Why don't you like China

Business etiquette for China: guanxi is everything

The path to success in China is via "guanxi". In this article, we will show you what is behind this and which faux pas have to be avoided in the realm of smiles.

Anyone who has to do with the Chinese on business needs a special instinct. Even small, thoughtless utterances or gestures can have unpleasant consequences. Our business etiquette for China will help you make a good impression.

Contact initiation

Nothing works without relationships. Trade delegations or trade fairs are the best way to get in touch with potential business partners and the (arduous) route through authorities is also recommended.

That is why it is better to wait a few months for the next trade fair than to send emails and make phone calls - it won't do any good.

Greeting and salutation

The Chinese handshake is very light and is combined with a slight lowering of the head. It gets complicated when it comes to names. The correct salutation initially contains the title and name, for example Director Li. It gets even more complicated when it comes to first and last names, because what is what is not so easy to guess. Basically: First the surname, then the first name. But to do their European colleagues a favor and to make things easier for them, Asians sometimes print them on their business cards as is customary in Europe. Confusion perfect! A help: Usually first names have more syllables than surnames.


Chinese negotiating partners are interested in the motivation of a company entering the market in their home country. That is why employees with a consistently positive attitude towards the country will open doors much faster. It is a big mistake not only to discuss the Chinese policy in Tibet, for example, but also to cite the low wage costs as a reason for involvement in China.

The top priority when it comes to communication: never lose your patience! Loud language, angry snorting or angry facial expressions can destroy a business relationship within seconds.

And finally the guanxi

Relationship building, called guanxi, takes place before each conclusion. Trust has to be earned bit by bit in the Middle Kingdom. The first step is to get to know each other. What follows is a mutual give and take. The topmost rule here: You help important business partners whenever possible. And rejecting a request with an unequivocal no is not possible. Help must at least be signaled; in return you can be sure of your help (at some point). Invitations to dinner or the occasional small talk naturally also help in building relationships in the Middle Kingdom (by the way, the translation of the Chinese name for the country).

Business etiquette for China - short and compact

  • Never criticize a Chinese publicly
  • Avoid a resounding no
  • Never speak too loudly or show anger
  • Never speak ill of your family or any other family
  • Never look directly at a Chinese for too long
  • Never blow your nose at the table
  • Be punctual! In large cities it is therefore important to consider the enormous distances and traffic conditions
  • Never weather against the entanglements of politics and economy

Would you like more tips?

Do you want to know more about manners, no-gos and faux pas in China and elsewhere? In addition to the business etiquette for China, Kai Oppel delivers in"International business etiquette" detailed tips for many other countries so that business does not fail due to misunderstandings and small things.