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Gifts and Presents Unlike earlier days when China was very poor, gifts, especially of Western origin was especially appreciated. Today, China produces and imports almost anything imaginable and gifts are no longer a novelty.
However, gifts are always appreciated and especially in smaller cities or towns, will continue to play an important part in your business relationship. Do note that if you are indeed giving gifts, make sure senior people get a better gift or at least gifts perceived to have a higher value than their junior staff.
Similarly, expect to recieve gifts from Chinese, especially Chinese art products. It is polite not to refuse, especially if it is not of too high a monetary value.
Lunch/Dinner There is no business talk in China without at least one trip to a restaurant. Sometimes, a trip is made to restaurant even before any business discussion take place! Inevitably, restaurant will always be a grand one and you are likely to be hosted in a private room.
There is an elaborate seating arrangement for a Chinese business meal. There are fixed seating positions for host and guest and then they are seated again according to seniority. This is a very important aspect of a formal dinner and it is important that you follow rules accordingly. However, it seems that Northern Chinese are very particular to this formal seating arrangement while Southern Chinese has loosen formalities somewhat.
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Drinking with Chinese The Chinese are big drinkers especially in Northern and Western China. It does not matter if it is lunch or dinner; as long as a meal is being hosted, there will be alcohol.
Chinese wine is favourite, followed by red wine and beer. Chinese wine is more like fuel than liquor, having a alcohol concentration as high as 60%! No matter how good a drinker you may think of yourself, never, ever challenge a Chinese into a drinking contest. They will win, hands down!
It is often seen as rude not to drink with Chinese in a formal dinner. To maintain your sanity, either claim to be a non alcoholic or plead medical grounds as an excuse. This will let you off hook with little or minimal drinks. Better yet, bring a partner who can drink on your behalf!
After Dinner Entertainment Formal business dinner normally drags for quite sometime as there will be much social talk, some karoake, and drinking contests. Most of time, everyone is too drunk to indulge in further entertainment after a dinner. In addition, if you are just new to this partnership, you are unlikely to be invited to further after dinner entertainment.
However, once you are familiar with them, you may be invited to a Karaoke, or a Night Club, or a Suana. Do note that if they are host for night, all bills will be picked up by them for night, including all entertainment. It is impolite to fight for bill or worst, split bills.
Similarly, if you are host for night, you are expected to pick up all bills for night.
Controversial Issues There are some taboo areas in social conversations with Chinese. Try to avoid these conversational topics as much as possible. I have seen many nasty arguements as a result of these topics:
1. You must not mention that Taiwan is an independent state or a country. 2. You must NEVER praise Japanese or be seen to be good buddies with them 3. You can condemn Mao Tse Tung but avoid critising Deng Hsiao Ping 4. You must not praise Shanghai in front of natives of Beijing and similarly vice versa
Other than that, you are pretty safe to converse with Chinese anything under sun!
For more information about Chinese business culture and etiquette, check out our website at: http://www.chinese-culture.net. Or email us for further information.
Ken Cheong worked and live in China for 5 years. He admire the Chinese for their fighting spirit after so many years of war and political strive. He can be contacted for business and investment consultancy into China.
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