South Africa: When West Meets East

Last Updated: 21 November 2013
Article by Charles You

In 1992, 12 delegates from the Chinese government were tasked with procuring a $30m biochemical equipment deal with an American corporation. In order to please their purchasers from the East, and as a token of appreciation, the Americans prepared a gift for each of the delegates; the gift box was wrapped very nicely in red, which represents prosperity, and was gratefully accepted by the Chinese delegates.

But when the delegates immediately opened the box as requested by the Americans, they found that the gift was a green golf cap. No-one said a word. The Americans were left with an empty space above the dotted line which said "Purchaser". They were puzzled. Their intention was for everyone to enjoy a game of golf after the long hard negotiation. But had they known that the "green cap" (in fact, any cap) symbolises "cuckold" in China, surely they would have chosen a different gift.

This is what happens when you don't do your homework.

With a rich history of more than 5000 years, China has a unique culture and customs and often learning and knowing small things bring unexpected positive results. Reading Desmond Morris' The Naked Ape would have assisted the Americans. A few tips:

At a dinner party/social event

Chinese people like to treat (or be treated) to dinner parties "fan-ju." To understand this phenomenon, we need to go back to the time of Confucius, whose idea and theory has formed the foundation of Chinese culture for the past +2000 years. He believed that emotional ties with family are above everything else and society is an extension of the household. So, by treating many people to a big feast, you are creating a strong bond and relationship with people you know and a sense of "family" around you.

Also relevant is the Chinese attitude towards "mein-zhi," which directly translates to "face" in English, a unique term to describe one's pride and honour as seen by an outsider. Therefore, to attend or be invited to the so-called "fan-ju," is a direct and effective way of showing social status. The power of these relationships should not be under estimated when dealing with Chinese clients.

When being invited or inviting Chinese guests to a party, it is very important to arrange the seating properly. If this is not done, some (especially the older ones) may feel offended. Whether it's the traditional Chinese round table or western rectangular shaped table, the host always sits at the middle of the table furthermost from the entrance to the room. The most important guest is on his/her right and second most important guest on his/her left.

Dress requirements

It is very important to avoid all white or black dresses or clothes. In Chinese culture, white is used only when there considerable sadness involved and black represents unhappiness and disaster. Other colours alongside all-white or black clothes are acceptable, but not white or black only.

A small gift for the host is appropriate. Again, avoid all-black or all-white colours. If a gift consists of more than one piece (such as a set of pens or flowers), an even number is preferable. Though a set of two pens may be acceptable, a gift consisting of four pieces would be frowned on. Chinese people believe that good deeds come in a pairs but the number "4" is pronounced "si," which also means "death" in Mandarin.

Almost every dinner involves drinking alcohol. For those who have experienced the Chinese dinner, you would know drinking is inevitable. Drinking has different significance for Chinese and Western diners. For Westerners guests are encouraged to drink slowly, enjoy the wine and socialise with one another. Chinese drink to show how much they can drink and honour the vibe. A couple of things you need to remember before you start:

  • Drinking starts only after the host has presented a toast (either to his important guest on his right or to everyone).
  • Unless the host is a high ranking executive (in a business sense) or very senior (in a family sense) person, a toast is not proposed to everyone, it is advisable to toast only one person at a time.
  • When toasting and touching wine glasses, your glass may not be higher than your elders/seniors.
  • If you cannot drink (or do not wish to), whatever the reason, make sure you make it clear at the beginning. In other words, when the drinking session starts during a Chinese dinner party, either you do not drink at all, or you drink everything.

In a consulting room

When meeting a client, the adviser should be the one to initiate hand shaking.

After shaking hands, the parties will exchange business cards. In order to show respect, the cards are given in an order that starts with the highest ranking (or oldest) client; hold a card with both hands and make sure the name is facing towards your guest to enable them to see clearly.

When you are receiving a card, it is recommended that you accept it with both hands and place it neatly next to you to show respect and get the name right. Westerners are often confused by Chinese surnames. Do not assume "Chen" or "Li" is the surname. To show respect to your guest and avoid embarrassment, rather ask at the outset if you are unsure.

As much as the Chinese enjoy alcohol, tea is the most common beverage you will find in the consulting room. To show respect you should pour tea for your client and make sure that the cup is always full (unless he expresses otherwise). It is also important to remember not to point the mouth of the tea pot at anyone. The tea pot lid should be held with your other hand while pouring to make sure it doesn't spill.

When the meeting is finished the client (or the person being invited) should be the one to initiate the hand shaking as a sign of saying good-bye.

We have been brought up to know that China is a "li yi zhi ban," which means "nation of manners". Even if it does not appear that way sometimes, its cultures and customs teach us to respect our hosts and guests. It is nearly impossible to explain and describe every single Chinese culture and custom in detail. Those mentioned are just some of the common scenarios we encounter every day in our practice and I can safely add that some of it may not even apply to every single Chinese person. After all, there are over 1.2bn people and 33 provinces in China.

It is still the best option to speak to your Chinese colleague or someone who knows the culture to confirm that whatever you are intending to do is appropriate in order to avoid any embarrassment. 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions