China with her large economy, huge manufacturing sector, and growing high-tech sector is an important place to conduct business. There have been countless books written about business culture etiquette in China. However one point is often neglected. Chinese language and its role in the business world.
Yes, more and more Chinese people speak English, but learning some basic Chinese phrases can still be of great help, either to break the ice with your Chinese counterpart, or to simply better understand what is going on. The exact words and phrases you will find useful will depend on where you conduct business and in which industry. A coal deal with a Shanxi company will likely be more formal and traditional than meeting with an online video start-up in Shenzhen.
With that in mind here are some concepts, words and phrases which might come in handy during a business meeting, or a business trip to China.
GENERAL CONCEPTS AND WORDS
Relationship, network – 关系 – guānxì. The first thing many foreigners learn about business in China is the word “guanxi” which means something like “relationship” or “network”. Much has been said about this concept before so I won’t go into details. While things are changing in China, you can be sure that who you know, and how well you know them is still important to get things done. Remember though, guanxi is not everything. Having a professional, working relationship is more important than chasing guanxi at any cost.
Boss – 老板 – lǎobǎn. Note that “boss” in this instance refers to the highest, biggest boss, often the company owner or CEO. For lower level managers 领导 – lǐngdǎo – supervisor – is often used.
Business card – 名片 – míngpiàn. Exchanging cards usually happens after a formal introduction, the introduction is called 介绍 – jièshào. The way to exchange business cards is to use both hands to pass the business cards towards the receiving person. While accepting business cars, also use two hands, study the card for a few seconds then put it in your wallet.
CONTRACT – paper still matters
Contract – 合同 – hétóng, in a society where relationships and networks are still the preferred ways to get things done, does the contract even matter? The answers is yes, it does matter. Chinese courts are becoming better at enforcing contracts and Chinese companies do seem to value contracts more and more. Especially since many Chinese companies are increasingly doing business outside of China and become influenced by international practices and standards.
Will this be done according to the contract? 这会按照合同来做吗？Zhè huì ànzhào hétóng lái zuò ma?
Please do this according to the contract. – 请按照合同来做。- Qǐng ànzhào hétóng lái zuò.
What does the contract say? – 合同上是怎么说的？- Hétóng shàng shì zěnme shuō de?
Signing your name 签名 – qiānmíng.
Agreement – 协议- xiéyì.
Law – 法律 – fǎlǜ.
DELIVERY AND PAYMENT
Can we price this in US dollars? 我们可以用美元定价吗？ Wǒmen kěyǐ yòng Měiyuán dìngjià ma?
Other common currencies:
Chinese Yuan – 人民币 – Rénmínbì
Hong Kong Dollar – 港币 – Gǎngbì
Euro – 欧元 – Ōuyuán
British Pound – 英镑 – Yīngbàng
Japanese Yen – 日元 Rìyuán
We will pay after delivery 我们希望能货到付款。Wǒmen xīwàng néng huòdào fùkuǎn.
We will pay after we have checked the quality 我们希望能先验货再付款。Wǒmen xīwàng néng xiān yànhuò zài fùkuǎn.
BUSINESS DINNER AND ENTERTAINMENT
Business dinners are a big thing in China, either to get to know each other better and build guanxi, or to celebrate a closed deal. Be prepared for a lot of food and alcohol.
Baijiu – 白酒 – báijiǔ – (lit. white alcohol) a strong Chinese liquor often consumed during business dinners. This alcohol is an acquired taste to say the least. To show politeness you should at least try to drink a little. To politely decline you can say, for example, that you’re allergic to alcohol, 我对酒精过敏 – wǒ duì jiǔjīng guòmǐn. Declining a drink on health or religious grounds will be understood and accepted by your Chinese counterparts.
To propose a toast (lit. respect the liquor) – 敬酒 – jīngjiǔ- . If you want to propose a toast, for example to the manager, you can say 经理，我敬你一杯- Jīnglǐ, wǒ jìng nǐ yībēi. If you want to toast the whole group, then you can say 我来敬大家一杯 – Wǒ lái jìng dàjiā yì bēi.
Cheers (lit. dry glass) – 干杯！- gānbēi – is the traditional Chinese toast. At business dinners where alcohol is abundant be prepared to hear this a lot. Note that traditionally this means you should finish your drink, although in modern times, depending on the situation, just taking a sip is often enough.
Let’s go to KTV – 我们去KTV吧！- Wǒmen qù KTV ba – KTV, in the west better known by it’s Japanese name of karaoke, KTV’s are popular venues in China, either to bond with business partners or to celebrate a closed deal. KTV is different from western karaoke bars, in that at KTV each group gets its own private room equipped with a karaoke machine, drinks and other amenities.
TOURING A FACTORY
While times are changing, China still has a large and robust manufacturing sector. Inspecting a factory – 工厂 – gōngchǎng – and the manufacturing process is important to evaluate potential suppliers and business partners.
Can I please see the warehouse? 我能参观一下你们的仓库吗？Wǒ néng cānguān yíxià nǐmen de cāngkù ma？- A warehouse can reveal a lot about a company. Many factory owners do not expect you to visit the warehouse, it can thus show you how the conditions really are. A warehouse visit can also help you to estimate the level of output and which customers the factory serves.
Let’s open this door 打开这扇门吧 Dǎkāi zhè shàn mén ba – a factory tour is a pre-planned thing, the managers will only show you what they want you to see. One tactic to make sure that, 1. The person you’ve met is really a decision maker at the factory, and 2. You see the “real” factory and not only what they want you to see, is to open random doors at the factory. If your guide becomes unsure or will not let you open any random doors it might mean they are hiding something, or that they are not the decision maker and thus not allowed to open this door.
This tea is really delicious – 这个茶很真好喝 – zhè gè chá zhēn hǎohē. When touring a factory or place of business you will inevitably end up waiting in the reception area. When you wait, you will be offered some tea. To get on the good side of the receptionist, after all the receptionist is the gatekeeper to the company, you can complement the tea. If you really enjoyed the tea then do not be shy and ask for more, the polite way to do it is by saying 请问能再给我倒一杯茶吗？谢谢 – Qǐngwèn néng zài gěi wǒ dào yìbēi chá ma? Xièxiè – Could you please give me some more tea? Thank you!
Doing business in China is getting easier, as more and more Chinese people know English, and become more used to foreign business cultures. However if you speak Chinese, even a little bit, it can open doors for you and help you connect with your Chinese counterparts on a whole different level. Knowing Chinese can also help you better evaluate your potential business partners and their true abilities and intentions.
This is a guest post by Jan Skarstein from www.livethelanguage.cn
In 2011 Jan Skarstein packed his bags and hopped on a flight to Shanghai to study Chinese and economics. He has stayed put since then, and now as a marketing manager for www.livethelanguage.cn he wants to help others in learning about China.