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Business Etiquette in China

Top Tips for Doing Business in China

The language and culture of a nation are inextricable. Culture influences language and language, in turn, influences culture. This happens in ways both obvious and almost imperceptible. Cultural context plays a major role in how language is used as well as how it develops, and non-native speakers can often find it difficult to translate particular words and phrases from one language into their native tongue without a thorough understanding of the cultural background from which it has arisen. The subtle factors which influence language can make a huge difference to international business interactions.

TJC Global understands that being fluent in a language also means being fluent in the subtleties and intricacies of the culture and business etiquette associated with it. To ensure that no embarrassing misunderstandings occur in a professional context, all our translators and interpreters are experts in the business culture and etiquette associated with the languages they work with. Read on to find out our top tips for doing business in China.

Business Relationships

It is very important, for example, for Chinese people to ‘maintain face’ in everything they do. This is a concept which can be interpreted as maintaining honour, respect and a good reputation. Ways in which you can present or maintain ‘face’; in China include accepting invitations and attending meetings, giving appropriate gifts, appreciating cuisine, and demonstrating an interest in and an awareness of Chinese culture by using the correct forms of address or a knowledge of local customs. This will indicate a respect and sensitivity towards Chinese traditions. Acting irrationally, inappropriately or being unable to control your emotions (by crying or losing your temper) are signs of weakness and will lose you ‘face’ in China. Other ways to lose face include rejecting invitations, refusing gifts (more than the perfunctory three times) and not attending meetings. It is also very important never to insult or openly criticise someone in front of others; avoid unintentional criticism of others and don’t poke fun at people, even as a joke.

Bulding and maintaining harmonious relationships between oneself and others is a key element of Chinese society and culture. The responsibilities and obligations one has towards others are defined in a behavioural system called Confucianism. It lays out five key relationships structures: ruler and subject; husband and wife; parent and child; brothers and sisters, and friend and friend, and emphasises respect (particularly for older members of society) duty, loyalty, honour and sincerity. These tenets are also reflected in the strong emphasis on collectivism in Chinese culture. It is important not only to avoid embarrassing yourself in public, but to avoid embarrassing others. The self is often sacrificed for the good of the group: something which may be observed in business meetings.

Top Tips

Business Dress & Appearance

Physical Gestures and Body Language

Communications

Cultural Awareness and Superstitions

China’s ethical system, Confucianism, involves respect for superiors, duty to family, loyalty to friends, sincerity and courtesy. Age brings increased respect and status. Working in China requires recognition of guanxi, or networks of dependent relationships. For example, gifts are given as a token of respect and allow individuals to build obligations between themselves and others who can assist them in China’s business and social world.

Numbers

The Number Four: Considered very unlucky, as the word is pronounced similarly to the word for death.
The Number Eight: Very lucky, and any association with the number eight means lots of good luck, wealth, health and happiness.
The Number Six: Lucky, the word means things going successfully.

Colours

Red: Symbolic of wealth and success when used with products and services.
Gold and Yellow: Associated with success and power.
White and Black: Typically associated with funerals, so they are to be avoided.

Gifts

Eating Customs

You should taste all the dishes you are offered as a courtesy.

Do not start to eat or drink prior to the host.

Never serve yourself a drink at the table; always fill your neighbour’s glass. This is his cue to fill yours.

You should not take the last bit of food on the serving plate, and always leave a little food on your own plate to indicate you are finished.

Chopsticks: At the banquet table, never stick your chopsticks into the rice standing up (a symbol used at funerals), and always lay them down parallel on the side of your plate when you are done. Never make an “X” with them or separate them on either side of the plate.

Other Beliefs

Feng Shui: Don’t move things around in a home or office. They may have been placed there with a purpose.
Chicken Heads: Kept at the business banquet table facing the host (positioning them to point at someone else on the table symbolizes that they will be put on fire).

What forms of interpretation can TJC Global provide?

Video / videoconference interpreting: (also Video Remote Interpreting available) TJC provide language interpreting services to support your business discussions, conferences, legal / court / arbitration / litigation, and all other online business interactions in industry during these challenging times.

Participants can communicate with one another via video or voice calls using laptops, smartphones, tablets etc. These can be recorded should you wish to take minutes. Our professionally qualified interpreters can join your online virtual meeting, event, or proceeding, for example, and interpret remotely in the language pairing you require, so as to facilitate smooth communication between all parties.

Telephone / teleconference interpreting is a practical way to bridge any language barriers. The interpreter is either located remotely (away from either party) or is with one of the parties. In both cases they deliver interpreting services through telephone conferencing.

Telephone interpretation is useful for clients who cannot travel to their counterparts’ country, but still wish, for example, to hold business discussions or to communicate progress updates. At TJC Global, we are very happy to provide you with professionally qualified interpreters around the world in almost any selected language combinations.

Simultaneous interpreting (also available with Video Remote Interpretation (VRI))

is used for international conferences, critical business discussions, seminars & symposiums. In this case, there are usually two to three interpreters situated in a booth, away from the audience, who take turns to interpret at high speed, changing over every 15-20 minutes to avoid fatigue.

The interpreters use headsets to listen to the message of the speaker and repeat it immediately (practically “simultaneously”) in the target language for the benefit of relevant audience members.

Consecutive interpreting (also available with Video Remote Interpretation (VRI)) is the most common type of interpreting. It is used for business discussions, negotiations, contract exchanges, commercial, legal, technical discussions, medical or court hearings or on site inspections. The interpreter listens to the speaker, often making notes, and delivers the meaning in the target language afterwards. The interpreter may wait until a pause or the end, at which point they deliver a translation relatively quickly. Consecutive interpreting may also be used at conferences for panel discussions, Q&A sessions or private discussions between parties – at a stand or elsewhere.

Looking for translation or interpreting assistance ?

TJC Global provides specialist interpreting and translation services in a wide array of specialist fields. Whatever your requirement, we can find the right linguist to assist you. If your industry or project-type is not listed here, please contact us directly with your enquiry.

Our language specialists utilise their knowledge of subject-specific terminology to deliver precise, unambiguous translations whatever the context – enabling you to communicate effectively with the rest of the world. We are also able to adapt to almost any type of project.

What to do next?

For a quote for interpreting services or a related enquiry, please use the Quick Quote system.

If you would like more information about our language services, please contact us.