Tips for Navigating Chinese Business Culture

By Ethan Hickey
November 13, 2017
Chinese Business Culture


Chinese business culture can be quite different than what people from foreign nations are used to. Here are a few tips for navigating what can sometimes be a confusing and disorienting process. First off, in western nations we tend to trust companies based on their word until they break that trust. In China, it is more common to be distrustful at first, until trust is slowly built through repeated interactions. This is a tenet of Guanxi, the Chinese notion of a network of relationships that must be cultivated and nurtured. Guanxi is more often about the time you have invested into a relationship over than anything else.

Chinese traders are often not interested in personal relationships with their customers at first. Initial discussions should only encompass business dealings, as friendly small talk and handshakes are not necessary or warranted in many of these situations. They also will often reject you and your ideas if they do not comply with their idea of group harmony. The collectivist aspect of China is very evident when it comes to this. Patience and perseverance are common when it comes to Chinese merchants, they will often drag out negotiations and dealings instead of simply saying no.

Bargaining is often expected in Chinese business culture, it is important to take these negotiations seriously, as they are frequently not seen as a compromise, but as one side beating the other. Chinese merchants also do not always abide by the same social boundaries that westerners do. For instance, physical contact that might be seen as an advance in western countries is just a sign of familiarity or friendship in China. Chinese merchants may also create a situation that is disadvantageous to the customer by threats or other means. It is important to always have countermeasures for possible scenarios in place, even ones that would never happen in the west. Laws are also not as ironclad and set in stone, so it is important to keep a close eye on all business dealings and make sure that you are getting what was agreed upon.