Why is Asian culture considered conservative

"Deadly sins" when dealing with Chinese business partners


by Angelika Kindt


In China, the economy is expanding enormously. In the second quarter, the gross domestic product (GDP) increased by 11.3 percent - as strong as it was ten years ago. Between 2003 and 2005 it was an average of ten percent. In terms of per capita income, China is still a developing country. With the entry into the World Trade Organization WTO the attractiveness for foreign companies increased further, especially since a considerable liberalization of the market is connected with it.




On the one hand, China makes people curious, but the relationship with China is somehow ambivalent. On the other hand, some things are not always clear when dealing with Chinese partners. The behaviors are difficult to assess because the culture is alien.


It is interesting that Taoism and Confucius, especially in business life, still play a major role today. And that with younger people. A renaissance can be observed here.

In order to get ready for negotiations, it is helpful to know and understand the basics of Chinese thinking better. Just as our everyday actions are shaped by our cultural heritage, it is the same with other cultures.


Forget the superficial rules of etiquette for negotiating with Chinese managers. To be successful in China, you need staying power and a deep understanding of history and culture.



China is different in many ways. The fact that you hand over business cards with both hands and burp after a neat meal has got around in managerial circles thanks to the relevant etiquette books.


To be successful, however, you need more precise knowledge of structures, market conditions and behavior. You should be able to correctly assess the mentality and motivations of your negotiating partner. If the businessman can still move reasonably safely on the European market due to common roots, it will be different with partners from the Far East. Chinese culture is a mix of tradition and modernity - and it is very different from European culture. This, of course, has an impact on business conduct.

Every engagement in China is different and requires special expertise in the Chinese market. Cultural understanding is the basis of everything: "First people, then business", that still applies today! The Chinese mentality, which is based on the teachings of Daoism and Confucius, is initially puzzling to us Germans. But it doesn't have to stay that way, because successful involvement in the Chinese market can be learned.




But what are the "deadly sins"?



Too much nonchalance, lack of courtesy

The Chinese are conservative and value formality. Even with 34 degrees C and 80% humidity in Shanghai, business clothing is a must! So more overdressed than underdressed. Kisses, too much fake cordiality meet with incomprehension. Etiquette, appropriate to conservative clothing - a must!



No time, impatience

You have an appointment calendar, as it is common in Europe / America. You think to yourself: if in China, then as much and as effectively as possible. You will meet with your middleman at the first appointment that you have tightly planned. But from your point of view, this conversation never ends, there is always talk about it, so to speak. Chinese Communication is concentric, because"The quick way to the goal is the detour" and takes time. Even if it was recognized in China that time is a cost factor. A lot of time is needed in negotiations to work out supposed problems. It is also necessary to allow a lot of time to remain silent (a Chinese technique in negotiating). This should always be used when the Chinese make excessive demands. Conversely: the Chinese can keep quiet and thus make Europeans nervous very quickly. Silence is part of the culture of negotiation.



Disregard of hierarchies

You send your executives to China to find out how to contact you. The Chinese receive him politely and courteously, of course, but they will not give out any information, etc., the upcoming business can even be seriously endangered because there was no contact at the same level of the hierarchy. In China, that also means losing face. So what to do Clarify in advance who we are dealing with, where he / she is located in the hierarchy and: even if it is costly, it is better to go there yourself first and prepare the field.



Guanxi / relationship maintenance

This is where the sentence comes into play: “First people, then business”. Creating a basis of trust for building a sustainable relationship is still immensely important in China.

The Chinese magic word guanxi is difficult to translate. It is often explained as “network of relationships”, but this does not go far enough. In China there is hardly any decision left unaffected by Guanxi. This has a historical background: namely, it was only possible to secure one's own survival with constantly changing rulers through a personally sustainable network of relationships.

Guanxi relationships are a finely woven network of intermediaries, persons of respect, members of the authorities and doers who encourage and help each other. Guanxi is based on a long-term mutuality principle: "Like you me, so I you." Without guanxi, namely interpersonal ties based on mutuality, changing obligations but also on sympathy, things are very difficult in China. Here, too, the time factor plays a role again, because in order to win a well-networked advocate, trust has to be built.




Again the principle applies: no visit without gifts! And please: Made in Germany!

At business meetings you should always have a little something with you, great importance is attached to it. You yourself are also given gifts and could lose face if you had nothing to exchange. This gesture of giving also has something to do with “saving face and losing”.



Gullibility in negotiating

In your perception, the negotiation is going smoothly. Everyone is nice to each other, you have held back and yet the following applies: In any case, spoken content should be completely recorded in writing. The whole thing should be signed by the Chinese negotiators. A protocol is seen as evidence by the Chinese when negotiating with foreign investors.



conversation topics

Why do you think you have to discuss, for example, Taiwan or other political landmines? Germans also do not like it when they are asked about problems that are not working so well. Germans like to discuss politics. Setting your own standards is not advisable here. For example, it can lead to complete rejection if you think you have to talk about Taiwan, Mao times or the like. Another taboo subject is sexuality! Issues like family are very much appreciated. People like to talk about family. Even if questions come up here that are unfamiliar, it is interest and not curiosity.



Cold calling

It does not work. Chinese society is built on a very fine network of relationships (guanxi). The importance of friendship, especially when planning business with one another, is extremely important. A middleman can make this business easier for you by doing the preparatory work in China and accompanying you throughout the negotiations. So quickly to China, because a cheap business is calling, doesn't work.




The Chinese know what they want quite well, even if we might feel they are not getting to the point. They react to instructions with a high level of incomprehension and a break in contact should be taken into account. Sometimes the Chinese, who are very nationally aware, seem arrogant to us. Remember, recent history has helped the Chinese to show a sense of self-worth here, which is exaggerated by German standards.



The author

Angelika Kindt (Dipl.-Pol., GF Communication and Consulting from Offenbach-Frankfurt am Main):


Angelika Kindt has been a management consultant since 1990 and has worked for large companies, but also for medium-sized companies. Ms. Kindt's main topic is intercultural cooperation, teaching management techniques in order to be optimally prepared for management responsibility. Ms. Kindt has experience abroad and is able to empathize with your questions. Together with her colleague Ms. Cheng Hua, she offers China expertise, in particular coaching services.


The coaching of Chinacoaching-akserve to better classify the cultural working environment in China. We make you fit for China! In individual coaching, but also in small groups, each highly adapted to your questions depending on the situation. Chinacoaching-akis made up of a team of German and Chinese experts and thus offers optimal preparation for an unusual country and a lucrative business environment. www.chinacoachingak.de.




Literature tips