Thanks to my three-month internship at China Performance Group (http://www.chinaperformancegroup.com) and a Chinese Business Lecture held by two Beijing University students, I gained a lot of knowledge on how to behave towards both Chinese colleagues and business partners. Chinese companies do not EXPECT you as their western partner to behave as their Chinese counterparts, but if you really want to build a relationship with your Chinese partner, the first step is always to show your interest in their own culture, which includes proper Chinese business customs.

The following are some useful tips on Chinese business etiquette.

  1. Pick up your Chinese guest at the airport.
  2. Think about which restaurant, you would like to go to before the actual meeting. You may ask the Chinese guest what kind of food he prefers or ask him to choose a restaurant, but in general the host has the right to choose.
  3. And then the real challenge begins: What to order? Always order less cold dishes than courses. For example 4 cold dishes and at least 6 hot dishes are fine.
  4. Do not order more than half of the dishes spicy. Additionally one soup and a bowl of rice or noodles per guest are expected.
  5. Usually you should offer as much choice as possible, so the guest can choose what he or she wants to eat. For example for meat: order fish, duck, chicken and red meat. The large selection shows that you are a generous host.
  6. Chinese do not really care about desserts, but in the south of China and in the bigger cities, they also like to eat something sweet at the end of a dinner such as fruits.
  7. Baijiu (like Erguotou) is a strong spirit in China, similar to a vodka. It is often consumed during business dinners to create a more relaxed atmosphere. During business meetings the Chinese like to drink a lot of alcohol, so if you do not want to drink, make that clear in the beginning.
  8. Never pay the bill in front of your guest. That is considered as showing off. Normally you leave the table (e.g. say you need to go to the toilet) and pay the bill secretly.
  9. Most of the time Chinese do not like to part company after dinner. While the younger generation may go to bars and clubs, the older generation prefer to go to a KTV or have a massage.

Tips on business seating arrangements:

  1. Chinese tables are normally rounded, so that one could say that each seat is equal, but actually the most important seat is the one opposite to the door. In most cases, the seat opposite to the door is in the middle of the room. When a door is not well located, the most important seat is still in the middle of the inside. The seat right next to the door is the less important one.
  2. So normally the president of the host company is sitting on the most important seat. Sometimes he will invite an older guest or a guest he respects a lot to sit there. As everybody knows respecting old people is a tradition in China.
  3. Next to the door usually sits his assistant, who organizes the dinner. He is also the person who talks to the waiter, so that is why it is reasonable to let him sit next to the door. He will also be the one who pays the bill.
  4. The two most important guests will sit next to the company’s president.
  5. Staff members of the host company usually sit somewhere between the president and the door but always try to keep a balance on both sides. You remember Chinese Yin and Yang?

As you see, it is not that easy to master a Chinese business etiquette, but your Chinese partners are usually not too judgemental if you are a foreigner unaware of the rules. But if you learn and follow some, you will definitely make a better impression!