Preparing For China

Making Contacts
  • Whenever possible, obtain an introduction.  Connections and relationships, known as quanxi, are very important.  The right connections can ensure you an attentive audience for your proposal and subsequent interactions.  Guanxi also incorporates an element of graft, for those who have the connections will often try to profit from them.  Guanxi creates an interdependency between the two parties because favors received must be reciprocated at some future time. 
  • If you are representing a well known international company, you can send a letter to the senior most person in a Chinese company in which you state your purpose for contacting him or her.  However, quanxi, will give you the right connections.
  • When sending an initial letter it is a good idea to have the letter translated into Chinese.  It is not necessary to translate everything you send to China.  Make sure there is sufficient interest on the other end before you translate much of your marketing literature and the like, because translation costs could become expensive.
  • You should hire a local representative or consultant to monitor deals and relationships in your absence and to maintain a constant presence for your company in China.  This is particularly important if you are sourcing from or selling to China.  When hiring a local representative, be sure to carefully check references and to obtain a list of his or her former and current clients.  With the increased interest in China, there are numerous people and individuals in China to be able to work the magic in addition to having high level contacts.
  • Once you have decided to visit China, either you, your counterpart, or local representatives should schedule meetings for you at least one to tow weeks in advance of your arrival.  Before your arrival, make your desires regarding accommodations and the like known to your business contact.  This can be particularly important if you represent a small firm with limited budget.  The Chinese tend to believe that all foreigners, particularly Westerners, are wealthy and can therefore afford to pay for all services.  Arrangements may be made without consulting you and you may be overwhelmed with hospitality.  You should feel comfortable in politely declining any service that you do not want.
  • Foreign visitors can be surprised to discover that their Chinese business contact will make an effort to keep them entertained at all times.  In China, a host's responsibility includes fulfilling needs and ensuring the comfort, care and protection of their guests.  If you wish to spend some time alone, indicate so very politely.

    Business Meetings

  • Chinese usually greet one another with a slight bow or nod of the head.  In business and with foreigners, a handshake is common upon greeting and departure.
  • Arriving early indicates respect for the host.  Although the Chinese are not always on time, punctuality is viewed as a positive asset in others.
  • Chinese pride themselves on holding their feelings inside, therefore, they may not smile at a first greeting or as often as people do in some other Asian countries.
  • Business cards, called name cards (ming pianr) by the Chinese, are presented when everyone first meets.  They should be given and received with both hands. 
  • It is advisable to hire a translator.
  • Chinese have a high regard for rank and seniority.  The Chinese will be impressed by and are usually more attentive to senior representatives of foreign firms.  Ranking your company can help to impress the Chinese, especially if you are the biggest or the oldest.
  • There are about one hundred widely used family names.  The five most common surnames are Chang (Chan in Cantonese), Wang, Li, Shao and Liu.  Although many of the surnames may be pronounced the same, the Chinese characters can be different.  In China, the family name precedes the given name, which is occasionally followed by the second name or the western equivalent of a first name.  For example, Huang Hua would be called Mr. Huang, and Hua would be his given name.  However, some Chinese will switch the order of their names when they are dealing with foreigners.  Further, many Chinese adopt given names, many of which are Western names.  Official and occupation related titles, such as Dr., Mayor, Ambassador, are used wherever appropriate.  Married women rarely take their husband's family name.
  • It is important to establish a smooth business relationship and friendship.  Trust and cooperation are key.   Meetings often begin with small talk over tea, and appropriate topics include the weather and your recent travels. Then, will be built on to more serious topics.  It is important to be patient.  The Chinese tend to maintain a level of formality in the early stages of a relationship.  This fosters respect for each side and ensures that contacts will proceed harmoniously.  To become informal too quickly would upset the balance the Chinese require to develop a meaningful business and personal relationship. Avoid discussing political and human rights issues.  These topics can be very sensitive and may place your Chinese counterpart in an awkward position because Chinese people are not allowed to publicly criticize the government.
  • Gift are not required or expected at initial meetings.  You may present a small sample of your company's product or an item with a corporate logo.  However, anything more elaborate or expensive will be inappropriate.

  • Due to the vastness of China, different Chinese have varying business styles.  The Cantonese tend to be more Westernized due to the influences of Hong Kong and constant contact with Western traders for hundreds of years. They are more accustomed to doing business with foreigners and are more efficient.  However, Cantonese business people can often be more adamant about having things their own way and so foreigners should be firm about their position in a negotiation. 
  • Chinese usually conduct business over lunch and dinner, and deals are often concluded over a meal.  Entertaining is a critical part of Chinese business culture.
  • Chinese pay a great deal of attention to details.  Most negotiations are divided into two phases: technical and business issues.  The Chinese will utilize their technical experts to focus on the technical phase until they are satisfied with basic issues or quality and usefulness.  Make sure to include at least one technical expert in your negotiation team. 
  • It should be noted that the Chinese often hesitate to provide information out of concern that someone will use it against them.  Use mutual contacts to assist if you are concerned about establishing trust and credibility with your Chinese counterpart, if negotiations stall, or you encounter disagreements.
  • Government officials who are responsible for negotiating deals often do not have the authority to commit financial resources.  Be flexible and creative in your approach, but do not lose sight of your business interests.  In many instances, even small changes to existing agreements cannot be made without the approval of senior officials.
  • Chinese do not like to say no or to be the bearers of negative news.  They will hint indirectly in the conversation.  Similarly, you will hear a yes response to almost everything.  You should be careful of these empty yes as it may not always draw positive conclusions.  Verify what has been said to you.  It is important that all parties maintain "face".  If you think the answer to an issue is really no, verify your feeling by asking questions that can be answered positively.
  • Be prepared for tough negotiations.  Adhere to your principles and objectives. Maintain a quiet and dignified manner.  If problems develop, you should be firm about your limits and your willingness to work with your counterparts to find a mutually agreeable solution.

    Business Hours
  • Most of China's business world slows down considerably during the spring festival in late January and early February.  Business visitors would be wise to avoid this two to three week holiday period. 
  • In most cities in China, businesses and government offices are usually open Monday through Friday and every other Saturday from 8 am to noon and from 1:00 to 2:00 pm to 5:00 or 6:00 pm.  China has a five and a half day workweek consisting of 44 hours.  Banks are open Monday to Saturday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.  Shops are open everyday.
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