If you are considering doing business in China or with Chinese, you cannot disregard China Business Taboos. This article provides a deep insight into

“Every business major would tell you that cultural sensitivity is International Business 101. No company, no matter how prestigious, is an exception to the fact that a lack of class and respect leads to a negative image, and ultimately distrust.

As a foreign business person, don’t forget the famous concept of face, gift giving, table manners, respect for hierarchy and other important Chinese cultural insights.

Last couple of weeks, social media in China (and the world) was filled with heat regarding Dolce & Gabbana’s public disgrace due to an insensitive advertisement, followed by a racist rant from the company’s founder himself in a private chat. The consequences of the event had more impact than just a few angry customers and led to the cancellation of the “Great Show” that was planned in Shanghai just hours later. By now, retailers’ shelves have been cleared of the brand’s products, with industry experts saying it may take years before the brand will be able to regain the consumer’s trust and respect again.

Every business major would tell you that cultural sensitivity is International Business 101. No company, no matter how prestigious, is an exception to the fact that a lack of class and respect leads to a negative image, and ultimately distrust. China Interns and students learning Chinese should also be eager to learn more about these very important cultural aspects

Approaching any country with the idea of doing business in mind, should be done with respect and humility. Forgetting such core values or disregarding cultural sensitivity when implementing ads and campaigns in other countries could lead to huge errors. So huge that they could be the decisive moments for foreign companies’ future in China.

D&G are not the first to have learned this lesson the hard way. There have been many instances of foreign companies or businesses not being aware of cultural taboos (or not caring), ultimately leading to their downfall in the nation.

There are many misconceptions about Chinese people and culture in the West, deriving from either ignorance or arrogance.

Some seemingly benign views or ideas in the West could be seen as very offensive or of poor taste in China. There are elements of the Chinese way of life that foreign companies need to keep in mind if a long-term relationship is desired. Below are three important key points, with examples of companies learning them the hard way and these lessons are not only for Corporations but also for foreigners living in China

Chinese Business Taboos- talking about politics


Commenting on domestic political issues is strictly a bad idea, and could get the company boycotted. While expressing political views regarding sensitive topics seems to be “just” in Western cultures, in China, there is no place for it. Earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz landed itself in hot water after quoting the Dalai Lama on its Instagram account,  immediately angering Chinese citizens, and indirectly drawing criticism on political affairs.

U.S. hotel chain – Marriott, similarly wronged their Chinese partners by labeling Chinese territories as independent countries.

In response, President Xi Jinping clarified China’s intolerance of the international community interfering in its domestic affairs or challenging core interests.


Making fun of cultural aspects (even if seemingly humorous in outsider’s eyes) is simply not perceived that way in China. Many Swedish brands, including IKEA, H&M, and Volvo, were all boycotted for some time after an incident involving a Chinese family’s dispute with a Swedish hotel and later the local police enforcement.

The incident was later reported and made fun of (somewhat aggressively) in a popular Swedish satirical news show. That segment from the show quickly made it online, and spread around China, causing massive outrage, and leading the Chinese government to demand an official apology for the mistreatment and ridicule of its citizens abroad.

Chinese Business Culture

China is Crucial for Business

Most importantly, forgetting that it is those companies themselves who are in a sense dependent on China, and seek to expand more into the country. China is host to some of the biggest names in every imaginable industry, with each of them seeking to expand further into the country to maximize profits.

The fact of the matter is, Chinese consumers are the most valuable worldwide, for almost any brand and business, making it clear who has the upper-hand, and the “final-say” in such matters. This does not mean companies need to “suck up” to anyone, but it does mean that keeping such issues in mind could go a long way in securing solid long-term relationships with China (or any country).

Besides being wary of these potentially harmful courses of action, it is also recommended to be aware of other common differences between China and the West.

There are many factors imbedded deep in the Chinese culture, that may seem obvious and straightforward, but may go deeper than meets the eye, and can sometimes go undetected or ignored.

Doing business with Chinese

General Taboos

The concept of “face” for example, is absolutely essential in understanding where many sensitivities come from, and is directly related to the three key points discussed above. Under no circumstance should another party cause the individual to lose face. This basically means avoiding open conflict, direct criticism and confrontation, or any form of embarrassment. Paying attention to non-verbal cues and indirect forms of communication is hard to learn, but is also a must.

Relationships in China, especially business ones, are intended to be long-standing, and therefore requires constant effort in maintaining them, and practicing the core values mentioned earlier, such as tolerance, patience, and ultimately – respect.

Ignoring some of these elements with the purpose of just securing a quick one-time interaction/transaction, will end up backfiring. If one is not ready to put business aside and participate in frequent social gatherings, he or she is unlikely to succeed. Building trust and respect takes time and effort.

There are practically dozens more areas where seemingly trivial things, such as gift exchanges, punctuality, and even small-talk, have their own specific set of rules that should be learned. It is up to the interested parties to be as prepared as possible.

As China now is more exposed and used to Western culture, forgetting minor things such as giving name-cards with two hands, or making a toast before sipping from a drink at dinner, can go unnoticed, and are not a big deal most of the time. Intentionally setting out to ridicule and belittle elements of the culture, however, is a different story, and often times is unforgivable.

Of course, China itself does not have a perfectly clean record regarding the subject matter. But sensitivity is an issue which needs to be encouraged, and not overlooked. Setting a good example is the only way to elevate the type of cultural awareness we all desire, and to minimize potentially offensive situations such as this.

Explore Chinese Culture While Traveling

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