Working in China: Tips, dos and don’ts

    Business Spotlight 5/2024
    a hand holding a set of chopsticks
    © Alamy Stock Photo
    Von Talitha Linehan


    Most Chinese people won’t expect you to know every aspect of their culture, but a few simple tips are worth remembering:

    • Dress well and conservatively

      This signals two things that are important in Chinese culture: status and modestyBescheidenheit, Anstandmodesty.
    • Follow the order of seniorityAlter; Ranghöhe, Führungsebeneseniority

      Most Chinese show considerably more deferenceEhrerbietungdeference to leaders and eldersÄltere; hier: Menschen, die älter sind als man selberelders than is typical in the West. Senior business people generally choose their seats at a table first. Allow your hostGastgeber(in)host to show you where to sit.
    • Don’t bowsich verbeugenbow to people

      Bowing is common in some Asian countries but not in China.
    • Always follow up on personal introductions

      As personal relationships are very important for business, it’s helpful to attend industry networking events and gain useful contacts.
    • Think before offering gifts

      Gifts shouldn’t be extravagant. Don’t give anyone a green hat, nor clocks or chrysanthemumChrysanthemechrysanthemums, as these are associated with certain superstitionAberglaubesuperstitions.
    • Going out to eat

      In a Chinese restaurant, the host chooses the dishes, which are eaten communally. When you’ve finished, keep a small amount of food leftover — or you may be offered more. And don’t park sth. (ifml.)hier: etw. ablegenpark your chopstickEssstäbchenchopsticks standing up in your bowl of rice, as this is associated with funeralBegräbnisfunerals.

    Stephan Thaerigen

    STEPHAN THAERIGEN is the founderGründer(in)founder and CEO (chief executive officer)Geschäftsführer(in)CEO of GQC (, a quality-control company based in Shenzhen. Thaerigen, who grew up in Leipzig, Germany, has lived in China since 2011. His company supports European clients who work with suppliers in China.

    How people work

    • On average, Chinese employees work very long hours — people will still answer work queryAnfragequeries late in the evenings — but less efficiently than workers in Germany. They take detoursUmwege machen; hier: nicht direkt auf Fragen eingehentake detours and, in some cases, have a different way of thinking. I’ve trained my team to understand how Germans work and what our customers expect, but it was quite a time-consuming process to explain all that.

    Business meetings

    • Investing in the relationship, which the Chinese call guanxi, is very important. Especially in the first meeting, I wouldn’t launch into etw. beginnenlaunch into tough negotiationVerhandlungnegotiations. Be patient and take time to understand the people and how they do things.
    • When you meet business partners, bring a small gift from home — maybe chocolates or a bottle of schnapps[wg. Aussprache]schnapps. Ideally, something that represents your local region. As a guest, you’ll usually be invited to lunch or dinner, and a gift is a nice way to express your gratitudeDank(barkeit)gratitude.


    • We use the WeChat app with various chat groups — including one with our customers. That’s just the easiest way. The app is extremely important in daily communication, but we use email for everything that has to be officially documented and confirmed.
    • If I have to criticize someone’s work, I say so directly but politely. At the same time, I always try to give them encouragement that they can improve, so that it’s not all negative.


    Julian Fisher

    JULIAN FISHER is the chairVorsitzende(r)chair of the British chamber of commerceHandelskammerChamber of Commerce in China and co-founder of the consultancy Venture Education ( Originally from Devon, in the UK, Fisher has lived in Beijing for almost 20 years.

    How people work

    • Businesses are microcosms of the country. You’ve got strong, assertivedurchsetzungsstarkassertive leadership, which takes control. Most Western employees like the idea of have a sayein Mitspracherecht habenhaving a say in how a company operates. They’re surprised when they come here and, essentially, you have an authoritarian leader who takes all the major decisions and expects every person under them to do what they say.

    Business meetings

    • The idea of using logic and reason to get through a discussion is not so common here. Europeans come to meetings and say, “This is the logical solution”, and think, because they’re right, they’re going to win the argumentDebatteargument. But here, it has a lot more to do with relationships and perceptionWahrnehmungperception. So, if you’ve belittle sb.jmdn. herabwürdigenbelittled the boss in a negotiation, it doesn’t matter if what you’re proposing is right, they’re just not going to agree with you. They’d rather go with sb.hier: sich für jmdn. entscheidengo with a competitor because they feel like you’ve put sb. outjmdn. verstimmen, verärgernput them out and they’ve lost face.


    • There’s less willingness for confrontation here. If you discipline sb.jmdn. maßregelndisciplined someone in public or had a disagreement in front of others, they would lose face. And they would respond to that, not through anger, but by let sth. simmeretw. köcheln lassen; hier: einen Groll hegenletting it simmer. That’s a very different approachHerangehensweise, Methodeapproach to conflict and to dealing with difficult conversations.
    • Chinese is a challenge for foreigners. It’s a really difficult language. But learning enough to get by, be polite and show that you’ve made the effort, I think, is important.




    Neugierig auf mehr?

    Dann nutzen Sie die Möglichkeit und stellen Sie sich Ihr optimales Abo ganz nach Ihren Wünschen zusammen.

    Das Business Spotlight Sprachmagazin