Ni How? Effective Business Communications with Chinese Partners


You’ve finally found a partner in China to support your growing business, but between the language barriers, unfamiliar holiday schedules and “The Great Firewall of China” you’re having a tough time actually communicating your needs.  Fear not: with a few simple business communications tricks, you can be well on your way to making your Chinese partner a true asset to your business.

Tip 1:  Beat the Clock

Did you know that all of China, despite being almost as wide as the continental United States, is on the same time zone?  Ever since 1949, China reverted from 5 time zones to one for the whole country.  Now known as Beijing Time, and is 13 hours ahead of the Eastern United States. They also no longer utilize daylight savings.  So, just because it’s 9:00a.m. in Lanzhou doesn’t mean that anyone will be at the office just yet on the western side of the country.

For most partners though, the Chinese contacts are in the coastal area of eastern Shanghai which operates at 13 hours ahead of the east coast. Office culture is to begin the business day typically at 8:00a.m.  But, traffic can be a killer in Shanghai, so put off important phone calls until later in the morning to make sure everyone can arrive on time.

Tip Two:  Write, Don’t Speak!

There are many advantages to working in writing when communicating with Chinese partners.  First of all, while most educated Chinese people speak very good English, they can be self conscious, and communicating key details like purchase order numbers, shipping dates or other critical information might get confused.  Secondly, online translators like Google Translate are a great tool to communicate short bursts of information.  You can send information in English, and if they are unclear, can have it translated into Mandarin or one of the other multitudes of Chinese dialects.  And, then they can respond in Chinese and your translator can turn it back into English.  While it isn’t ideal for a training session or as a best practices for keeping track of orders, it is useful for getting quick updates about your business.

Tip Three:  Be Ready for a Holiday

The big holiday that can throw a monkey wrench in your production and delivery times is the Chinese New Year.  It comes in January, and typically the country shuts down for almost 2 weeks.  Make sure you that if you are scheduling production time during the winter that you account for a two week lag in January.

In addition to the big shut down for New Year’s Celebrations, the Chinese government has been known to declare holidays without much notice.  This can be frustrating to outsiders as it may interrupt meeting and production schedules, but adding a few days into your production schedule should be sufficient.  Also, for many holidays, workers are required to work on a weekend near the holiday to make up the hours.  So, as long as you are clear with your partners about the expectations, the work can typically be completed within reasonable time frames.

Trick 4:  Scale the Great Firewall of China

Most Chinese people do not have access to the internet like we think of it here in the United States.  Instead, they access their online information through a giant country-wide intranet that is controlled by the government.  Anecdotally known as “The Great Firewall of China”, the “Golden Shield Project” is the surveillance project run by China’s Ministry of Public Security.   Known for its censorship, it provides tight control over what information is allowed to flow through the country.  During times of political crisis, the system may be shut off to outsiders entirely.

While no solution is perfect, just being aware of the existence of the Golden Shield goes a long way in keeping it from hindering your business communications.  Make thoughtful decisions on the information you send, including links and syntax so that your communications never appear controversial.   Some companies have resorted to using private VPN servers set up outside Chinese borders to get around these security issues, but even those plans, while improving access are not a guarantee to uncensored communications.

Here at Appterra, we help our customers create seamless business communications with their Chinese partners every day.  From the integration of purchase order systems to system validations, let us do the heavy lifting in streamlining your Chinese business. Contact us via phone at 214.717.5900 or via email at to learn how you can make business in China work better.

Charlie Alsmiller

Throughout his career, Charlie Alsmiller has focused on customer problems in difficult industries such as Energy and Telecommunications. Prior to starting Appterra in 2005, Alsmiller was VP of Global Operations for Allegro Development, a leading provider of software for the energy sector. He has also served as president of OmniSpace Technologies, a leading SaaS provider that he founded in 1999. He spent over 10 years in the consulting world with Price Waterhouse and Deloitte Consulting, where he participated in a wide variety of projects for very high profile clients. Mr. Alsmiller holds a BBA from Baylor University in Management and Information Systems and a MBA from the University of Dallas in International Business. Specialties: Technology ventures, Enterprise Software, Contract Negotiation, International Operations, Private Equity, Product Management, Strategic Alliances, Software Implementation, Software Development

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