Mastering the Essentials: First Impressions and Socialising in Chinese Business Culture

In our previous blog post, we explored the art of building connections and nurturing business relationships with Chinese partners (Unlocking Cultural Fluency: Insider Insights into Chinese Communication – Exertis Supply Chain Services). Continuing with the second part of our two-part series, this next article will delve into the essential etiquette for your first meeting and the intricacies of social etiquette in China.

Navigating the world of business with Chinese partners means diving into their customs, especially around social etiquette. It’s more than just sharing a drink (alcoholic or not); it’s about building trust, showing respect, and opening doors to long-lasting business relationships. Our Shenzhen GM, Roger Luo, breaks down these customs in a straightforward way, giving you the tips you need to feel confident at the dining table and make a great impression on Chinese businesspeople.


Etiquette for the first meeting

Exchanging business cards. This has become a necessary part of business communication, but be sure to bring enough business cards with you to prevent the embarrassing situation of not having enough. Most importantly, after someone hands you a business card, don’t just shove it into your pocket without looking at it! Read it carefully to show your respect. It’s equally important to show respect for hierarchy, meaning you should exchange business cards in order of seniority: from most senior to least senior.

The handshake. In China, shaking hands is common etiquette for the first meeting, to express respect and politeness. The handshake should be strong but not excessively so, and both sides should maintain a smile and eye contact. Both sides should also maintain an appropriate physical distance to avoid being too close or distant. When it comes to body language, rather than using hand gestures, Chinese people prefer smiling and nodding to express affirmation and recognition.

Gifts. In the Chinese social etiquette lexicon, the word “gift” is not uncommon. Let’s take daily life as an example. Chinese people love to give wedding gifts, gifts for the birth of a child, gifts for moving to a new home, gifts for children’s schooling… the list goes on. Gift-giving has become an integral part of socialising in China. It is often seen as an important part of relationship-building, and the sentimental value of a gift is more important than its actual value. However, gift-giving can be a conundrum, since you must take into account the status of the person and the nature of the relationship, and thereby choose the right gift. When doing business with Chinese people, bringing a gift to a meeting can break the ice and enhance the relationship. The right gift at the first meeting can show respect and sincerity, as well as demonstrate your culture and values.


Social Etiquette

In China, consuming alcohol is a very special part of social culture and is closely related to Chinese history, culture and philosophy. If you don’t or can’t drink alcohol, it’s important to inform the other party in advance so tea or soft drinks can be provided.

On business occasions, people use sharing a drink as a platform to express their feelings, exchange ideas and promote friendship. Through communication in a social context, they can deepen mutual understanding and trust, which will increase the chances of success in business cooperation and establish a long-term cooperative relationship.  Here are some aspects to pay particular attention to:

Seating arrangement. In China, the arrangement of seating at a banquet or gathering where drinks are served follows an elaborate protocol, with hosts and guests separated and sorted according to position, age and status. The honoured guest will be allocated the most important position on the table, or the “seat of honour”, typically positioned to face the entrance.

The toast. With regard to toasting, there is also some etiquette to follow. Usually the most senior attendees and the guest of honour will be first to make a toast, and the person giving the toast will usually stand up with both hands on their glass to show respect.  In these toasts, both sides pay appropriate compliments to each other. When you “cheers!” and clink glasses with a Chinese person, you should look at each other, smile and say something friendly, before gently clinking glasses. However, if you are on a large round table and therefore unable to reach the other person’s glass, you can lightly touch the table instead. Some people like to show respect by touching the edge of their glass lower down on the other person’s glass as a mark of humility and respect for that person, especially if the other person is an important guest or more senior than them.


Learning and understanding the art of Chinese communication and Chinese culture is beneficial to business communication and building good business relationships with companies in China. Exertis Supply Chain Services has a team of more than 50 people in our Shenzhen office to support and help us with not only professional supply chain consulting and management, but also localised communication assistance services. We are also committed to strengthening our connections to stay informed about supply chain dynamics in real time.

To learn more about any of our offerings or to arrange an appointment with a member of our sales team please get in touch.