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02 June 2018

Chinese Business Card Etiquette: What you need to know

Business cards have traditionally been the main way that individuals have exchanged their contact details with other business people. Even though the rise of the digital age has seen them wane in popularity among many parts of the world, in China and other Asian countries they continue to thrive. There, the ritual of exchanging cards is the starting point for building any business relationship.

Chinese Business Card Etiquette - Serica Consulting - Exchange

Why is this the case? In East Asia, they aren’t seen as simply a tool to help you connect with a person after meeting them; they are presented as an extension of the individual and as such must be treated with the utmost care and respect. As a result, mishandling business cards can cause serious offence and stop a developing relationship dead in its tracks. To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, here is a quick guide to Chinese business card etiquette.

Getting the card right

As the card is seen as a reflection of you, people will infer a great deal about your personality from the design, look and feel of your business card. Therefore, to give a positive first impression it’s important that you make sure its content and design will chime with recipients (which is best achieved by localising it).

Firstly, include your name and job title in both English and Simplified Chinese. This isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think. This process requires you to develop yourself a Chinese name from scratch, while you must make sure to localise your job title to its Chinese equivalent (as western job titles rarely directly translate effectively).

Next, ensure the design is adapted to suit your audience. Ensure the colours and symbols used do not convey any unintended connotations. This process can be challenging for foreigners, so we would recommend getting help from a Chinese native to avoid any embarrassing mistakes. Once the content and design have been finalised, it is wise to invest in high-quality materials for the card itself. Having a luxurious feel will create a more positive and memorable impression. Finally get at least five hundred copies printed and an elegant holder to carry them in.

Now the cards themselves are taken care of, the act of exchanging them has its fair share of dos and don’ts too. Here’s a quick rundown of how it should be done.

Giving
  • Use two hands – pinching each corner with your thumb and index finger – to present your business card
  • If among a group of people, give your card to the most senior person first
  • Ensure your name is facing upwards and towards the recipient
Chinese Business Card Etiquette - Serica Consulting - Giving your card
Receiving
  • Take the card with two hands in a similar fashion to presenting it
  • Spend 10-15 seconds carefully studying all the pertinent information
  • Do not put it away immediately. Keep it close. For example, when seated, place the card on the table in front you
  • Pick it up and read it again a few times to show interest
  • Put the business card away somewhere that is visibly safe and important
Never
  • Hand out cards that are at all damaged or marked
  • Carry them in your pocket; instead opt for a good quality business card case
  • Stack a pile of your cards on the table Chinese business card etiquette
  • Present or receive your card one-handed or in a nonchalant manner
  • Write on, bend or damage the business card in front of its owner. Doing so would be considered a direct personal insult
Don’t Forget WeChat
Chinese business card etiquette - Serica Consulting - WeChat

Although business cards are ubiquitous in China, WeChat (the most popular app and social media platform in China) is slowly beginning to erode at this tradition. Chinese business card etiquette

Rather than exchanging cards, users’ exchange their QR codes instead, enabling instant communication from the get go. This method is most prevalent among the younger generations. Even so, people of all ages generally link their phone number to their account so they can be found via their business card details. For those interested in doing business in China, downloading WeChat is essential.


With personal connections at the forefront of professional dealings in China, it is crucial to create a positive first impression. Developing localised business cards, and knowing how to use them, is a valuable first step in helping you forge strong relationships. Chinese business card etiquette