Tips from China – What We Can Learn From Chinese Business Etiquette

Author: admin/November 14, 2014

The Chinese culture is well known for its deeply rooted traditions, customs and etiquette in many aspects of life, including business. Age and rank are highly respected, and this applies equally to family life as to business. There are many aspects of Chinese business etiquette that we in the western world can learn from to make our own meetings better.

The Main Values of Chinese Business

Business in China relies heavily on personal relationships, which for the most part is very similar to Business in the West. The main aspects of building relationships are based upon these concepts:

  • Saving and giving ‘face’
  • Respect for elders and rankings
  • Politeness

Saving and Giving ‘Face’

The concept of ‘face’ roughly translates as ‘honour’ and ‘good reputation’. It is an important part of the way that the Chinese conduct their business, closely linked with the idea of Confucianism. Your ‘face’ relies on honesty, showing respect, showing wisdom through action and others complimenting you to another.

For example, to maintain face for all parties, Chinese business representatives will act with decorum at all times, avoiding public embarrassment for any members of the meeting. This is observed to the Nth degree, even when someone disagrees with what someone else has said. Instead of disagreeing publically, they will remain quiet. This means that neither one will lose face.

How to Integrate Saving and Giving ‘Face’ into Your Business

While this action in particular to this extreme is not something that western businesses are likely to adopt easily, the concept of face is something that translates well. Try to instil a meeting ‘rule’ which states that any criticism is followed up with an alternative suggestion. This will make meetings more productive for all involved.

Respect for Elders

The respect for your elders comes from Confucianism, a system of behaviours and ethics that stress the obligations that people have towards one another according to their relationship. Confucianism stresses duty, sincerity, loyalty and respect for age and seniority.

In very formal business meetings, this translates into a strict hierarchy, where only senior members speak, and others are only allowed to speak when asked. When addressing others, your counterparts are addressed by their titles, unless asked otherwise.

How to Integrate ‘Respect for Elders’ into your business

In western culture, respect is not shown in these strict ways. However, we may benefit from showing respect to those with senior rank and allowing them to lead the meeting.


Feeding into the concept of face and Confucianism is being polite at all times. While in other cultures, you may relax after being introduced and start referring to other members of the meeting by their first names, in China, this is not the case and may cause offence.

Being punctual and arriving to meetings on time is an important part of this and without a sufficient excuse; will also cause offence, both in Chinese culture and many other parts of the world.

How to Integrate ‘Politeness’ into Your Business

Using a luxury meeting space such as LEO’s shows your potential client that you care about their business. With prestigious surroundings, you can offer every member at the meeting comfort in the form of tea, coffee, and more.

Politeness also comes in the form of preparing thoroughly and allowing your counterparts the time to do the same. Ensuring that you have a meeting agenda set and circulated allows the members of the meeting to plan their time effectively and gives them time to prepare properly.

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