Conducting an initial meeting with Chinese clients

As China’s economy continues to surge and reshape the global marketplace, more and more businesses (domestic and abroad) are realising that doing business with Chinese businesses, consumers and clients is a potentially lucrative affair.

Profound social, economic and cultural changes have created a consumer market that is unlike ever before, and as a result, Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly selective in respect to customer experience and cultural norms. It is imperative that those attempting to take advantage of this opportunity understand and appreciate the nuances of Chinese business culture, etiquette, meeting protocol, and negotiation technique.

Conducting business with Chinese clients is usually a respectful, delicate and lengthy process. In this post, we’re focusing on a few key pointers for the initial stages of formalities.



Business people meeting in bright office shaking hands


The initial meeting

  • Punctuality is essential.
  • Seniority is important. Greet and shake hands with the most senior person first.
  • During group introductions, line up according to seniority with the senior person at the head of the line.
  • Address the person by a honourific title and their surname. I.e. the surname is always the first name listed in the Chinese translated version.

Business cards

  • Have a good supply of business cards. You will need to give out cards to everyone at the meeting.
  • Dual-sided Chinese business cardsshould be printed in English on one side and Chinese on the other. Use ‘simplified’ characters for the Chinese side.
  • If your company is the oldest, largest or most established in your industry include that too.
  • Exchangebusiness cards one-by-one, individual-to-individual and always present your business card with both hands (as a sign of respect).
  • Don’t shove a business card you’ve received into your back pocket. Leave it in front of you until the meeting has concluded and take great care to place it somewhere respectfully. Don’t write on it under any circumstances.

The importance of ‘face’

Face (Miàn Zi” (面子) is an essential component of the Chinese national psyche. Having face portrays a high status in the eyes of your peers and a mark of personal dignity. The Chinese are acutely sensitive to gaining and maintaining face in all aspects of social and business life. There are four elements of face:

Giving – Occurs when you enhance a person’s reputation or prestige.

Losing – To be humiliated or to suffer the loss of social standing. Under no circumstances should you allow somebody of Chinese origin to lose face.

Saving – Place high emphasis on saving respect and dignity

Keeping – Allowing someone to gain favour, status or victory without them knowing to assist them keep face with their colleagues and superiors.

It is critical that you give face, save face and show face when doing business in China.

Initial small talk

Don’t expect to strike a deal in the first meeting. The Chinese are shrewd, calculated and place great emphasis on developing a relationship before talking business. A good way to warm up the initial contact is discuss positive experiences in China. Other topics include:

  • The weather
  • Hobbies (golf is particularly popular)
  • Family
  • Avoid discussing politics

It is important to be patient. Chinese clients tend to maintain a level of formality in the early stages of a relationships. This fosters respect for each side and ensures future negotiations will proceed harmoniously.


Next time, we’ll be focussing on the formal negotiation process. If you’ve had any experience in doing business with Chinese clients in the past be sure to share your knowledge and thoughts below.

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