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How to Successfully do Business in China in the Year of the Horse

China has the world’s fastest growing consumer market. But how can businesses tap into this? We look more closely at how to do business successfully in China, and the role of the translation industry.

The significance of the Chinese market can’t be ignored – the statistics speak for themselves:

  • China has the world’s largest manufacturing economy.
  • It has the world’s second largest economy overall (after the USA).
  • It has a population of over 1.3 billion.
  • It is the world’s largest exporter and second largest importer.
  • In the decade up to 2013, its economy averaged a 10% growth rate.

Although things slowed down a bit in economic terms last year, that’s only in comparison to the giddy heights of previous years. Business is still booming in China, and the new government is taking various measures to make sure this continues.

Any business looking to extend its reach into China – whether they are engaging with other businesses or targeting Chinese consumers directly – needs to start by making contacts in the country. Here it’s important to understand how things are done in China; a good grasp of the business culture is invaluable when it comes to tapping into the Chinese market.

Here are a few basic guidelines on Chinese business etiquette. These are useful to bear in mind even if you never have to conduct business in person:

  • Take your time – in China it’s important to build relationships slowly, formally and respectfully, in order to develop trust.
  • Meeting etiquette – always arrive on time, as lateness is a sign of extreme rudeness. Begin with the most important issues and be prepared for some tough negotiations – you should be willing to show compromise.
  • The concept of ‘face’ – this essentially means reputation or honour. You can ‘give face’ by accepting invitations, presenting gifts and showing respect; equally you can ‘lose face’ by refusing gifts, behaving inappropriately or insulting someone.

The picture below demonstrates a very common misunderstanding between Western and Eastern business practices. Where the man on the left goes to shake hands, the Chinese businessman bows. Bowing as a way of greeting someone in China is commonplace. The difference in bowing height between each person is symbolic of their position, relative to the other. So for instance, an employee would bow lower to his boss, since he is above him in the company hierarchy. Not bowing would cause the other person to “lose face”, meaning that they would be insulted and their reputation damaged.

two men bowing to greet eachother










One of the main priorities of any business expanding into China should be the localisation of marketing materials, and this is where the translation industry comes in. It’s so important to get this right. Localisation is much more than just a straight translation – it means adapting content to specific audiences, taking into account different cultural contexts.

No matter what product or service is being promoted, it’s essential that all marketing communication translations for video – for example Chinese voice-over or Chinese subtitles – work in context. If the audience doesn’t understand what’s being sold to them – or if it doesn’t seem relevant to them, or even worse if it offends them – then all that marketing effort will be wasted. Only by using professional, creative translation services – experts in localisation – can businesses ensure that their marketing activities are appropriate and effective.

With the right approach, the huge Chinese market is wide open. The Year of the Horse – symbol of communication and successful ventures – could be just the right time to jump in. Are you ready to open the door to doing business in China?

Open the Door to Doing Business in China