No Image Available

Raymond Lam

Dragon Social

Head of Growth

Read more from Raymond Lam

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

5 Top Differences Between Chinese and Westerners


When East meets West at the negotiation table, Chinese business cultural differences come to the forefront. They hit foreign entrepreneurs who are starting to do business in China like an avalanche of problems they have never encountered before.

When East meets West, a unique experience must be expected. Are you aware of Top 10 Chinese business cultural differences?

People, who were born in China and lived in the West for a long time, can easily outline these business cultural differences between Chinese and Western cultures.

Yang Liu, an artist and a visual designer, was born in China and has been living in Germany since the age of 14. Yang experienced the differences between the two cultures first-hand. To express her knowledge in a creative, yet unusual, way, she created several minimalistic visualizations using just symbols and shapes.

The blue side represents Germany and, hence, Western culture. The red side is about China and, thus, the culture of China. Look at these images very attentively!


1. Lifestyle: Independent vs. dependent


In the Western culture, people view themselves as independent entities. In contrast to them, the Chinese culture stresses interdependence between human beings.

For many Chinese people, listening quietly and processing information while listening to discussions on negotiations is the way to fit in and show their good character. For Chinese people, it is the right way of behaving is a calm and attentive way, which shows their good interdependent self. It is the Chinese style.


The Western style that is very different from business practices in China. On negotiations and conferences, they often stand up and speak up. They do what is more convenient for them. Getting excited about something and smiling is one of the ways to show their interest and approval. In this way, they express themselves as a good independent self.


2. Attitude towards punctuality


International businesses often encounter situations where their interpretation of “on-time” is different from that of their overseas business partners.



Adherence to punctuality seems to be in the blood of the Western people. Punctuality on arrival at business negotiations is very important. It fits the Western stereotype on the picture perfectly.


Punctuality is a virtue in Chinese business culture as well. Yet, on average the Chinese are 10 minutes late for engagements. But it is not unusual at all that foreigners walk into the meeting room when their Chinese partners are probably already waiting for them. Many Chinese people indeed come to a meeting earlier than necessary.


3. Attitude towards senior managers


In the Chinese hierarchical and collectivistic culture, it is extremely important to show your respect for your senior managers. Subordinates don’t disagree and/or criticize their bosses, at least not directly or in public.



In contrast to a Chinese counterpart, an individualistic Westerner doesn’t hesitate to share their ideas with their boss and to disagree. That’s why if you are a foreigner and your boss is Chinese, you have to take into account this cultural difference. The best way is to voice your verbal approval of your senior manager’s idea and only then speak up, explain, and advocate your own approach.


If you are a foreign businessman who is going to have business negotiations with Chinese partners, you should follow the same approach. It becomes even more important if the social status of the Chinese party is higher than that of a foreigner.

4. Problem-solving approach


In China, many people speak English very well, especially in the coastal cities on the mainland and in Hong Kong. They follow Western news and know a lot about Western politics, economics, fashion, and so on. China’s structural reforms and liberalization have influenced Chinese people in the way that they have become more westernized.



Yet, it has not been enough to solve one of the most daunting challenges for foreigners in China. The approach of the Chinese people to problem-solving is different from that of Westerners. This often prevents them from achieving a satisfying outcome of a deal and, at times, from finding solutions to pressing issues.


The individualistic nature of Westerners encourages them to speak up and articulate what they think of a project or a proposed solution to the problem. Vigorous debates, brainstorming, challenging ideas (such as “playing devil’s advocate”) are a way to refine and improve strategies and plans. All these techniques of discourse during business negotiations and meetings are normal and accepted in the West.


Among peers, those Westerners who are confident and fearless in offering their ideas are viewed as highly intelligent and impressive people. Senior managers encourage their subordinates to share ideas, opinions, and predictions.


The Chinese business culture interprets the whole idea of “speaking up” differently. Chinese partners perceive the way lots of the Westerners approach solving problems as disrupting the “harmony” of the meeting. The Chinese people listen with the utmost attention, mull over the situation and the problem, and remain quiet until they are asked by their seniors, if they are asked at all.

That’s why during negotiations with colleagues from China, foreigners might be frustrated when Chinese partners don’t ask questions and speak up. In the Western culture, the leadership truly believes that one can find the best solution if diverse voices are heard. So, it becomes their mission to encourage the Chinese party to speak up.


5. Business connections and contact

Ask a Chinese person about what is truly Chinese about many Chinese businesses. They will respond straight away: first and foremost, it is the way they connect with other businesses run by ethnic Chinese people overseas.



Doing business in China and being successful is inextricably related to having a strong bond with government bodies – your guanxi.


Ethnic and social networks of business contacts and relationships shape the nature of business in many industries. They also make it possible to benefit from transnational economic synergies in China, Hong Kong, and in the South East Asia. These relationships are sometimes referred to as the “bamboo network”.

In countries of the South-East Asia region, such as Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the Coastal zone of China, overseas and interconnected Chinese business families often dominate and propel the emerging economies. They, too, are the bamboo network.

Nowadays, it is common when the successful ethical Chinese business families control dozens and sometimes hundreds of medium-sized businesses and conglomerates in several countries.

Having a good relationship with governments in the West is not as crucial for success as it is in China. A vibrant Western networking culture allows foreigners to take full advantage of special relationships with partners all over the world. Yet, most of these relationships are not are interconnected, like it is in China.

The other of Yang’s shapes and visualizations are about doing business in China. That’s why there will be no more references to Yang’s creations in this article.

No Image Available
Raymond Lam

Head of Growth

Read more from Raymond Lam

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.

Thank you!