Tips For Your Business Trip to China

Businessman Planning A Business Trip

Booming Business

If you have an upcoming business trip to China, pat yourself on the back. China is the largest exporter of goods in the world and is also one of America’s most valuable importers [1].  Your trip to China might be a sign that your business is expanding well. It’s normal to be nervous about doing business in a foreign country. No one wants to have a bad business meeting, especially due to a culture gap. While we can’t rehash your presentation, we can give you some helpful cultural tips. These will help you avoid minor complications that could have major impacts. Afterwards, you’ll have colleagues begging to know your secrets.


Saving Face

No one likes to be embarrassed, but this is especially true in China. Your host may be sensitive to situations that Americans wouldn’t think twice about. Much of Chinese culture revolves around prestige, respect, and honor. This is also known as “face.” [2]

Simple Gestures Can Go a Long Way

Simple things like declining a drink or cigarette will cause the person offering to lose face. [3] This, in turn, hurts their opinion of you. Even if you don’t smoke or drink, simply accepting and holding their offer will present you favorably. This applies to much more than just small offerings. Many of our tips will reference back to this fundamental concept.

Bring Your Own Interpreter

As mentioned above, you never want your host to lose face. Unless you are an expert at the language, it’s best to provide your own translator. Naturally, this is useful for better communication between all parties, but it servers a larger purpose.

Lost in Translation

Translators can give insight into deeper cultural undertones that can’t be translated directly. [4] For example, part of saving face in Chinese culture is to avoid conflict, even at a minor level. Americans in business might not be afraid to give a brazen “no” to ideas. This phenomena is not often found in Chinese board rooms. Instead of saying “no,” your potential business partner may say, “We could look into that.” A translator may explain that they were saying “no,” in a way that saves face for both parties.



Just like the State -- Don't be late!

Just like the States — Don’t be late!

Before you leave for your meeting, make sure you have plenty of time to be early. Just like in the US, being late will make a bad first impression. Especially considering you’re in a foreign country, you might want to give yourself extra time. You never know when you’ll be delayed because of traffic or trouble finding the office.

If you can, go over names before you arrive. It will be beneficial if you can know the rankings of the individuals you are meeting with. When you go to your meeting, you should address the highest ranking individual first, and then proceed to others based on importance. Chinese business people appreciate when their title (chairman, director, etc.) is included. Aside from punctuality, patience will be expect from you.

Patience is a Virtue

Chinese businessmen and women may want to get to know you on a personal level before deciding to enter a business relationship. Those doing business in China often have a slower pace than Americans. Getting to know you, your company, and your potential relationship all take time. Patience will get you far in your business trip. If they see you lack patience, it may work against you. The first meeting may be intended solely to get to know you as a person. At the least, a light prelude will take place before getting down to business. [5]


Business Cards

Business cards are used more often in China than the US, so be sure to bring plenty. Bring ones that are bilingual for great efficacy and to show respect. When the time comes to trade business cards, be sure to treat the exchange with reverence. Do so by making sure your card is not torn, stained, or bent. The wording should also be facing the recipient. Even if you can’t read the card you received, it is polite to take a moment to study it. Most importantly, business cards should be given and received with both hands. [6] This manner of giving and receiving also applies to gifts.


A gift to your business host will go a long way. However, you must be cognizant of the various connotations in gift-giving. 

Colors and Numbers Matter

In Chinese culture, the underlying meaning of items hold a lot of weight. Connotations to colors and numbers are taken seriously, especially in gift-giving. Make sure your gift is received well by following the guidelines below:

15042114_10158026180705227_4460404715029267148_oWrapping paper colors to avoid:

  • Black
  • White
  • Grey
  • Blue

These colors are often associated with death and funerals.

Appropriate colors for wrapping paper:

  • Red
  • Gold
  • Pink
  • Silver

Red and Gold are the most well-received colors. Pink and Silver are also acceptable, but connotations may vary by region. Want to be sure you’re safe? Your hotel will often wrap your gift for you. This insures that the colors will be appropriate. It also prevents you from spending time wrapping a gift, only to have it unwrapped in customs. [7]

Acceptable gifts include:

ChocolateNuts/seedsFruit (not pears)TeasWine/Alcohol
TobaccoPens (no red ink)BooksClothingHealth Supplements


Any of the above items that are specific to your hometown or state do exceptionally well. If you can, give these items in sets that total 2 or eight. A pair reflects symmetry and harmony and the number 8 is one of the luckiest in Chinese culture.

AVOID giving:

ScissorsGreen hatsChrysanthemumsShoes



You should refrain from cash or lavish items; this could be taken as bribery. Opposed to the number 8, the number 4 is considered very unlucky. Refrain from anything that has to do with the number 4. [8]

Take Heed to Avoid Greed

When both receiving and giving a gift, two hands should be used. In China, it is impolite to accept a gift right away. Often, they will decline two to three times before accepting. Don’t be insulted if the gift it not opened in front of you. As with accepting a gift right away, it comes off as greedy.[9] It can also present a situation that may cause someone to lose face. Instead, it is often put away to be opened in private.

close up of a man in a suit giving a gift


If only one gift is brought, always give it to to the most senior executive you are meeting with. Stating the gift is from your company, rather than just yourself, may resonate better.[10] Following these guidelines will not only make you and your host more comfortable, it will show that you’ve made an effort to learn their culture. This is a great way to show respect during your early stages of a business relationship.


As much as we like to say that reciprocity is not part of gift-giving, it is in China. Besides the risk of bribery, extravagant gifts may make the recipient feel obliged to give a gift of equal worth.[11] Practicing reciprocity can also be seen at the dinner table.


When it comes to dining, the tab is often picked up by the host. If there is a following dinner, it is polite for the visiting party to then pay. This is part of Chinese focus on harmony and reciprocity. As aforementioned, getting to know potential business partners is important in China. A dinner is often a good way to do so. Travelers may be apprehensive about social faux pas that can happen at a dinner table. Here are a few tips to ease anxieties.

A typical chinese food meal on the table


Although some food in China may be unfamiliar or unappetizing to you, it is best that you try a bite of everything. This is another way to save face of both you and your host. It conveys both respect for your host and their culture. A common mistake is finishing all that is offered to you or cleaning your plate. Although this goes over well in The States, in China, this can be problematic. If you don’t like a dish, leave some of it on your plate. If you finish, it will be assumed you enjoyed it and would like more. Leaving some food on your plate will prevent your host from feeling like they did a poor job of feeding you.

Social Status at the Table

Social status is conveyed in a variety of day-to-day actions. The host, or highest ranking individual, should be the first to start eating. They will typically be in change of offering food, since self-serving is often considered bad taste. This is especially true when it comes to the last piece of a dish. Never take the last piece, but rather, wait for the host to offer it to you. Then, it is acceptable to take.[12]

A Toast!


Plenty of successful business meetings end in a toast. Like in the US, toasts in China are also done by clicking glass, although with much less vigor. One thing to note is that the position of the glass portrays social status and rank. The glass that is elevated higher signifies that that person is of a higher social ranking.[13] Be humble and allow the host to have the higher raised glass.


You’re Ready!

Your clothes are pressed, bags are packed, bilingual business cards are printed, and you’ve triple checked that you have your passport. If you’ve reached this part of the article, you are on your way to being a well-respected business professional in China. This list is not exhaustive, but will be helpful in your trip. It is always better to have done too much research, rather than not enough. The internet and books aren’t your only options. Reach into your social networks and ask for tips from those who have already done business there or are from the area. You may be surprised how much you can learn from those you already know. With good intentions and diligent research, your business trip should leave you with new connections and a pocket full of business cards. Good luck!