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Chinese Business Culture: Etiquette for Saving Face

Understanding Chinese Culture in general and Chinese Business Culture in particular is crucial for dealing with Chinese professionals. Many small rules and taboos exist, but a general knowledge about keeping face and basic etiquette are most important. These insights are helpful to get along in Chinese Work Culture.


Chinese Business Culture is important for starting your manufacturing project in China

All countries have their own unique way of going about business; China is no different, and the Chinese business culture can be vastly different than in Western countries. Through understanding the Chinese business culture, you will benefit from increased respect, better negotiation leverage and enjoy an all-round better experience doing business in China (some anecdotal insights).

What is “Face”?

“Face” is a term used and represents a metaphor for reputation; similar to the saying, “saving face.” In China, reputation and social standing is extremely important and businessmen are incredibly conscious about face. It is critical to avoid doing something which results in a loss of face.

Understanding face can be difficult, as while effectively it is the level of respect you have, the different factors that influence it can depend on more than your own actions. What must be understood is that in China, hierarchies of status are very important which ties in the role of face. Due to this, business meetings are often a formal affair.

There are 4 different types of face. Firstly Diu-mian-zi is when a person’s actions have been exposed. Secondly Gei-mian-zi, giving face to another person by showing respect. Liu-mian-zi, progressively developed through avoiding mistakes and a track record of wisdom. Finally Jiang-mian-zi, is when your level of face is increased indirectly from your actions, for example, a co-worker speaking positively about you to another co-worker.

Etiquette in Chinese Business Culture

The Chinese business culture is also vastly different than in many different countries. Therefore, it is important to research and understand the way business is carried out if you want to enter into a business relationship with a Chinese firm or travel to China for business.

Commonly, Chinese companies do not like to do business with companies that they do not know; an intermediary is often used to provide a formal introduction as well as a recommendation for your quality.

Professionalism is also key, and directly ties into face as previously discussed. If you treat someone too informally it could potentially scupper a business deal. The business relationship will have to be built formally over a generous time frame before negotiating; therefore, if you make the mistake of informality, it could be ruining a lot of time and effort.

Meetings are also formal, with a preference to face-to-face meetings rather than other forms of communication. In Western cultures, meals and social events are often used for business discussions, however in the Chinese business culture, this is seen as rude, as the Chinese people see a defined split between socializing and business.

There are different cultural norms in Chinese business culture. Different cultural norms can be challenging in international projects.


Chinese Business Culture Specifically For Business Meetings

Appointments are essential for meetings, with as much notice as possible given and preferably made in writing. Punctuality is also crucial.

Before a meeting, an agenda should be sent to the other company, both in your own language and in Chinese, additionally during the introduction stage through an intermediary you should provide information about your company’s history, the business, and information about goods and services.

When you meet with representatives for the Chinese company, you should formally introduce yourself consisting of a handshake. Additionally you should exchange a business card, these are seen as very important in China, and should be treated with respect and be given and received with both hands.

In Chinese work culture, the process of a business meeting is usually to have fun first, then starting business topics, this is contrasting the Western culture where business comes first followed by the fun. Remember, drinking alcohol is very important during meetings, and it is seen as disrespectful to not partake.

Business dinner or lunch is very important for Chinese business culture. Particularly business dinners are difficult because there are many rules and rituals
Westerners are usually not aware of.


Often during meetings people will speak for great length with their words not seeming to have much substance, however it is key to listen patiently as subtle messages can often be included. Additionally patience is required throughout, as meetings are often not too the point.

Bringing your own interpreter is also a good idea, and all material provided should be done so in both languages and should be accurate. Nothing should be lost translation or be open to misunderstanding.

The clothes you wear should never be pretentious, for men dark coloured and traditional suits are appropriate, whereas for women a suit or high neckline dress and flat shoes.

Colors are culturally significant as well in the Chinese culture, so it is always best to wear plain colours. For presentations, black and white is only appropriate, as without understanding the meaning of colours it could easily disadvantage you.

In terms of suitable topics, there are a few that should not be brought up. They are all politically charged and this area is generally not suitable to business meetings worldwide, similar to the topic of religion. Firstly, you shouldn’t mention that Taiwan is an independent state or country, as well as never praising the Japanese or appear to associate with them. Deng Xiao Ping cannot be criticized but Mao Ze Dong can be. Finally, you should not praise Shanghai in front of natives of Beijing, or vice versa.

Business Negotiations

Negotiations are also subject to many different aspects of etiquette and factors of culture. To read more about specifically business negotiations, click to be taken to the right article.

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