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Etiquette In China - Business and Travel Tips

Updated on June 4, 2012

Educating yourself on the customs and etiquette in China is an important part of preparation for an enjoyable travel experience. China is the oldest continuous civilization on the planet encompassing more than 5000 years of history, and their customs and etiquette are steeped in tradition.

Although China has changed drastically in recent years, and the people there are very open to westerners, travelers still need to be aware of the basic acceptable manners and etiquette.

The ethical system in China is largely based on Confucianism, but has been influenced by Legalism, Marxism and Daoism. There is an emphasis on personal virtue, merit based promotion, and devotion to family and justice.

As a foreigner, allowances will be made for you, but it is advisable, particularly in a business environment, to remain alert to the behavior around you and not behave in an incompatible manner.

Business Etiquette in China
Business Etiquette in China
Make an effort to understand business practices and etiquette in China.
Make an effort to understand business practices and etiquette in China.

Etiquette In China: Basic Tips

Here are some tips to keep in mind on your journey:

  • Losing Face: A foreigner will lose face in the eyes of the Chinese if they express anger openly. Impatience is considered a very serious character flaw. Also, a Chinese person may laugh in order to save face when they do not completely understand what you are trying to communicate.
  • Make sure you shake hands with those you meet, and a little longer than common in the west, with a respectful nod of the head
  • When sightseeing, be sure to ask permission before taking photographs of people or the inside of a temple.
  • Shopping: Haggling is okay in the street markets, but not in the shops.
  • Tea Houses: the environment is tranquil and serene. Keep your voice to a hushed tone in order to not disturb the quite atmosphere.
  • A surname precedes the personal name because traditionally the family or clan has been viewed as more important than the individual. People may also refer to each other using their occupational title, such as Mayor Li
  • English speaking skills will vary greatly. Those who do speak English, even just a little may really enjoy attempting a conversation with you!
  • Tibet: Avoid conversation regarding Tibet. Most Chinese believe that Tibet has been a part of Mainland China for centuries and will not appreciate a human rights debate.

Etiquette In China : Making Friends

If you are fortunate enough to be invited into the home of a new friend in china, expect to be the center of attention, in a good way. Expect warm hospitality, with tea and snacks served immediately after arrival. This will likely be followed by a large meal. Bring small gifts to show your appreciation. Do not , however bring chocolate, flowers or a clock or watch. The words to give a clock sound identical to take someone to their death . At mealtime, watch what your hosts do and copy them. Wait for them to tell you to eat before you begin.

Etiquette in China : Business Tips

  • When exchanging business cards, read the card you are handed, don’t merely glance at it.
  • Laying out the business cards in front of you on the table may help you to remember names.
  • Dress in proper business attire. Business casual will not be acceptable.
  • There is no custom of giving precedence to women.
  • Punctuality is important. They will not keep you waiting, and you should treat them with the same respect.

Surprisingly Not Rude:

  • Blowing your nose between your finger on the street.
  • Spitting, although there has been some effort to limit this.
  • Belching: indicates a sense of well-being.

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    • traveletiquette profile image

      Kevyn Townley 

      5 years ago from Perth, Western Australia

      Useful information!

    • The Blagsmith profile image

      The Blagsmith 

      6 years ago from Britain

      When I was in Japan, I learnt some of their language alongside some mainland Chinese. We got into a culture discussion when we went for a Christmas meal.

      This discussion related mainly to formality and casualness. How it was evident in language. I had before that discussion considered the Japanese as being one of the most formal in the world. Yet it was not to be.

      The Chinese formality is so embedded in their language, they have many unwritten rules that define their social behaviour. The Chinese were voted on the top when it came to formality (except Hong Kong)and it was probably not surprising to many that the Americans were considered the most casual.

      Thanks for the hub Amy Jane, I enjoyed it. Voted up and interesting.

    • amy jane profile imageAUTHOR

      amy jane 

      7 years ago from Connecticut

      Glad to hear that you found this helpful! It's just the tip of the iceberg of course - there is so much to learn about etiquette in China, but hopefully this will give you a good start!

