With more than one billion
residents, enormous market potential, a dynamic economy
and hosting duties for this summer’s Olympic Games, China is an
increasingly attractive place in which to do business, offering
excellent service in its first- and second-tier cities.
Yet, despite the nation’s efforts to
modernize and adopt some trappings of capitalism, the Chinese
business world still is influenced significantly by ancient customs
and traditions. Whether the event takes place in Beijing,
Guangzhou, Shanghai or elsewhere, here are a few tips for meeting
planners delving into the Chinese market.
* Be language smart.
Don’t presume most people in attendance will speak English. A
number of dialects are spoken by the Chinese people. Nationwide,
Mandarin is the most commonly spoken language. Hire a qualified
translator, and work together at the beginning of the planning
process, before preparing the program.
Before hiring, give the translator a
call and check his or her spoken English. Beware of using a
“professional translator” who is a language student from the local
college, with no grasp of business English. At meetings and trade
shows, provide both English and Mandarin versions of graphics,
slides and presentation materials to support your
* Take note of names.
Chinese names appear in a different order than Western names, with
the family name first and the given name second. Address an
individual by his or her family name, not the given name.
* Greet well.
Introductions can be formal in China, involving a nod, a long
handshake or a slight bow when greeting. Wait for the Chinese to
bow first, however, before returning the gesture. Focus on
work-related conversation rather than personal pleasantries, and
avoid close talking or the use of exaggerated gestures.
* Know business card
etiquette. The exchange of business cards is very
important. Cards should be printed in English and Mandarin, and
presented with both hands, fingers along the edge, with the Chinese
side facing up.
When a business card is presented to
you, always receive it with both hands, and scrutinize it carefully
before addressing the person by name, showing respect for their
* Dress well. Attire
is conservative, with men in dark suits and ties and women in
dresses or skirts.
* Eat, drink and be
merry. Entertainment is part of the Chinese business
culture, so prepare for lengthy dinners, drinking and even karaoke
singing. Keep the business talk spare during this time.
* Be seated. At trade
shows, consider a buffet-style meal with both Chinese and
Western-style food, and offer table seating. Butler-style
receptions, where guests stand and talk over cocktails, are not
highly regarded in China.
* Don’t offer to “split the
bill.” People can go to great lengths to claim the honor
of paying the bill for a business dinner, an honor normally given
to the most senior person. Attempting to “chip in” will cause
* Don’t expect comps.
Unless you specifically ask, Chinese hotels and conference centers
will not offer compensated room nights, discounted food and
beverage, or extra meeting space. Ditto for technological services
and support staff. Carefully consider and prioritize all of your
needs before signing a contract.
* Enlist help. As with
other overseas meeting arrangements, finding local allies in China
can help significantly to reduce project time and costs. However,
business ethics are different between China and the United States,
so due diligence should be conducted first to ensure that partner
Phelps R. Hope,
CMP,is vice president of meetings and expositions
for Atlanta-based Kellen Meetings. Linda Ding is a senior
consultant with Kellen Management and Consulting Co. Ltd., in