24 tips on how to make a good first impression in China

How to make a good impression in China

The single most important factor in making a good impression in China is to build relationships and cultivate them carefully, otherwise known as Guanxi. Building the friendship has to come before business is done; trust has to be in place before a deal can be made. Being smartly dressed, serious, punctual and deferential to elders will also win the respect of the Chinese. Furthermore, be careful in conversation not to make a Chinese person lose face by discussing topics such as Taiwan, Tibet, human rights issues or the growing capitalist culture in Chinese cities.

Making Contacts & Scheduling Appointments in China

  • Establish relationships before attempting to do business.
  • Find an intermediary in China who will make introductions; it will help your case if you come already recommended.
  • Schedule your meetings tactically; if you are going to be negotiating a deal, make it early in your visit as several sessions may be necessary.
  • Avoid 12pm to 2pm, when everything shuts down for lunch.
  • Never be late, which is considered extremely rude.

Forms of Address

  • Interpret the hierarchy and introduce people in the correct order, starting with the most senior.
  • Only the leader speaks at a meeting.
  • Shake hands and offer a slight bow of the head. Then make brief eye contact.
  • Do not use first names; this is far too familiar.
  • Address your counterpart as Mr, Miss, Madam or by their job title.
  • Remember that women maintain their maiden names when they marry.

Dress Code

  • Dress to impress but keep it conservative; labels will be noticed but do not appear too flamboyant.
  • Stick to a business suit in the big cities and when visiting big companies; it is better to be overdressed than too casual.
  • Women should dress modestly; the aim is to blend into the crowd.
  • Jeans are appropriate casual wear.

Useful Business Terms



Guanxi Connections, relationships
Jia Ting Extended family, very close friends
Naixin Patience
Jingli Manager
Zongjingli General manager
Zhuren Director
Zhuxi Chairman
Hua Qiao Overseas Chinese
Zhong Guo China
Zhong Guo The Chinese

Business Etiquette

  • Keep body language to a minimum; in China they prefer stillness and waving your arms around will distract.
  • Do not stare somebody down; holding a gaze for too long is disrespectful.
  • The overall communication style of the Chinese can be described as ‘high-context’ – the information, setting and relationships which support the messages are just as important as the actual content.
  • Sucking air quickly through lips and teeth is a sign of surprise or dismay.
  • Always bear in mind mianxi, or saving face, both your counterpart’s and your own.

Time Management

  • Show strong leadership: Chinese workers need direction if they are to meet deadlines.
  • Don’t let time be used as a weapon. The Chinese believe Westerners are always in a hurry and may slow down deliberately as a power play.
  • Be on time: punctuality is a sign that you are serious, as well as respectful. Never be late, which is considered extremely rude.
  • Understand your team. China does not have the same short term sense of urgency as the West and tight deadlines may be an unfamiliar way of working.

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About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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