The traditional Chinese "handshake" consists ofinterlocking the fingers of the hands and waving them up and down severaltimes. This is rarely used today (except during festivals, weddings andbirthdays of the elderly), and the Western-style handshake is used by almosteveryone. When greeting, a slight bow often accompanies the handshake, but donot bow from the waist in the style of the Japanese. While a firm grip isexpected in the West, the Chinese employ a gentler handshake. Except forshaking hands, do not touch anyone unless you know them very well. Neverembrace or slap a Chinese associate on the back.
Business cards are routinely exchanged at the first meeting. Besure that one side of your card has been translated into Chinese. Include yourcompany's name, your job title and any special qualifications you have. Whenreceiving a card from a Chinese businessman, take it with both hands andcompliment something about it; be sure to keep it on the table in front of youfor the entire meeting.
Chinese names are "reversed" from Western names. Thesurname is said first and then the given name. For example, Bruce Lee's name inCantonese is Lee Siu Lung. Lee is his surname and spoken first, and the givenname (Little Dragon) is spoken second. Professional, social, and family titlesalways follow the name as well. Dr. Wong would be Huang Yi Sheng (Huang meansDoctor). Likewise, Xiansheng (Mr.) and Taitai (Mrs.) are said after thesurname. Never call someone by only his last name, and unless specifically asked,do not call someone by his first name; always address your Chinese associatesby their surname followed by their title. Also, never address anyone as "comrade."
The Chinese will often avoid eye contact during conversations,especially when talking to the opposite sex or to strangers. Traditionally, itwas considered impolite and aggressive to look directly into another's eyeswhile talking, and as a sign of respect, the Chinese sometimes lower their eyesslightly when they meet others. The Chinese typically have a "blank"facial expression during introductions. This is not a sign of unhappiness,dissatisfaction, or unfriendliness, but reflects the belief that there isvirtue in concealing emotions. Chinese communication is ambiguous, indirect andhighly contextual. In conversation, the real meaning, especially if it'snegative, is often implied rather than stated. What is not said is often moreimportant 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. Casualconversation topics in China differ from that of English speakers. It is notimpolite to ask about a person's job, annual salary, marital/dating status orage. Although your answers need not be detailed, trying to avoid answering willonly invite suspicion and misunderstanding. The specifics of your answers arenot as important as your willingness to respond. In contrast, questions aboutfamily tend to be deflected or avoided.
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 absolutelynot be accepted. Should you find yourself in this situation, graciously say youunderstand and withdraw the gift. Smaller, less expensive items will not beseen as a bribe, but in any case, you will have to approach gift-giving withdiscretion. The Chinese do not usually accept a gift, invitation or favor whenit is first presented, but will politely refuse two or three times to reflectmodesty and humility. Accepting something in haste makes a person lookaggressive and greedy, as does opening it in front of the giver.
Six, eight and nine are considered lucky numbers, since theirhomophones have auspicious meanings. Six, liu in Chinese, implies thateverything about you will go smoothly. Eight was originally deemed lucky by theCantonese, since in Cantonese, the word for eight is fa, which means to make agreat fortune in the near future. Later, the auspiciousness of eight was takenup by all Chinese. Nine, jiu, implies everlasting, especially in friendship andmarriage. Four and seven are unlucky numbers; the former implies death and thelatter means gone.
Color symbolism is very important in China. Red is lucky and usedin celebrations, but never use red ink to write cards or letters, as it symbolizes the end of a relationship. Yellowis associated with prosperity, and gold is especially felicitous. In contrastwith Western cultures, white signifies death.
Instead of serving dishes individually as in the West - whereeveryone has his own portion of food on a single plate - the Chinese typicallyshare food from a number of dishes placed in the center of the table. Eachperson sitting around the table takes food from the common plates. Sometimes,in order to show their friendship and sincerity, Chinese hosts will pick fromdishes with their own chopsticks or spoons for you, and place food on yourplate. Never place your chopsticks upright in a rice bowl; it replicates thebowl of sand or rice with two upright incense sticks that is traditionallyplaced 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 handinstead;
Beckoning someone with the index finger - use the hand withfingers motioning downward as in waving instead;
Showing the soles of shoes;
Whistle to getsomeone's attention.