Traveling on business in China for the first time? Here are some simple things to keep in mind

by Michael Hurwitz

While China’s economic fortunes have been a bit of a roller coaster ride over the last 18 months, there’s still no disputing the Middle Kingdom’s critical role in the global business ecosystem. Some US$245 billion is projected to be spent on business travel in China in 2013, making it the world’s second most-visited business travel destination. The US has held the title of most-visited country every year since statistics have been kept, but China could surpass it by 2015.

As a visitor to China, but especially as a business traveler, it’s important to remember that China is a very unique and unusual country. With 5,000 years of history and a language and culture all its own, China has only been open to the modern outside world for a few decades, so business travelers in China are likely to be confronted with a handful of things they may never have encountered before. Here are some handy tips and vocabulary to help make your trips to the PRC smooth and successful.

  • Reasonable Expectations. China has come an astoundingly long way over the last few decades, but it’s crucial to remember that, despite the impressive skylines, it’s still a developing country, and travelers should adjust their expectations accordingly. International-quality hotels exist in all but the smallest cities, but roads, cuisine and customer service standards are often not what experienced travelers are accustomed to.
  • Respect What Seems Odd. Chinese customs and culture may surprise you, but one of the biggest parts of living, working or traveling in China is to ensure that your Chinese hosts don’t “lose face” or have their dignity, authority or credibility questioned in public situations. If you have issues with Chinese clients or partners, it’s not a problem, but be sure to address any grievances in private, or risk losing their business.
  • Understand Euphemisms. Chinese businessmen tend to be quite indirect in conversation, and it can often lead to confusion or misinterpretation. Phrases like “this may require more research” or “this decision is under review” are usually just polite ways of saying no.
  • Business Cards Are Critical. Business cards have taken on a lot of importance in Chinese business circles recently, so they are to be regarded with respect. Always accept the card with two hands, and make a point of giving your new contact a fresh, clean card with up to date information. Simple mistakes in the card exchange could cause much larger problems down the road.

Some helpful business vocabulary for when you hit the ground in China:

  • 幅度 (fúdù) – width, range or extent. A very common business term when discussing pricing, schedules and other parameters.
  • 名片 (míngpiàn) – business card. A crucial part of making contacts and leaving a good first impression in China.
  • 首席执行长 (shǒuxí zhíxíng cháng) – CEO. Often referred to as simply ”执行长” or by the English term “CEO”, it’s nonetheless an important word to know.
  • 銷售 (xiāoshòu) – sales. A common reason for business visits to China.
  • 經理 (jīng lǐ) – manager (occasionally director). Titles are extremely important in China, and often people are addressed by their title, especially by subordinates.

Michael Hurwitz

Michael Hurwitz is a Digital Producer at Aquarius Asia Limited in Shanghai. He specializes in marketing and communications. You can reach him here.