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So, what's it like actually doing business with the Chinese? Well, it's difficult to describe because in China there's still no commonly shared perception of what's reasonable or normal in international business, so standards and expectations vary widely from place to place. That's why, when you're doing business in China, it's imperative that you do extensive preparatory work. This means finding out about the particular company, industry, city or region where you're doing business and not just about the country as a whole.

One of the first things to remember is that the Chinese find it most discourteous if you are late for meetings. It may be, of course, that your first meeting will be in your hotel, but if not, then allow plenty of time for the journey as in most Chinese cities the congestion is every bit as bad as in London. A good tip is to take a business card with the company's address written in Chinese to show the taxi driver. When you get there, you will be greeted by your host, usually a senior manager, and probably some of his or her staff. The visitors will then be ushered into the meeting room.

The leader of your group will be expected to enter first and will generally be offered a seat beside the most senior Chinese person present. This person will usually chair the meeting and act as host and have a translator at his or her side. To begin with, all those present will swap business cards, in itself a very important ceremony, and there will be a short period of small talk. The host will then officially start proceedings with a 'brief introduction' to the Chinese enterprise and its activities. The host may then invite the visiting team to speak. Now at this point it's appropriate for the UK side to begin to make its case. Don't forget to warn your host beforehand if you wish to include any audio-visual aids during this presentation. It's also extremely important that your team should be able to answer any questions on any aspect of your business proposal, your own company and your international competitors.

Following the meeting, the Chinese enterprise will probably arrange a special dinner for the UK guests. Small talk over dinner is essential for relationship-building. For most Chinese, the family counts above all else. It remains the dominant social and political unit in Chinese society so Chinese people will usually be very pleased to be asked about their children and their hopes for their children's future. In social relationships Chinese people almost always seek to preserve harmony and face. Hosts believe it is their duty to offer their visitors hospitality, even though the visitors themselves may much prefer a day off after intense negotiations. It's very common, for instance, for the host enterprise to organize sightseeing trips for its guests and it would, of course, be a discourtesy not to accept these invitations.

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