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The Complexity of doing Business in China

By Conor Kelly
July 7, 2017
Business in China


Doing business in China is no walk in the park. Since arriving in China, I have faced countless challenges including accidentally ordering lamb testicle, getting completely lost on the bus routes, not being able to ask for directions and failing to barter in markets due to my lack of knowledge of the culture and language, despite having prerequisite lessons.


The key thing I have learned thus far is that getting things done in China is a much slower and more complicated process to get right. Luckily I am among a large group of Westerners and Chinese students who know Mandarin. I cannot stress how much easier this has made everyday life here so far.


Having visited several successful Western businesses in China, and now working at one, I am realising that the challenges highlighted for my everyday life here exist even more so within their business culture. Therefore the difficulties I have faced culturally and socially so far can be entirely translated to their working culture when doing business in China.


The first thing to be aware of when negotiating in Chinese business culture is that they tend to take much longer to finalise negotiations whereas in the West we are much quicker to the point. You will need to be prepared to get to know your Chinese business partner which may include going for Dim Sum, doing shots of the famously strong baijiu liquor (try to avoid making formal agreements after drinking this) and going to KTV (they love karaoke). This will result in more time consuming negotiations and potentially several business meetings. 


Secondly, Mandarin characters are alien to us, the sentence structure is in a complete different order and not getting the tones right will mean that you’ll be asking for something completely different to what you think. For instance “ma” means horse or mother depending on the tone you use. Therefore you’ll need more than just google translator to communicate effectively when doing business in China.


Thirdly, there are endless cultural differences such as the concept of ‘face’ that some westerners never seem to grasp. Chinese people hate to ‘lose face’ making negotiations more difficult as they generally try to avoid showing emotions such as embarrassment or anger. This makes life harder as they tend not to take criticism so well. So unless you are willing to spend years of your time and money learning the language and culture, you will need a middle man when trying to set up a business here or when negotiating with Chinese companies.


China 2 West has been operating in China for 9 years and has expertise in dealing with the barriers that Western companies face when doing business in China. Using a renowned company as a middle man will certainly allow western firms to take many shortcuts when doing business in a country that holds a fifth of the world’s population. This will ensure that you save time, money and gain access to the world’s largest (and still rapidly growing) economy.