How to Do Business in Hong Kong
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Hong Kong is very sophisticated and cosmopolitan,
blending the cultures of Asia and Europe. Its people are
highly educated, very motivated and westernized. Hong Kong
is 98% Chinese (Cantonese), but the people view themselves
as different from other Chinese. Cantonese habits and customs
are dominant. An individual’s actions, prestige, education,
wealth and reputation reflect positively or negatively on
the entire family.
Meeting and Greeting
- Shake hands with everyone – men,
women and children – upon meeting and leaving. Note
that Hong Kong Chinese handshakes may be less firm than
a Western handshake.
- Higher-ranking persons are introduced
before those of lower rank. An older person comes before
a younger person, and a woman before a man. Family members
are greeted in order of age, oldest first and youngest
- It is polite to inquire about a person’s
health or activities upon greeting.
Names and Titles
- Use family names and appropriate titles
until specifically invited by your host or colleagues
to use their first names.
- Address the Chinese with Mr., Mrs.,
Miss or professional title plus family name. Example:
Lau Gan Lei would be Mr. Lau or Doctor Lau or Professor
- Chinese names have two parts: family
name and given name. The family name comes first.
- Hong Kong Chinese may stand close when
talking, however, they are reserved and uncomfortable
with body contact. Do not hug, kiss or pat people on the
- Winking at someone is considered a very
- Request your bill by making a writing
motion with your hand.
- To beckon someone, extend your arm,
palm down, and make a scratching motion with your fingers.
- Never point with your index finger.
This is used only for animals. Point with your hand open.
Many Hong Kong businesspeople have been
educated in Western schools and are well-heeled, well-traveled
and possess an international perspective. The business climate
in Hong Kong is “wide open, ” with a free market
and limited government involvement. Hong Kong business activities
are competitive, honest and quick. Making money is the main
goal. The style of business is similar to that of the United
- Punctuality is expected and respected;
be on time for all appointments. Allow “courtesy
time” (30 minutes) if someone is late for an appointment
- Tea is served at meetings. Do not drink
until your host takes the first sip. A host leaving tea
untouched signals the end of the meeting.
- Bring business cards printed in English
on one side and Chinese on the other side. Make sure that
the Chinese side uses “classical” characters,
the written form of Chinese used in Hong Kong, and not
“simplified” characters, which are used in
the People’s Republic of China. Upon introduction,
present your business card with both hands and with the
Chinese side up.
- Be sure to look at a business card upon
receiving it. Do not write on a business card in front
of the person who gave it to you.
- Lawyers are not included in negotiations
until contracts are drawn up and signed.
- Negotiations may be slow and detailed,
but very efficient. Send senior people with technical
and commercial expertise prepared to function as a team
and make decisions on the spot. Business deals may be
sealed with a handshake alone. Be prepared to compromise.
- Banking contacts are very important.
Use a bank to set up your meetings.
- Take time to build relationships. It
may take several meetings to accomplish goals. Do business
face to face. Courtesy calls and personal selling are
vital to success.
- “Yes” may not mean agreement;
it often means “I hear you.” “No”
is generally not said. Instead, you may hear “I
will have to wait,” or “This may be very difficult.”
- Do not attempt to open an office in
Hong Kong without hiring or consulting a “geomancer”/“feng
shui” professional. A feng shui professional advises
on facility, moving date, opening date, entrance, etc.
and positions office furniture to be in harmony with cosmic
forces. Do not ignore this custom. Many Chinese will not
do business without feng shui approval for fear of trouble
from spirits. Ask a Hong Kong businessperson for the name
and number of a reliable feng shui professional.
- Make appointments for business meetings
a month before arrival.
Dining and Entertainment
- Tea is the customary beverage for all
occasions. Your teacup will be refilled continually. Leave
your cup full if you are finished. Chinese find adding
sugar and cream to tea a very strange Western habit. Place
teapot lid upside down (or open if attached) to signal
the waiter for more tea.
