‘Be an unprofessional, good-looking no-kisser’

Despite the frequency of failure and miscommunication between Western and Chinese companies, the bulk of ‘How to do business in China’ literature is shockingly light on how to ‘pre-adapt’ to cultural circumstances of doing business in China. In this article, the author uses his knowledge of China to offer three-and-a-half simple principles that, he believes, can help foreign businesses overcome some of the cultural barriers to developing good business relationships in China. He presents them with accompanying examples in the hope that they will entertain, if not educate.

Two years ago, two senior Vice-Presidents from an American Fortune 500 company arrived in northern China’s Heilongjiang Province to complete negotiations for a joint venture with a significant Chinese company. Accompanying the Vice-Presidents were two US lawyers, two Chinese lawyers and two translators. ‘The deal was worth hundreds of millions of dollars,’ explains someone intimately familiar with the negotiation. ‘And that’s how you do such a big deal in the United States.’ However, the American Vice- Presidents were on the verge of finding out that it is not how you do such a deal in China.

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