Working in China

February 4, 2013
Center for Women in Business

Patricia A. Vanderpool, is Owner of EAP Lifestyle Management, LLC.  Her work has taken her around the world.  Learn more about Patty here.  

In this blog post, Patty gives her personal insights and practical advice on doing work in China. What are your experiences doing business in China or elsewhere abroad? Leave your comments below.

After presenting at a humor conference in Hong Kong, I was invited to provide employee assistance training in Beijing.  Realizing the opportunity for global business development, I accepted without hesitation.

I had never travelled to China and did not know the language.  I had three months to immerse myself in Chinese business etiquette and culture and to prepare our business for my extended trip to Beijing, Jinan and Hong Kong.  Assisted by my gracious host, Dr. Xiaodong Yue, training was prepared and translated.  I knew nothing of my audience (other than that they were non-English speaking audience) so I was really taking a leap of faith.  As it turned out, attendees included upper management with Chinese-based companies.  As luck (fate?) would have it, my host in Beijing manages human resources for China’s national government!   Our training culminated in the development of the only EAP to be endorsed by the Chinese national government.  

Lessons learned:

  • Study the culture.  Bring gifts made in America to present to hosts and business associates.  Learn the meaning of colors and gifts, so as not to offend.  Fragrances are appreciated by women; pens by men.   Business cards are to be presented and accepted with both hands.  It is expected you will drink prior to business meetings.  Do not sit for a meal without being directed by your host where to sit.  Be mindful of laws in the USA which may apply to gift-giving and alcohol use.
  • When preparing business material, use a native translator, to capture nuances of both languages.  All promotional material is to be presented in black and white.  
  • Expect challenges with establishing international toll-free service and with employee payroll.  
  • Consult with an attorney.
  • Respect cultural differences. It is important to understand the Chinese concept of losing face.
  • If visiting a bank or post office, you will see heavily armed guards. Never at any time, in the cities or in the countryside, did I feel threatened or unsafe.  At all times, the warm welcome I received was par none.
  • American currency is not accepted; credit cards are not widely accepted.
  • Do not tip.  It is considered an insult.
  • Coffee is not available in China.  Tea is served with all meals and is always served hot.  
  • The cuisine is vastly different from that in the west.  Try what is offered.  Learn to use chopsticks.  Diners share dishes.  Never discuss business while dining.  
  • Restrooms, even in the finest restaurants in Chinese cities, often do not include toilets, nor are facilities handicapped-accessed.  
  • If not fluent in Chinese, a translator will be needed, provided for me by my hosts (no charge to me).

Be patient in business transactions; a personal relationship must be developed first.  To do business with China, you must go to China. You will be warmly welcomed.  

There are many organizations that can help you on your journey to doing business abroad including WBENC, Women’s Business Assistance Centers, SBA, Commerce Department and others.