- Toasting is an important part of a Chinese
dinner. If you are the guest of honor and are toasted,
smile, raise your glass, make eye contact, drink, raise
your glass and thank the host and guests.
- The guest of honor rises and thanks
the host for everyone present at the end of dinner. Make
a simple, polite, short toast to friendship, success and
- The banquet host visits each table and
makes a toast. A toast is often made in the middle of
a banquet when the shark fin soup is served.
- Be sure to eat and show appreciation
for shark fin soup if it is offered. This delicacy is
offered only to special guests, and is very expensive.
- It is bad manners for a host not to
keep a guest’s plate full, and it is even worse
for a guest not to continue eating as long as the plate
is full. Always leave some food on your dish after you
are finished with each course. Otherwise the host will
continue refilling your plate or bowl.
- Be sure to reciprocate with a banquet
of equal quality. Your hotel can assist you in preparations.
- Rice is served as a filler. Do not eat
large amounts, which implies the host has not served enough
- Lay your chopsticks on your chopstick
rest or neatly on the table when you are finished eating.
Never stick them in a bowl of rice.
- Don’t be afraid to dirty the tablecloth.
Bones, shells, etc. are put on the table; do not put them
in your rice bowl. A plate may be provided for this purpose.
- The Chinese find belching, slurping,
clanging utensils and making loud noises at the dinner
table acceptable, sometimes even complimentary.
- Oranges or other fruits are served to
signal the end of the meal. Leave soon after the meal
- Never refuse an invitation to lunch
or dinner. If you can’t make the date, suggest nother
- Spouses are usually not included in
business dining. Do not bring a spouse unless invited
to do so. If spouses are present, business is generally
- Hong Kong residents are very style-conscious
and dress well. Modesty and cleanliness are very important.
- All types of clothing are worn in Hong
Kong. However, taste and fashion look more toward Japan
than Britain or the United States. Clothing should be
light for summer with sweaters and jackets for winter.
- For business, men should wear conservative
and lightweight Western-style suits and ties. Women should
wear conservative dresses, suits or skirts and blouses.
- Wear a good watch. It will be noticed.
- The Chinese tend to dress up when going
out in the evening. Most European-style hotel restaurants
require a coat and tie in the evening. Women should wear
cocktail dresses or evening pants.
- Gift giving is a tradition in Hong Kong
that communicates respect and friendship. Be prepared
to present a small gift at the first meeting, such as
high-quality cognac, brandy, candy or pens. Unlike other
Asian countries, Scotch whiskey is not special in Hong
- Never go to a Chinese home without a
- Present and receive a gift with both
hands. Do not open a gift upon receiving it.
- The word for the number “3”
in Chinese sounds like the word for “life,”
and the word for the number “8” sounds like
the word for “prosperity.” The Chinese word
for number “9” is a homonym for the word “eternity.”
Give gifts in these numbers, if possible. Do not give
gifts in a group of four; the Chinese word for “4”
sounds similar to the word for “death.”
- Avoid giving white or red flowers (white
is a symbol of mourning, red is a symbol of blood); clocks
are associated with death, but watches are suitable gifts.
- Every conceivable product can be purchased
in Hong Kong. Try to bring something from your hometown
- It is illegal to give a civil servant
- The Chinese are famous for communicating
by “Saying it without saying it.” You will
have to learn to read between the lines.
- Expect Hong Kong Chinese to ask personal
- Compliment Hong Kong Chinese, but expect
a denial. Politely deny a compliment to show humility.
Do not say thank you.
- Do not speak loudly.
- You may be referred to as “Gweilo”
(foreign devil). While perhaps insulting, it is generally
not a personal attack.
- Hong Kong Chinese are very superstitious;
mentioning failure, poverty or death offends them.
Especially for Women
- Foreign businesswomen should have little
trouble conducting business in Hong Kong.
- Chinese women generally do not drink
alcohol. However, it is acceptable for Western women to
drink alcohol in moderation.
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