The traditional Chinese “handshake” consists of interlocking the fingers of the hands and waving them up and down several times. This is rarely used today (except during festivals, weddings and birthdays of the elderly), and the Western-style handshake is used by almost everyone. A slight bow often taking photos the handshake, but do not bow from the waist in the style of the Japanese.
While a firm grip is expected in the West, the Chinese employ a gentler handshake. Except for shaking hands, do not touch anyone unless you know they are well. Never embrace or slap a Chinese associate on the back.
Businesses are routinely exchanged at the first meeting. Be sure that one side of your card has been translated into Chinese. Include your company’s name, your job title and any special qualifications you have. When receiving a card from a Chinese businessman, take it with both hands and sure to keep it on the table in front of you for the whole meeting.
Chinese name are “reversed” from Western names. The surname is said first and then the given name. For example, Bruce Lee’s name in Cantonese is Lee Siu Lung. Lee is his surname and spoken first, and then given name (Little Dragon) . Profession, social, and family titles always follow the name as well Dr. Wong would be Huang Yi Sheng (Huang means Doctor). Likewise, Xiansheng (Mr.) and Taitai (Mrs.) are said after the surname. Never call someone by only his last name, and unless own asked, do not call someone by his first name; always address your Chinese associates by their surname followed by their title. Also, never address anyone as “comrade.”
The Chinese will often avoid eye contact during conversations, especially talking to the opposite sex or to strangers. Traditionally, it was considered impolite and aggressive to look directly into another’s eyes while talking, and as a sign of respect, the Chinese sometimes lower their eyes slightly or have a “blank” facial expression during introductions. This is not a sign of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or unfriendliness, but show the belief that there is virtue in concealing emotions. Chinese communication is ambiguous, indirect and highly contextual. In conversation, the real meaning, especially if it’s negative, is often implied rather than stated. What is not said is often more important that what is said.
When meeting someone for the first time for a business meeting, you should engage in general conversation before turning to business. Casual conversation topics in China differ from that of English speakers. It is not impolite to ask about a person’s job or annual salary, trying to avoid answering will only invite suspicion and misunderstanding. The specifics of your answers are not as important as your response. In contrast, questions about family tend to be deflected.
Lavish gift-giving was once an important part of Chinese culture. Today, official policy forbids gift-giving as it can be considered bribery. Though the policy is softening, there may be times when a gift will be absolutely not be accepted. In this situation, graciously say you understand and withdraw the gift. Smaller, less expensive items will not be seen as a bribe, but in any case, you will have to approach gift-giving with discretion. The Chinese do not usually accept a gift, invitation or favor when it is first presented, but will politely refuse two or three times to reflect modest and humility. Accepting something in haste makes a person look aggressive and greedy, and don’t open in front of the giver.
Six, eight and nine are considered lucky numbers, since their homophones have auspicious meanings. Six, liu in Chinese, implies that everything about you will go smooth. Eight was originally expected lucky by the Cantonese, since in Cantonese, the word for eight is fa, which means to make a great fortune in the future. Later, the auspiciousness of eight was taken by all Chinese. Nine, jiu, meaning everlasting, especially in friendship and marriage. Four and seven are unlucky numbers; the former implies death and the latter means gone.
Color is very important in China. Red is lucky and used in celebrations, but never use red ink to write cards or letters, as it symbolizes the end of a relationship. Yellow is associated with prosperity, and gold is especially felicitous. White signifies death.
Instead of serving dishes individually as in the West – where everyone has their own portions of food on a single plate – the Chinese typical hours on a meal with a number of dishes on the side of the table . In order to show their friendship and sincerity, Chinese hosts will pick from dishes with their own chopsticks or spoons for you, and place food on your plate. Never place your chopsticks upright in a rice bowl; it replicates the bowl of sand or rice with two upright incense sticks that is traditionally placed at the shrine of deceased loved one.
Many common Western gestures are considered rude in China.
-Pointing with the index finger – use a face-up, open hand instead
-Beckoning someone with the index finger – use the hand with fingers motioning downward as in waving instead
-Showing the soles of shoes
-Whistle to get someone’s attention