A San Francisco based non-profit organization whose “mission is to explore the differences in manners and customs between Chinese and American cultures in today’s technological environment.” Its philosophy is as follows:
The old saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans” is not sufficient for bridging the communication gap and cultural differences between China and the US. The world operates in the climate of globalization with a constant need for cross-cultural communication. CAEA explores how interactions occur during a process of cultural adaptation between these two countries and cultures.
“I think one needs to understand the culture in the country you are in but still stay true to your own values and beliefs. You do need to understand the things “not to do” so that you won’t offend others but then stay true to your own beliefs.”
“Etiquette is a strong indicator of character and background.”
2. Vblog — Protocol and Etiquette in Between China and the US. This blog describes itself as exploring “the manners and customs which distinguish the two cultures and the protocol and etiquette necessary to thrive in either world. This blog explores how interactions occur during a process of cultural adaptation between these two countries and cultures.
4. A Taste for Good Life. [link no longer exists] This Blog, written by Helen Wang, oftentimes posts with Chinese cultural issues. It describes itself as a “lifestyle blog with a focus on arts, cultures, theaters, fashion, travel, and holistic living – things that augment the beauty of life.”
5. Intercultural Learning Blog. Frequently posts on Chinese cultural issues.