Networking in China – Part 1: Cultural aspects

Networking in China – Part 1: Cultural aspects


Hi and welcome to my patented jumble of networking tips and ‘don’ts’ of networking (in general and specifically for China).
This guide is mainly written for Interns and business people who are doing networking FOR THEIR COMPANY, in China. This is not aimed at people who are networking to find a job at a careers event.

Networking in China is very similar to networking in the West with a few key cultural differences. Lets explore the cultural side first (part one) then move onto the strategies of working a room (part 2).

Guanxi – you may have heard this word before but weren’t quite sure what it meant… well its basically the concept of ‘who you know’, we know of this in the West but its ten times more prominent in China and should not be ignored… With a good network of contacts in China you can accomplish anything, without Guanxi you will fight against the tide.

So, now you know why networking is important in China.

I will write another blog about Guanxi in the near future so stay tuned if you’re interested!

InternChina - Guanxi
InternChina – Guanxi

Mianzi – This is the notion of ‘face’ in China. Every Chinese person’s main goal is not to lose face.. every Chinese persons second main goal is looking for ways to gain face.
When networking, if your new Chinese acquaintance invites you to a dinner or an event then an outright refusal would cause loss of face. If you really can’t attend then I suggest a neutral phrase like ‘Sounds awesome…I’ll check my schedule and get back to you’.
Again, I will write a blog about this concept of ‘face’ very soon and go into the finer points because it is very important when you are trying to form new relationships (business or otherwise) with the Chinese.

InternChina - Give face
InternChina – Give face

Chinese business card etiquette;

– Always give and receive business cards with two hands, thumbs holding the corners
– Make sure the writing is facing the receiver
– When you receive a card, study it for a few minutes and show interest.. pretend you’re off American Psycho and compliment the paper quality and off white colouring.
– Don’t immediately put the card in you front pocket or bag and certainly not in your back pocket (akin to sitting on their face). Ideally, if you were seated, you would place it on the table infront of you in an aligned fashion to show respect. Failing that, your suit jacket pocket, failing that, your shirt pocket, failing that, fail.

InternChina - Two hands
InternChina – Two hands

BONUS TIP – its vital to have your Chinese name on your business card.. if you don’t have a Chinese name, get one! There is nothing worse than seeing a Chinese person lose face trying to pronounce your awkward foreign name.. trust me, with a name like Jack Graham Fairhead, I know!
To save face I have acknowledged my name to be a whole range of synonyms:
Jake Greem Fire Head
Jackie Gra Ham Fair Heed
Jack Grrr Farrr  <- Promising start but crashed and burned

InternChina - Card respect
InternChina – Card respect

Names – I hope you have a clear mind going into this section because you will come out betwixt.
So, when a Chinese person introduces themselves to you they will state their last name first and their first name last, which may be 2 syllables.

Lets say a Wang Jianguo introduced himself to you, his family name is Wang and his given name is Jianguo.

You should never call someone only by their last name.. also don’t call them by their first name… you can address them by their title then surname i.e Mr Wang, or Wang XianSheng, or Wang Jing li (manager Wang) or as their full name Wang Jianguo.

You may also see Chinese people referring to each other as ‘Lao’ Wang or ‘Xiao’ Wang, where Lao means senior/old and Xiao means junior. Seniority is commonplace in Chinese culture.
Their culture places emphasis on showing respect to seniors and care for juniors.

Women’s names can rarely be distinguished from men’s and so it is polite to use a courtesy title along with their name;
Furen = Madam
Nushi = Ms
Xiaojie = Miss
Mei nu = pretty lady (not to be used in a business context!)

Intern China - Names
Intern China – Names

Personal Questions -If you have struck up a conversation with a new Chinese friend then don’t be alarmed if, within minutes, they start to ask you questions which we deem to be personal in the West. Such as ‘how much money do you earn?’, ‘Are you married with Children?’, ‘Do you have a house?’, ‘Which Spice girl is your favourite?’ and so on.

Just answer honestly or deflect their questions by asking them the same question right back!

InternChina - Personal
InternChina – Personal

So now you know the basic cultural standards of dealing with the Chinese in a business/networking context the next part of this blog will be a savvy guide on how to approach a room full of people at a networking event. Stay Tuned!

 To put networking into practice, apply now for an internship in China.