How to work with Chinese business partners?

China, a global economic powerhouse, has captivated the world with its rapid growth and innovation. At the heart of this economic juggernaut lies a distinctive work culture that has played a pivotal role in shaping the nation's success story. Understanding the work culture of Chinese people is not only essential for business professionals and companies aiming to engage in the Chinese market but also offers valuable insights into the values, traditions, and practices that drive this dynamic society.

Shanghai view trade with China

In this article, we delve into the multifaceted work culture of Chinese professionals, examining the key principles, work ethics, and interpersonal dynamics that characterise their approach to business. Whether you're a manager working with Chinese teams, sourcing suppliers or simply intrigued by the cultural intricacies of one of the world's most populous countries, this exploration will shed light on the fascinating world of Chinese culture. Join us as we uncover the nuances and secrets behind China's remarkable business success.

Differences between Western & Chinese business cultures

Western vs. Chinese cultures

In the global landscape of business, understanding the differences between Chinese and Western workplace cultures is crucial for success. The Western world and China represent two vastly distinct approaches to business. This article delves into the nuances of these divergent cultures, shedding light on how they impact work ethics, communication styles, and decision-making processes. Explore the key distinctions that define business interactions in these two influential countries.

996 Work Culture

The "996" work culture, primarily associated with certain Chinese companies, has drawn considerable attention both within China and from other countries. This work practice demands that employees work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, resulting in an arduous 72-hour workweek.

While proponents argue that it can drive productivity and innovation, critics emphasise its detrimental effects on work-life balance and employee well-being. The "996" culture raises broader questions about the evolving nature of work in the modern world, sparking discussions worldwide about the balance between long working hours and employee welfare.


Punctuality holds a position of utmost significance in Chinese work culture and, indeed, within Chinese society as a whole. Being on time is not merely a sign of professionalism, but it is seen as a demonstration of respect for others' time and a commitment to fulfilling obligations.

In Chinese business settings, arriving late can be perceived as a sign of disorganisation or a lack of seriousness, potentially damaging one or company's reputation. Therefore, the value placed on punctuality underscores the deep-rooted respect for schedules and appointments in Chinese society, emphasising the importance of reliability and efficiency in both personal and professional interactions.

Hard Work & KPI-drive

In the Chinese company, hard work and a relentless focus on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are undeniably paramount. This work culture places an emphasis on diligence and measurable results that is unparalleled. Chinese employees are expected to dedicate themselves fully to their tasks, often putting in long hours to meet or exceed their KPIs.

This commitment is not just a professional requirement but a personal source of pride, reflecting one's dedication to their role and their organisation's success. In the Chinese workplace, the pursuit of excellence through hard work and the achievement of KPIs is not just a norm; it's the lifeblood of professional advancement and overall success, making it extremely important in this dynamic work environment.


Collectivism is a cornerstone of Chinese work culture, where the emphasis on harmonious working relationships and strong interpersonal bonds is paramount.

In the Chinese workplace, individuals often prioritise group goals over personal aspirations. Building and maintaining strong relationships with colleagues and superiors is not only encouraged but essential for success. This collectivist approach fosters teamwork, mutual support, and a sense of unity, driving productivity and innovation.

It's a cultural trait that not only shapes the dynamics within organisations but also plays a significant role in China's economic growth and global business partnerships, making it a fundamental aspect of Chinese work culture.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution in Chinese work culture is deeply influenced by cultural norms and a commitment to "save face." Open and direct confrontation is generally avoided, and instead, individuals tend to communicate indirectly and with tact to preserve harmonious working relationships.

The concept of "face," which represents a person's reputation and dignity, is crucial. Conflicts are often addressed privately, allowing parties to find mutually agreeable solutions without causing embarrassment. This approach underscores the significance of maintaining social harmony and mutual respect within the company, aligning with broader Chinese cultural values. These principles of conflict resolution are essential for successful collaboration and integration into the Chinese working relationship.


Napping, often viewed as a cultural peculiarity to the West, is actually an integral part of the Chinese way of work in many Chinese companies. Known as "zhōngwǔ xiū," or afternoon nap, this practice has deep historical and cultural roots in China.

It's not uncommon to see employees taking a short nap at their desks or in designated rest areas during the post-lunch hours. Far from being a sign of laziness, the Chinese approach to napping recognises its benefits for productivity and mental rejuvenation.

By optimising energy levels and focus, the strategic incorporation of naps into the workday aligns with Chinese companies' goals of maximising efficiency and ensuring employee well-being. Adapting to this unique aspect of Chinese work culture can lead to a more harmonious and productive experience in Chinese workplaces.


