May 30, 2012

Business Dress and Etiquette in China

Chinese Business Dress and Business Etiquette

business-dress-code-chinaAnyone who attends business meetings on a regular basis owes it to themselves to learn as much as possible about the different dress codes that one will likely stumble upon while traveling the world. Because of different business traditions around the globe we created a 10part series titled “Men’s Business Dress Around the Globe“. Indeed, business dress tends to differ from country to country, making it essential for those who tend to travel internationally to know exactly what they’re getting themselves into when traveling to a foreign country. This is especially true for those who plan on traveling to China at some point for business, as business dress in China tends to come with its own specific set of guidelines. By considering all of the following tips, you should have no issues putting together an ensemble that will make you not only fit in with others in China, but will connote professionalism to a large extent.

Keep Suit Colors Subtle
The importance in choosing the right colors for business meetings in China cannot be underestimated. Keeping suit colors on the subtle side is important, and should always be top of mind for those who are planning to attend a meeting in the country. Navy blue is popular, for example, as are other neutrals like charcoal and dark grey. Wearing a pastel pink shirt, on the other hand, will do nothing to help your case, and is likely to make you look as if you don’t fit in; you may even end up offending people. The more basic the colors you choose, the better off you’re likely to look when attending business meetings in China. This is not to say that your appearance needs to be “drab” in any way, however; subtlety can be an effective way to elevate an ensemble to the next level.

More on Color
As already discussed above, suit colors should be on the conservative side such as charcoal, gray, and midnight blue. White is a color that should be avoided since it is the color worn for mourning in Chinese culture. Red on the other hand is Chinese most popular color and is synonymous for prosperity, power, and authority. Thus wearing a ruby red tie is a good choice!

Step Out of the Past
In years past, Chinese business attire usually included a very specific type of suit. The “Mao” suit, as it was called, was military-like in appearance, including two pockets on each side of the chest and a rugged, functional design. While this piece was omnipresent for a long period of time in the country, China’s take on business dress has changed dramatically since. In modern times, it’s most common to see the traditional business suit in China instead of anything that might be considered similar to the Mao suit. As a result, those who are familiar with this aspect of Chinese dress should remember to leave this dress code tradition behind when preparing for a business meeting.

Embrace Patterned Ties
It’s not uncommon to see solid-colored ties in China; most people who work in the country on a regular basis can attest to this. That said, solids take the backseat to a large extent amongst businessmen in China, as patterned ties are almost always preferable. Polka dots, wide stripes and geometric patterns are all very popular in the country, and can help to take a standard business suit to new levels. For best results, strive to avoid any patterns that might be considered “loud,” as wearing these types of pieces can come off as offensive. Big picture ties (AKA “novelty ties”) are a big NO-NO.

Basic Business Etiquette
Understanding Chinese business etiquette is important, and anyone conducting business in China should study these traditions. While other cultures have a relaxed attitude towards time (such as Middle Eastern business etiquette), the Chinese value punctuality. Show up on time and avoid surprises. In fact, it is Chinese custom to outline discussion topics beforehand.

Names are very important to the Chinese. Make sure you learn how to address a person in your first meeting. Usually surnames come first. Also, make sure to bring plenty of business cards as you will need them. Similar to Japanese business tradition, the Chinese take their time to read and study your business card, and you should do the same. Receive a business card with both hands and take your time to read and study the card before placing it in your wallet or card holder. Want to earn extra points? Then have a business card made that has one side in English and the other in Chinese.

Last but not least, keeping face is very important to Chinese culture. Never put someone on the spot and always offer “a way out”. Also, avoid direct “NOs” instead say something like “I am not sure it is possible for us to do this”.

Other Suggested Articles:
Guide to Japanese Business Dress and Etiquette
101 on Business Casual Dress Code

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