The Year of the Monkey is now upon us, with lanterns, parades, feasting, and the world’s largest annual migration of people ringing in a new year in the Chinese lunar calendar.
These festivities are not just confined to mainland China, but are celebrated by Chinese communities worldwide, including in some of the most dynamic markets across the Asia Pacific, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau and Vietnam (“Tet” lunar New Year).
Collectively, these markets account for over 30 per cent of Australia’s two-way trade (over AUD 200 billion annually) – so it’s important to understand how Chinese New Year may impact on your business.
And like any fresh start in the calendar, it’s invaluable to reflect on how you can strengthen and grow your Chinese business networks in the Year of the Monkey.
While there is no one recipe for building effective partnerships, here are five tips for the culturally astute business to consider:
1. Respect the local festivities and be mindful of public holidays
Festivities begin weeks before Chinese New Year day, so don’t be surprised by delays in receiving a response from your Chinese partners or suppliers or difficulties getting in touch. Mainland China shuts down for a week of national and local public holidays, beginning on Chinese New Year’s Eve (February 7).
Hong Kong celebrates three consecutive official public holidays, from February 8, while Singaporeans enjoy a two day break (February 8-9).
2. Maintain face and harmony
Always be mindful of maintaining miànzi (面子) – face – and harmony with your Chinese business network. The best way to manage miànzi is not to demand “yes” or “no” answers in business meetings, but to accept the need for consensual decision-making and relationship-building.
It’s also important to pay sincere compliments and show respect, especially to older people and to those in more senior positions.
Contradicting someone openly, criticising them in front of others or patronising them will all result in loss of face, and are sure ways to lose business and employees, as well as ruin relationships.
3. Practice guanxi
What is guanxi? Despite being a ubiquitous term, many Western businesses struggle to understand this complex concept and its central role in Chinese business culture and etiquette.
Often translated as “connections”, “relationships” or “networks”, guanxi can be used to describe a network of contacts, which an individual can call upon, and through which they can exert influence on behalf of another.
These networks can have a direct impact on conducting business, including on market expansion and sales growth.
A key is to remain diligent and be aware that the reciprocal nature of guanxi also dictates an informal obligation to “return the favour”.
4. Invest in relationships
Building good business relationships and trust is essential, so expect to spend plenty of time at meetings and banquets with your potential business partners.
Chinese business people prefer to establish a strong relationship and develop personal connections before closing a deal.
Expect to be asked, and to ask questions, about family. Try to find a connection with your Chinese counterpart and make a note to remember it.
5. Understand Chinese business etiquette
This involves understanding how to greet your business partners correctly, present business cards (míng piàn – 名片), conduct a meeting, negotiate effectively, thank your hosts at a dinner, and much more.
Nuances exist not only within mainland China but throughout the Chinese speaking world. But businesses can follow practical tips to ensure they respect local business etiquette. These include:
- Never publicly criticise or contradict anyone. Discuss any concerns discreetly in private, or use an intermediary.
- Business introductions are vital – ensure your agent or representative has sufficient guanxi with the right people.
- Chinese business hours vary, so if you are not sure what time your contacts commence work, avoid scheduling meetings early or late in the day.
- Ensure you have an ample supply of business cards. Present your business card by holding it in both hands between your thumb and index finger at the top of the card.
- Remember that with Chinese names the family name comes first (e.g. Wong Li Qiang should be addressed as Mr Wong).