Cultural Tips for Doing Business In China

Cultural Tips for Doing Business in China

“Treat China as it is, not as what we want it to be.”

China is very different with its own customs and courtesies:  know it, respect it and practice it.  The three “Fs” of China are Friendship, Face-saving, and Food.

  1. Friendship: Conducting business in China is all about relationships and everything is personal. Trust needs to be built and matured and evolves over time. Everyone is very respectful and courteous. In the USA, if business people disagree, they may argue and raise their voices (and then go out to lunch as though nothing happened). This is not the case in China, where business meetings are always civil and every person is respectful.
  2. Face-Saving: The Chinese word for courtesy is “kei chi” (phonetically spelled).  Always show respect and be courteous.  “Mi casa es su casa” (“my house is your house”) is not applicable in China.  Bring several hundred business cards with you as when meeting businessmen or women; you need to give everyone present your business card.  Your business card needs to be presented with both hands on the card and with a slight bow to the recipient. Translate one side of your business card into Chinese.
  3. Food: Relationships are developed and deepened through food.  Food is very important for business and personal relationships.  Never discuss business at a banquet unless the other side brings it up first.  Typically, a Chinese banquet will have 14 or more courses.  The host will sit facing the exit and the most important guest will sit to the right of the host.  Expect many toasts.  When you toast, your cup rim must be below the other person’s cup – this shows respect and part of face-saving.  Reciprocate by hosting your own banquet. Do not offer to pay for your meal or to split the cost of the banquet. 

At the Meeting: 

  • Speak slowly and clearly. This will give the interpreter time.  Take turns talking.
  • Engage in active listening.
  • Keep in mind that “yes” does not mean “yes, I agree.” “Yes” means “yes, I am listening” or “maybe.”  “Maybe” means “no.”  And “no” definitely is “no.”
  • Ask open-ended questions (this goes back to practicing active listening above).
  • Announce the close of a particular subject.
  • In the USA, time is money. In China, do not let the other side know the urgency of your time schedule.
  • Be prepared to walk away.

Other Practical Tips:

It is courteous to bring a gift.  The gift must be tasteful, but it need not be expensive or extravagant.  Bring a gift that is indigenous to where you live or your company’s geographical location.  For example, if you are from Florida, as I am, bring books about Florida or candies from Florida.  You should plan to bring gifts for everyone, or you can give one gift from one company to the other company.  The presentation of the gift is important.  It must be wrapped nicely – select something colorful or red.  Do not wrap a gift in white or black as they are funeral colors for the Chinese.  Never give clocks, because they represent waiting for a funeral.  Never give knives, because they represent cutting of a relationship.

China is 12-13 hours ahead of the USA. Arrive in China at least a full day before the meeting in order to rest and prepare for the meeting.   If you hired a translator, meet with the translator prior to the meeting so the translator understands each party’s business and general idea of what you want to accomplish.

Avoid colloquial phrases and slang.  Western humor is different from Chinese humor. Jokes can be misinterpreted, especially when translated.

Lisa Hu Barquist, a business litigator at CPLS PA in downtown Orlando, Florida.  She speaks Mandarin Chinese, and represents U.S. and Chinese clients in complex business transactional and litigation matters. She was President of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association of South Florida, Chairwoman Ex Officio of the Miami-Dade County Asian American Advisory Board. Lisa is admitted to practice in Florida, New York, and California.  She earned a peer review rating of AV Preeminent®, Martindale-Hubbell’s highest possible rating for both ethical standards and legal ability and a testament to the fact that a lawyer’s peers rank her at the highest level of professional excellence. For more information, contact Lisa at CPLS P.A., 201 East Pine Street, 4th Floor, Orlando, Florida 3280, 407.647.7887 and

About CPLS P.A.

CPLS PA is an Orlando, Florida business litigation firm committed to providing effective and efficient legal services to high net worth individuals, businesses and government agencies throughout the state of Florida, as well as clients outside of Florida and abroad. The firm concentrates on complex commercial litigation, including commercial real estate and stormwater litigation, shareholder, partner, member disputes, probate, alternative dispute resolution, mediation, and appellate law. 

Lisa Hu Barquist

Lisa Hu Barquist

Business Litigation Attorney


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