    • AzikSparx profile image

      AzikSparx 

      7 years ago from Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

      Very helpful information. Our company Sparxevents (Event Planner and Organizer in Bali) www.sparxevents.com is planning to visit China for Balinese Cultural Mission to promote Bali as Tourism destination. Thank you

    • amy jane profile imageAUTHOR

      amy jane 

      9 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks Dain! Glad you found it helpful.

    • profile image

      Dain 

      9 years ago

      Fantastic information, thank you.

    • amy jane profile imageAUTHOR

      amy jane 

      9 years ago from Connecticut

      Thank you so much for the additional information. I'm sure my readers will find your perspective very helpful!

    • Yu-Huang Shang Ti profile image

      Yu-Huang Shang Ti 

      9 years ago from Beijing

      Etiquette In China - In a word, " submission "...

      All business issues are related to political issues, and in the end, every important political and social issue has relevance to business!

      Anyone who wants to make money in China has to surrender to the political power of the Chinese Communist Party.

      In 2003 Microsoft supplied the Chinese Communist regime with part of its source code, something that the American government hadn’t been able to pry loose with antitrust law suits lasting years.

      Yahoo! is another internet giant who notoriously aided the Chinese Communist regime in it repression by turning over the names of dissidents who had used its service.

      Zeng Xiangquan, Dean of the School of Labor and Human Resources, said in early 2009 that in the past three years, the Chinese Statistics Bureau’s internal report (unpublished) revealed that the unemployment rate was about 24 percent, and sometimes even reached 27 percent. The situation is expected to be worse in 2009.

      China, a country where there is no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to demonstrate, no freedom of association, and not even the freedoms of expression and religious belief.

    • amy jane profile imageAUTHOR

      amy jane 

      9 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks Jeffery, for leaving your website recommendation. Everyone could use a good deal these days!

    • profile image

      JEFFREY 

      9 years ago

      To all my friends who love traveling, if you want to cut down your overall vacation cost in China, I would recommend booking your china flights from http://www.bamboobookings.com

    • amy jane profile imageAUTHOR

      amy jane 

      9 years ago from Connecticut

      You're welcome Gypsy Willow!

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      9 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Thanks for the useful tips. Hope I can put them into practice soon.

    • amy jane profile imageAUTHOR

      amy jane 

      9 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks China Cultural Tours for your input!

    • profile image

      China Cultural tours 

      9 years ago

      Traditionally, Chinese culture was dominated by a Confucianist literati, who praised love of learning and moral fortitude. Opera, tea, Chi-pao and chopstick are symbols of Chinese traditional culture. Today, though traditional arts are regaining their former importance most Chinese spend their free time quite differently.

    • amy jane profile imageAUTHOR

      amy jane 

      10 years ago from Connecticut

      Hi Michelle, I think you are so lucky that you had people with you to help interpret. It is such a strange and frustrating experience to not be able to communicate with anyone in a country you are visiting. Everything (even finding the rest room) becomes complicated!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 

      10 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I was glad when we went to China it was with a group (my elders LOL). At least they spoke Chinese. I had to resort to action when I was looking for a restroom and they were all saying HUH? The action work, she laughed. I laughed. I found my way to the toilet. Great tips Amy. I enjoyed reading the tips.

    • profile image

      Keating 

      10 years ago

      I can't wait to go back in May!

    • amy jane profile imageAUTHOR

      amy jane 

      10 years ago from Connecticut

      Thank you all so much for reading and commenting! I am glad you found it interesting :)

    • chantpa profile image

      chantpa 

      10 years ago

      Insightful and useful informatioin.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Great job! This is excellent information.

    • Betty HouseWife profile image

      Betty HouseWife 

      10 years ago

      Good, concise information.

    • John Chancellor profile image

      John Chancellor 

      10 years ago from Tennessee

      Very helpful and informative.

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