Chinese work culture is known for appreciating and prioritizing hard work and diligence. China has a unique work culture and business culture distinct from other countries, making its worldwide success possible in almost all traditional and high-tech industries. When expanding your business in China or establishing a partnership with a Chinese firm, familiarizing yourself with Chinese work culture will give you a head start.
Work Culture in China
People around the world have been astounded by the economic miracles China achieved. With a work culture that values hard work and diligence, China’s success should not have come as a surprise.
Confucianism’s Impact on Chinese Work Culture
China’s work culture is significantly influenced and shaped by Confucianism, an ancient system of thought and behavior developed from the teachings of the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. Under Confucianism, Chinese people attach importance to focusing on public morality and personal ethics with a common aim of achieving/maintaining social harmony. As a result, many Chinese understand the necessity to give way to the public interest and social harmony and embrace the sacrifice of their individual success, if ever needed.
Meanwhile, for thousands of years, Chinese people have been taught at a young age that they can achieve anything through diligence and perseverance. And they take this philosophy all along from school to the workplace. Together, they have made China a success again, like their ancestors once did, thanks to the strenuous Chinese work ethic.
Chines Work Culture - Overwork
Working overtime is expected in the work culture in China. Most Chinese workers hold on to the belief that those who work hard will be rewarded. And they pride themselves on being hard workers, and laziness is considered a sin in Chinese culture.
Another reason why the Chinese work so tirelessly is that they are faced with severe competition in Chinese society. Chinese is a populous country with a whopping 1.41 billion population sharing the land and its resources. They understand the need to become the best of the best to fight for the best things in life.
When it comes to the overwork culture in China, what really stands out is the notorious “996” working hour system, a work schedule adopted by some Chinese technology companies that require its employees to work from 9 am to 9 pm for six days per week, amounting to 72 hours of work per week.
Although this system is now considered a violation of Chinese Labor Law, it continues to exist in one form or another. Many people scramble to work in the companies using the “996” work schedule because the employers are usually big-name firms that offer generous salaries and bonuses. When the work offer is attractive enough, some Chinese workers can accept the working hour system of “997” or even “007”, working 24/7 for large tech companies to make their technology competitive and updated. As a result, China has sat off on a path to rapidly overtaking the US in the technology industry with more research papers about AI published and more patents secured by Chinese researchers.
The employer respects the employee’s need to take a noontime nap, a habit developed from a young age. Chinese believes that taking a nap after lunch can restore the body’s energy and balance. Napping is a mandatory activity in all kindergartens in China. As they grow up, they take this habit all the way to primary school, high school, college, and eventually the workplace.
Punctuality is crucially essential for the Chinese. In Chinese, they have a saying that goes “時間就是生命。/時間就是金錢”, which translates into “Time is life./Time is money.” They hate to waste either their or other people’s time. So whether it is a work task, a project delivery, or a business meeting, they always prefer to finish what has to be done on time and quite often before schedule. The Chinese value punctuality as a virtue. If you arrive at your business meeting with a Chinese firm ahead of the Chinese team’s arrival, they will be impressed, enhancing the likelihood of closing the deal.
KPI-driven & goal-oriented
Like many other countries, Chinese work culture also features a goal-oriented and KPI-driven working environment. Facing constant and intense competition, the Chinese fully understand that failing to reach the KPI will mean that another more qualified worker is always ready to take the post. In China, a key performance indicator is practiced by not only industrial companies but also the government system. Consider what a country could do when the entire nation specifies its goals and breaks them into smaller tasks to be accomplished one by one.
Business Culture in China
To comprehend Chinese business culture, it’s essential to know that Chinese society rigidly adheres to a system of hierarchy and patriarchy. Like the work culture in China, business culture in China is also highly influenced by Confucianism values, which focus on reaching social harmony. In most cases, it’s more important to maintain social harmony rather than achieve an individual’s success.
Hierachical & Respectful
Influenced by Confucian teachings for thousands of years, Chinese society has been very hierarchical up till today. If you have experience dealing with Chinese people from different professions, you would recognize that they always address others by professional titles (either by their surname and designated work titles or by their surname and occupation). They do this as a way to show their respect for the people they are talking to.
For example, a General Manger (总经理) whose surname is Li (李) is often referred to as “李总”. A doctor (医生) whose surname is Wang (王) is often addressed as “王医生”. A maintenance/engineering technician (技工/工程师) whose surname is Zhang (张) is called 张工. In the Chinese work culture, every profession is valued, and everyone is respected for their contribution to society. So people address each other by their honorific titles.
Many things are done in a flexible and negotiable way in the Chinese culture in business. Instead of signing the contract after sitting straight at a bargaining meeting for long hours in the conference room, Chinese people prefer to make the final decision and close the deal at lunches or dinners after such meetings. In the business culture in China, it’s a custom and convention to invite all the parties to a formal meal right after the meeting as a way to show respect and hospitality.
To understand the culture of business in China, Guanxi (關係/关系) is a must-have skill one needs to master. Guanxi refers to an individual’s available social connection/network to facilitate productive business purposes and other dealings. Better Guanxi means better and more resources you can draw upon. Though it’s not taught at schools, Chinese people pick up the ability to build Guanxi/ their relationship with powerful people from their daily experience or that of their parents and friends. They carefully and steadily develop and maintain Guanxi, believing that their connections may come in handy someday.
If you like to keep yourself to yourself, it will not be challenging for you to find your way around in the workplace in China since collectivism predominates in Chinese business culture. In a Chinese firm, coworkers are inclined to share some of their personal updates with each other to maintain a close relationship with the big family and harmony within the company or the department. In China, it is common for a group of coworkers to hang out together after work in activities like drinking, casual meal, sports, karaoke, barbeque, hiking, traveling, etc. These events increase everyone’s sense of belonging within the group, and people will work more cooperatively as a team back at the office.
Business Etiquette in China
Chinese business culture centers on loyalty, moderation, and respect – it’s all about reaching a harmonious balance between parties. So it’s crucially important to save people’s faces (values and dignity), whether in public or private. When establishing a partnership with a Chinese person/company, it’s essential to consider each of the following Chinese business practices:
- Use professional titles to greet your Chinese partner with a smile, a nod and a lingering handshake if possible.
- When exchanging business cards, remember to offer your business card and accept others with both hands as a gesture of politeness and respect.
- Don’t come straight to the point without casual talk. To avoid awkward situations, Chinese people like to start the conversation with small talk to avoid awkward situations and break the ice.
- Dress formally but keep it simple and elegant to reflect your professionalism and confidence.
- In the business culture in China, business meetings always end with a gift exchange, indicating the establishment of a relationship between both parties. But remember to refuse to accept the gift a few times before you actually receive it. Also, bear in mind to receive it with both hands and never unwrap the gift on the spot.
For thousands of years, Confucianism has shaped the Chinese work culture into what it is today. The reason why China got such a significant leap in various fields over the past few decades has a lot to do with the contribution of each industrious Chinese worker and their belief in collective wisdom and effort.
If you need linguistic assistance in expanding your business to China, please contact Wordspath, a language translation and interpretation expert locally based in South China, where businesses of all sorts prosper, and opportunities abound. We can connect you with the right talent that boosts your success within a short time frame.