Guanxi, an integral concept in Chinese work culture, is more than just small talk and networking; it's a big deal. This intricate web of personal relationships and connections plays a pivotal role in professional life. Cultivating and nurturing Guanxi is essential for success in the Chinese workplace. It involves building trust, mutual respect, and a sense of obligation among colleagues and business partners. Guanxi goes beyond mere formal transactions; it can lead to the exchange of new ideas and business opportunities.

In Chinese work culture, establishing Guanxi often starts with seemingly casual conversations and social gatherings. These interactions pave the way for deeper, more meaningful relationships. While Guanxi may appear informal, it holds significant weight in decision-making processes and collaborations. Chinese coworkers value those they have strong Guanxi with, and this can greatly influence career progression and business outcomes.

In essence, Guanxi is the lifeblood of professional relationships in China, and its nuances are paramount for anyone looking to thrive in the Chinese business landscape. It's a powerful tool that opens doors, fosters collaboration, and brings fresh perspectives to the forefront of Chinese work culture.


Confidentiality in Chinese work culture is a matter of profound importance, with key distinctions from the more open and expressive American culture. In China, it's widely believed that openly discussing sensitive matters, especially in public or with outsiders, can lead to "losing face," a concept tied to preserving dignity and respect. Consequently, Chinese professionals tend to be discreet when it comes to discussing proprietary information or personal matters in the workplace.

This emphasis on confidentiality extends to business dealings as well, where trust and discretion are essential. Chinese colleagues often prefer to establish a foundation of trust before sharing sensitive information during business meetings, which can involve building strong relationships or "Guanxi." It is vital for anyone operating in a Chinese business environment, as respecting confidentiality not only upholds professional integrity but also helps cultivate trust, essential for successful collaboration and business relationships in China.

Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication is a pivotal aspect of Chinese life and work culture, and it holds particular significance for both Chinese individuals and foreigners conducting business in China. In Chinese society, non-verbal cues often speak louder than words, and the intricacies of body language, facial expressions, and gestures carry substantial weight in conveying messages and emotions.

Non-verbal communication is especially critical because a misstep here can also cause you to "lose face." For example, maintaining eye contact during conversations is seen as a sign of attentiveness and respect, while avoiding it can be interpreted as a lack of interest or disrespect.

Moreover, the exchange of business cards, known as "名片" (míngpiàn), is a highly ritualised and respectful act that involves presenting and receiving cards with both hands. Neglecting these customs can leave a negative impression on Chinese counterparts.

For foreigners working with Chinese colleagues or conducting business in China, attuning oneself to these non-verbal cues and customs is essential. It not only demonstrates respect but also helps build rapport and successful working relationships, making it a vital skill for navigating the intricacies of Chinese work culture.


In Chinese business culture, the concept of authority often diverges from what is commonly observed in Western business settings. It's not unusual to see individuals assuming positions of authority at a relatively young age. Unlike the Western emphasis on years of experience and seniority, Chinese business culture places a significant emphasis on one's ability, capability, and potential. This means that even at a young age, individuals who exhibit exceptional skills, leadership qualities, and a strong work ethic can ascend to positions of authority and influence.

The Chinese business landscape embraces a meritocratic approach, where those who demonstrate competence and innovation are entrusted with decision-making responsibilities, regardless of their age. This dynamic, often seen in industries such as technology and entrepreneurship, is a reflection of China's rapidly evolving economy and the country's appetite for fresh ideas and agile leadership.

The nuances of authority in Chinese business culture is pivotal for successful collaboration and engagement. Recognising that age is not the sole determinant of authority allows foreign businesses and professionals to appreciate the diversity and dynamism that define China's contemporary business landscape. It's a testament to China's unique approach to leadership, where youth, ambition, and innovation are valued as much as experience.

Business Etiquette in Meeting with Chinese people

Exchanging business cards Chinese way

Navigating business etiquette when meeting with Chinese professionals, particularly in the context of tech companies, is essential for fostering successful partnerships. Begin by prioritising punctuality to demonstrate respect for their time. Exchange business cards gracefully, using both hands, and remember to address individuals by their titles to acknowledge hierarchy.

During meetings, maintain a polite and constructive tone, as direct criticism can be counterproductive. Uphold face-saving principles, respecting their dignity and reputation. When it comes to gifts, small tokens are appreciated, but avoid sets of four due to cultural superstitions.

In team-building events, engage actively to strengthen team cohesion and communicate well, as teamwork is highly valued in Chinese business culture. Finally, always follow up with a thank-you message or email to express appreciation for their hospitality and time.

These etiquette guidelines, rooted in respect and relationship-building, are of course invaluable when collaborating with Chinese professionals in the dynamic landscape of tech companies.

