China beckons. Western investment there is on the rise, and U.S. CEOs said it would be their second most-visited destination this year, after Britain, in the recent CEO Briefing 2007 survey.
Are you ready?
Thanks to increased foreign travel to China, international-standard hotels now exist in virtually every major city, and roads and airports have improved by leaps and bounds. But while it's easier to get around, there remains plenty of room for culture clash and business mistakes.
We asked veteran China visitors to give us their top tips for first-timers.
Here's what you need to know.
Do your research
Foreign entrepreneurs in the '80s had virtually no information. Today, you could be crushed by a mountain of advice books. How to choose?
American Rachel DeWoskin, author of "Foreign Babes in Beijing," a memoir about her five years in the early '90s as a business consultant and soap opera star in China, suggests two. She calls Jonathan Spence's book "To Change China: Western Advisers in China" "a fabulous business tool and guide," and she also recommends James McGregor's "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China."
Show some respect
Avoid embarrassment — not just your own, but other people's too.
"Saving face" is one of the building blocks of Chinese culture, says Soeren Petersen, regional analyst for Asia at iJet, a travel risk consultancy. In practice, it means avoiding conflict and preserving other people's dignity, he says.
It can come in handy when dealing with anything from standard travel snafus to boardroom negotiations.
"If you say something euphemistic or somebody tells a white lie," he says, "it's OK for everybody to know that the truth is somewhere in the middle, but not hammer it out until everybody is humiliated."
Don't jump in
The Chinese are comfortable with silences in conversation, says Kenneth Lieberthal, author of numerous books and articles on business in China and a professor at the University of Michigan.
"After you've asked a question, it's worth pausing a little longer than you would with an American," he says. If you rush to fill a silence, you could miss the most interesting thing someone has to say.
Have your own interpreter
The value of a private interpreter is "not so much to do the interpretation, but to tell you afterward what was mistranslated. I've rarely sat in on a session where I didn't think something was missed," says Lieberthal, a fluent Mandarin speaker. Prime example: If a Chinese negotiator says the words, "we have to do research on that" at the end of a discussion, you might only get the literal translation. In fact, the expression means "no."
That's Mr. Hu to you
Given and family names are said in the reverse order from English. So President Hu Jintao is Mr. Hu.
Know your superstitions
Four is bad, eight is good — which is why hotels rarely have a fourth floor.
No politics at dinner
Bringing up Taiwan, Tiananmen Square or the Cultural Revolution is no way to ingratiate yourself. To do that, mention China's 4,000-year history.
Accept business cards with two hands
Why? "It’s a little representation of the person you're taking it from, so it should be treated with respect," DeWoskin says. That means no crumpling, dropping or stuffing it hastily in your pocket.
While this was once a Chinese tradition, and is still common in neighboring countries, the Chinese have mostly dropped the habit, especially when dealing with Westerners.
Remember all those things your mother said
Certain lessons are universal. Be polite. Eat what you're served — if not in great quantities, at least with enthusiasm, says DeWoskin. "If you treat people with patience and empathy, you'll get farther."