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How to act in a Chinese business meeting

2 Mins

I recently retired as UK senior partner of BDO after 23 years as a partner with the firm. Last year, I took up a position as visiting professor at Xiamen University, China. My wife is Chinese and I decided to spend three months exploring business opportunities in the region and trying to learn some Mandarin. 

I’m blogging about my experiences in China for Real Business – catch up on part onepart twopart threepart fourpart five, part six and part seven of my journey so far.

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The gruesome noise in my right ear made me spin 180 degrees on the pavement. The old lady on her bike, having retrieved whatever was troubling her from her lungs, spat it forcibly into the road as she cycled slowly past. 

Spitting, slurping while eating and burping are not uncommon in China (albeit they are rarer since a pre-Olympic programme to educate Beijingers in world etiquette). 

A smoking ban in many public places came in last month, but seems not yet to be routinely observed. 

If you wait to be let off the subway train, you will never get off during rush hour; as my wife says “Don’t be too British”. One quickly adapts to these social mores…so be prepared when next we meet!

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In a business context, the Chinese are generally very courteous. Business cards are passed across (with both hands) to everyone one meets and small gifts are common (tea especially, along with ornaments and plaques). Green tea is served continuously in tiny cups. 

However, don’t be surprised if mobile phones are left on and answered – and smoking continues – in most business meetings. Socialising, drinking and dining together are absolutely fundamental aspects of Chinese business relationship-building, developing rapport and trust.

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Chris Bartlett
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