China’s economy is big news and with many multinationals already invested in the country, every rise and fall has global impact. Businesses are attracted to the huge market potential for goods and services as well as a population exceeding 1.3 billion people. When a market looks so good it is easy to see why business leaders want to jump straight in. Yet China can soon feel like unfamiliar territory if cultural etiquette is misunderstood.

Here is thebigword guide to cultural etiquette for successful business interaction in China:

Respect and formality is the basis of Chinese meetings and organisation is key. An agenda should be prepared and circulated ahead of the event and an interpreter arranged by the host if required.

• Be prompt! As you would expect, arriving late is considered rude.

• The host should ensure visitors are met in a reception area and brought to the meeting room. The host is expected to be waiting in the room to greet them.

• Greet the eldest of the party first; a handshake is the accepted way to acknowledge each other.

• Chinese people will introduce themselves formally by surname; first names may be shared when a relationship develops. Let them take the lead on this decision.

• Business cards are usually exchanged before the meeting commences and it is good practice to pre-prepare a duel card, one side in your own language and the other side in Chinese. When you have your business card translated, the region of China you are visiting or have visitors from will dictate the use of a simplified or traditional Chinese translation. Always present your card with both hands, Chinese side up. When you receive their card, acknowledge the details before placing it on the table. A Chinese translation of your business card is a step you should not skip.


• The host should lead the highest ranking guest or guests (based on seniority or VIP status) to their seats.

• A welcome speech should be delivered by the host, leading onto the meeting topic.

• The Chinese may nod their heads to confirm understanding of what is being said. Do not mistake this for an agreement or acceptance; this is just a signal that they understand the discussion points.

• Never interrupt a speaker and don’t direct a question to an individual which may put them on the spot. They should volunteer to speak out.

• Any shared written material should be available in English and Chinese.

The tips above should help you to avoid an etiquette mishap when hosting a business meeting. Why not rehearse an important meeting so that all of your colleagues know how to behave? Good organisation will ensure that your event is given the best possible chance of success.