Excerpted from the China Career Guide
China is the world's most populous country, with more than 1.3 billion people, and one of the world's most powerful emerging economies. It also is considered the world's oldest continuous civilization, with a history going back 5,000 years.
The general cultural value of ‘balance’ greatly influences Chinese cuisine; ingredients must be properly balanced in a dish, containing equal amounts of meat, vegetables and grains. There also must be a harmonious interplay of color (light and dark, green, red, yellow, white or black), aroma, taste and design.
China is perhaps best known around the world for its martial arts, such as Wushu, a variant of Kung Fu, and boxing. Other popular sports in China include badminton, basketball, football (soccer, including an ancient Chinese version known as cuju) and ping pong (table tennis), which is the most popular amateur sport in China.
Smoking is extremely popular and widespread in China. Most companies have rules regarding smoking in the workplace, with some banning smoking in offices.
The Chinese are typically modest and conservative; in China you should always exhibit a humble spirit and never boast or exaggerate your abilities. This is important, as the Chinese believe humility and showing respect to be great virtues, but they also will investigate a person’s claims.
The standard and most common dialect of Chinese is Putonghua (Mandarin), which also is the language of business. Mandarin is in fact the most used language in the world; in addition to the Chinese mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao, it is spoken by some in Singapore and Malaysia, and it is one of the five working languages of the United Nations.
If You Want to Act Like a Local...
- It is considered very rude to snap one’s fingers, whistle or place one’s feet up on a desk or chair.
Blowing one's nose into a handkerchief and then returning the handkerchief to a pocket is considered vulgar.
Never use an index finger to beckon a Chinese person; rather, make a scratching motion with the palm of the hand facing down. One should never point with the index figure and should instead use an open hand.
When one is introduced to a group of Chinese, they may applaud. The person being introduced should respond with applause.
In Chinese business culture, dress is formal and conservative. Clothes and accessories should be stylish but tastefully understated. For men, traditional dark business suits and ties in subdued colors are appropriate. Women typically wear suits or business-appropriate dresses. Shoes should be flat or with very low heels, especially if you are taller than the host.
Operational structures, chains of command and management styles tend to be extremely hierarchical in China. Because of this rigid hierarchical orientation, titles are very important and the highest ones (e.g., vice president) are usually reserved for very senior executive-level positions. Titles are not used as casually as in the United States. Complimenting and rewarding employees publicly is not the norm, unless the boss wants to make a show of face in an unusual circumstance where praise is due.
Business meetings start on time and you should arrive early; arriving late is considered an insult. Introductions are done in descending order of seniority. Often, the most senior person in the Chinese organization will sit across the table from the foreign guest. It is recommended that you send an agenda, in Chinese, to participants prior to a meeting. Meetings must be booked in advance, and, preferably, scheduled to occur between April and June and September and October.
This is just a short sample of what you’ll find in over 100 pages of information in the complete China Guide.