Dealing with Chinese Suppliers- Jackie Chan meme
Posted on / by Jesus David Cano Romano / in

Dealing with Communication Issues with Chinese Suppliers

There’s no need to mention again all the advantages carried along with the use of Chinese Suppliers for your Sourcing and Manufacturing projects.

Read more: 

Manufacturing In China Can Give Your Business The Competitive Advantage

Pros and Cons of Manufacturing in China

In China 2 West, we hear the horror stories all the time and are often called in to fix disasters that should have never occurred in the first place. To set this straight, we love China and there are many great factories and brilliant people, but China’s market has developed faster than their education or their culture is able to manage. In this occasion we’d like to mention some tips for dealing effectively with any communication issues faced when dealing with Chinese suppliers.


1) Language Barrier

Everyone is aware that the first and foremost problem that can arise when dealing with Chinese suppliers is the language barrier. But the language barrier is referred not to the use of the language per se, but to understand each other.

These days, the factories will have at least one English speaking staff member that will be in charge of dealing with the overseas clients, but there’s something really important needed to be addressed, they tend to get confused! This doesn’t mean that they don’t understand English but majority of the sales representatives are young and lack of experience. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean they’re not capable of doing their jobs but this is and issue that majority of the times arises at the very first steps of the process, because westeners tend to use complicated terms and vocabulary when submitting RFQs or when contacting the suppliers.

Writing long and complicated emails will result into an unpleasant experience, because as we will explain in the next potential issue, the Chinese people has been educated in a way in which there’s no room for a “NO” as an answer. So no matter they don’t get your instructions or product specifications correctly they will say they do or that they are capable to do it, and you’ll be aware that they can’t, sometimes very late in the process.

How to deal with this?


  • Simplify language, use short and straight forward replies and explanations, use common words and terms to refer to the several elements involved in the production process, and be sure to emphasize on your needs.
  • When writing Emails; create a structure, use bullet points and numbering system, this will allow them to understand the order and hierarchy of the tasks and elements of the project.
  • Use chat like Skype or QQ (Chinese version of Skype) to communicate with the suppliers, this will allow you to have an instant reply to whatever you need to clarify or to address, rather than waiting hours or even a day time due the time zone for an email to be replied.


2) The “Yes” phenomenon or the “ke yi” (可以) society problem

The Chinese people have been raised to not say “NO”, no matter is it’s in their day to day life or in the business scenario, saying no can carry bad news for their social status. Saying yes or “ke yi可以 (can do)” will be the most likely reply you’d get when asking a supplier if they are able to produce something.

In China the concept of “Face” is deeply embedded in the society. Charles Custer says that just like in the English expression “saving face”, the “face” we’re talking about here isn’t a literal face. Rather, it’s a metaphor for a person’s reputation amongst their peers. So, for example if you hear it said that someone “has face”, that means that they have a good reputation. Someone who doesn’t have face is someone who has a very bad reputation.

The common expressions where the “face” concept is used:


  • Having face (有面子): Having a good reputation or good social standing.
  • Not having face (没面子): Not having a good reputation or having bad social standing.
  • Giving face (给面子): Giving deference to someone in order to improve their standing or reputation, or to pay homage to their superior reputation or standing.
  • Losing face (丢脸): Losing social status or hurting one’s reputation.


Therefore in the business scenario, a sales representative or even a factory that refuses to do something can lose face in society, and this can represent a bad omen for business.

Chinese people will never say no in response to a suggestion or question. This because they are more likely to be polite, but vague.

How to deal with this?


  • First of all physical presence is primordial for this, once your selected supplier has committed to do something you need to be sure they will be able to do it, affirming something doesn’t necessarily mean that they can do it or have done it in the past.  The best way to do that is by having ears and eyes onsite. You can either go to the factory yourself or hire an experienced 3rd party to do so.
  • Remember that assumption is the mother of all evils: seeing is believing.
  • Another way to confirm that the supplier can do something is being pushy with them, confirm & reconfirm ad nauseam! This is the only way to ensure they can do something they committed to do.


3) Guanxi, Guanxi, Guanxi

Same as with the “Face” concept, for Chinese people and even more for Chinese suppliers, the Guanxi and relationships are important when making business.

In previous occasions we have explained the concept of Guanxi and its importance, for the Chinese culture. The term guānxi means RELATIONSHIPS or CONNECTIONS it’s composed by two characters:


Guān: to close (v) or barrier (n) and

Xi: to tie (v) or system (n)

Guanxi is deeply embedded in Chinese culture. It is more than just barter or exchange because these are usually one-off transactions.

Read more: Understand the Guanxi

So for having a good relationship and understanding your chinese counterpart you need to develop a good Guanxi with them.

How to deal with this?

This is the easiest issue to deal with, once you’ve understood what Guanxi means and its implication for the Chinese:

  • Make relationship personal; when visiting China, accept invitations for dinner and entertainment. Having a good personal relationship will only mean good news for your business as they will feel closer to you and your project.

Read more:

Doing Business in China: Rules and common practices for drinking when dining in China

Doing Business in China: Gift Exchanging

How to deal with Business Card exchange in China

Final Word

As we have reviewed the common communication problems with the Chinese suppliers can be easily coped if followed the previous recommendations.

In China 2 West we have a decade of experience doing business successfully in China. Contact us today to get your China Manufacturing project started.

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