We all are characterised by our socio-cultural values. An intercultural training always begins with the reflection of one’s own culture. It is only in this context that one can classify and understand other cultures.

Herbert Gerzer, Manager of Training & Development

The People’s Republic of China and its President Xi Jinping are on everyone’s lips these days. China expert Nan Li explains in an interview what you should look out for when doing business in China and how to best prepare yourself.
China is a country nearly as big as Europe, with a population of 1.4 billion. To what extent can one speak of THE Chinese business culture – does it really exist?
Well, of course you have to differentiate – there are many regional characteristics in China – as well as in Austria – but there are also things that apply nationwide.
You probably mean “GuanXi”? What does this term actually mean?
“GuanXi” literally means “relationship”. In general, when dealing with China, one should be aware that Chinese business culture is much more relationship oriented than, for example, in Austria. This means that in negotiations it is often not the subject matter that determines the discussion, but the relationship network behind it.
This means you should also spend time with your business partners outside the actual appointment?
Yes, that definitely helps.
Is it better to rely on an agency to make the first contact with China?
This depends very much on the local conditions and the industry. In any case, I would advise to inform yourself about the local conditions in an intercultural training. This way you also learn to better understand the Chinese mindset, which significantly improves your business projects. If required, we also offer tailored trainings for specific regions and business areas.
What about the hierarchy within companies in China? Is there a decision maker you have to try and convince?
It depends very much on the type of company, whether it is e.g. a state owned enterprise or “only” the Chinese branch of a foreign company. But generally speaking, the hierarchy is more prominent than in Austrian companies.
What should be considered during negotiations?
The key to successfully doing business with China is to realise that the mindset of the Chinese is very different from ours – e.g. what is perceived as fair and how to generally do business. So you don’t talk past each other.
In Austria, there has been a steady rise in the number of guests from China in recent years. What do the Chinese guests expect from their holiday with us and what should we offer them?
Due to the long distance, Chinese guests do not travel to Europe that often. If they treat themselves to such a long journey then they would like to see what they expected in advance – i.e. classical sightseeing – Mozart, Hallstatt, Sissi etc. In addition, shopping is very important. Here in Europe, Chinese guests can purchase branded items that are not easily or at all available in China.
And how far do you get in China with English?
When it comes to business contacts, many Chinese speak English quite well, especially in cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, where most international events take place. In the heart of the country this is again very different. However, in return, it is not expected at all that you speak fluent Chinese. But you should learn a few phrases in Mandarin, so it can be seen as a cultural goodwill and has for sure positive effects.
Which tip do you always give your clients?
The Chinese are often sensitive to how their country is perceived in Europe. They want – I think, as we do in Austria or Germany – that their country is seen in a positive light. Therefore, I recommend my clients to also engage with the Chinese culture which is incredibly diverse and rich. On the one hand there are more conversation topics and on the other the business partners are happy that you show interest in their country.
Ms. Li, thank you very much for the interview!
Want to know more about this topic?
You can find all the information about our intercultural trainings here
Read more about Nan Li