If you read my earlier post, you know I am offering a window into China and its business culture by relating my findings from my three-week business travels in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. It was a great experience as I met with a variety of companies and experienced the culture and the people directly – without tour guides or chauffeurs.
One of the first things that any good cultural guide will share about doing business in China is the importance of business cards. Business cards in the United States are important. However, in China, they are critical. You receive and give cards with two hands prior to any business meeting and lay them out in front of you during the discussion. (You lead with your two thumbs to give the cards out. I learned to use my third and fourth fingers when receiving the cards as if I were dealing playing cards). Several meetings actually started by spending time reading and reviewing the information on the business cards thoroughly before we began the discussion.
While many companies understand Westerners do not place a premium on business card exchanges, I recommend that you do your homework before you leave. Travel with twice the amount of cards you anticipate you’ll need. I tucked them into several places in my luggage, which became invaluable for many of the informal discussions and introductions. They are also lifesavers when speaking to someone who cannot understand your American accent and you need to refer to the written word. (That was critical for meeting gatekeepers and receptionists.)
In addition, if you can, have your cards printed in Mandarin, Cantonese or other Chinese dialect before you leave the States. (I used the translation services of the Columbia University Tutoring and Translating Agency.) Doing this will demonstrate your willingness to understand their culture. (And it was pretty cool to see my name in Mandarin!)
If you are interested in exploring this aspect of Chinese culture further, consider having your name engraved on chop. Chop are equivalent to American/Western signature stamps or digital signatures and provide proof of authenticity. It makes for a great souvenir of your travels in China.
Have you had any experiences with business card etiquette in China that could add to this post? Please feel free to post your comments.
As we continue this series, my next post will discuss the importance of language in Chinese business culture. How fluent do you need to be and how can you improve your language skills quickly?
A Black Businesswoman in China: Traveling as a Foreigner
Malla Haridat, the founder and CEO of New Designs for Life, is a nationally recognized expert in the specialized field of entrepreneurship education and has trained over 1,000 students. She has traveled extensively throughout the United States working in partnership with companies developing creative solutions for entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. A dynamic thinker, strategist, and speaker, Malla now works with a wide variety of organizations applying her creative talents to the challenges of business transformation. Her company was awarded the 2005 New York City Small Business Award of the Year by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and has been featured in publications like The New York Times and on Martha Stewart Radio.