Language and Communication Differences

language differences

Navigating language and communication differences is essential when collaborating with Chinese individuals. Understanding the nuances of Mandarin and the complexity of 'yes,' is vital for successful interactions in the rich tapestry of Chinese culture.

Mandarin vs. Local Languages

Mandarin Chinese (Putonghua) is the official language of China and is widely spoken in business settings. While many professionals in China are fluent in Mandarin, regional dialects and languages can also be prevalent. It's advisable to determine which language is most comfortable for your Chinese counterparts and adapt your language accordingly.

Politeness and Formality

People in China place a high value on politeness and formality. Using appropriate honorifics and titles, such as "Mr." or "Ms.," is essential when addressing colleagues and business partners. Addressing someone by their full name with a suitable title is a sign of respect.

Meaning of "Yes" Word

In Chinese people, saying "yes" doesn't always indicate agreement. It can often signify acknowledgement or politeness rather than a definitive affirmation. It's crucial to probe further to ensure that the agreement is genuine, especially in negotiations or project discussions.

Avoiding "No"

Chinese culture tends to avoid direct refusals or negative responses. Saying "no" outright can be considered impolite or confrontational. Instead of an answer, you may encounter phrases like "We'll consider it" or "Maybe later". It's essential to read between the lines and inquire further to understand the true response.


Sarcasm is a form of humour that can be easily misinterpreted in cross-cultural interactions. Chinese professionals may not always grasp sarcasm, and relying on it can lead to confusion or offence. Clarity and directness are often appreciated more.

Business Cards

Exchanging business cards is a common practice in China. Ensure that your card includes your name and title, and consider having one side translated into Mandarin. When receiving a business card, examine it with respect and place it in a cardholder, rather than a pocket.

Chinese Labor Law

Chinese holiday lanterns

Chinese Labor Law serves as a comprehensive framework governing employment relationships in China. It outlines the rights and obligations of both employers and employees, addressing critical aspects such as working hours, wages, benefits, and dispute resolution, playing a pivotal role in the nation's labour landscape.

Working Hours

In China, working hours can vary depending on the industry, occupation, and region. Generally, the standard workweek consists of 5 days, with 8 hours per day, totalling 40 hours. However, certain industries and positions may have extended or irregular working hours, and overtime is common, especially in fast-paced urban centres like Shanghai and Beijing. Chinese labour law mandates overtime pay for such cases. It's important for employers and employees alike to be aware of the specific regulations governing working hours in their respective sectors to ensure compliance with the law.


In China, there are several public holidays during which people typically do not work. Some of the major Chinese holidays include:

  1. Chinese New Year (Spring Festival): This is the most significant holiday in China, and it usually falls in late January or February. It lasts for about a week, during which most businesses and offices are closed as people celebrate with family and friends.
  2. Qingming Festival: Occurring in early April, this holiday is a time for paying respects to ancestors. It's a day when many people visit gravesites and participate in outdoor activities.
  3. Labour Day: Celebrated on May 1st, this holiday honours the achievements of workers. It is a day off for most people, with various events and activities organised nationwide.
  4. Dragon Boat Festival: Held in June, this holiday commemorates the ancient poet Qu Yuan. It involves dragon boat races, eating sticky rice dumplings (zongzi), and other cultural activities.
  5. Mid-Autumn Festival: Celebrated in September or October, this holiday is a time for family reunions and enjoying mooncakes. Many businesses close for the day, and people gather to appreciate the full moon.
  6. National Day: Observed on October 1st, this holiday marks the founding of the People's Republic of China. It typically includes a week-long holiday known as the "Golden Week," during which many businesses and government offices are closed.

These holidays provide opportunities for people to relax, spend time with family, and engage in traditional customs and festivities. It's important for businesses operating in China to be aware of these holidays and plan accordingly, as they can impact work schedules and operations.

Navigating Cultural Differences

cultural differences work meeting

Don't Take Advantage of Your “Foreign Status”

When collaborating with Chinese colleagues or partners, it's essential not to take advantage of your "foreign status." While being a foreigner may offer certain advantages or privileges, it's crucial to approach these interactions with cultural sensitivity and respect.

Building Trust

Building trust with foreign partners is crucial for fruitful collaborations. Prioritise open and honest communication, deliver on commitments consistently, and show genuine interest in their culture and perspectives. Trust is the cornerstone of successful international partnerships, leading to lasting and mutually beneficial relationships.

Learning Basic Phrases

While not mandatory, making an effort to learn basic Mandarin phrases can be appreciated by your Chinese counterparts. Simple greetings and expressions of gratitude can go a long way in building rapport and surprise people.

How MultiPass can help build your business connections with Chinese companies

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