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China: Culture and Tradition

China, with it’s large population and booming economy, is an attractive market for many global businesses. But China has a very different culture than many western countries. It is as important to be familiar with the culture and customs as it is to be familiar with the language and economy when considering expanding into the Chinese market.

Chinese Culture

China has more than one billion people representing 56 ethnic minorities groups. According to the Asia Society, some of the groups are: Han Chinese, Tibetans, Mongols, Manchus, Naxi and Hezhen. The Han Chinese are the largest group with 900 million people and the Hezhen are the smallest with less than 2,000 people.

The ruling party of China is the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP is officially atheist and so are many Chinese. However, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, the government is becoming more tolerant of religion. But, there are only five official religions in China: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Any other religion is considered illegal.

Relationships are extremely important to the Chinese, personally and professionally. If you are hoping to do business in China, you must take the necessary steps to forge a relationship with your Chinese business partners. Making a client visit or having dinner with a potential partner are two ways to build relationships. Taking the time to build relationships will create trust between you and your potential Chinese partners.

The Chinese are not very direct in their communication. They may be uncomfortable saying no and will find a less direct way of communicating their message. They are also very respectful of the chain of command. The Chinese are a hierarchical culture and they demand the utmost respect to those viewed as the highest in command.


Chinese Language

Chinese belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family. There are seven main dialects of the Chinese language. The seven dialects are:

  • Mandarin
  • Wu
  • Yue
  • Xiang
  • Min
  • Hakka
  • Gan

According to Omniglot, the modern dialects of Chinese descended from Middle Chinese which was spoken during the Southern and Northern Dynasties, and the Sui, Tang and Song dynasties (5th-12th centuries AD). Middle Chinese was derived from Old Chinese which was spoken during the Shang and Zhou Dynasties and the Warring States Period (1600-256 BC).

Written Chinese is based on the Mandarin spoken by educated people in Beijing. Chinese characters (hanzi) represent both sound and meaning. Each syllable is represented by a single character. There are multiple characters for each syllable, each with their own meaning. This type of writing system is known as semanto-phonetic, logophonetic, morphophonemic, logographic or logosyllabic.


China is one of the world’s top exporters and has one of the fastest growing economies. It presents many attractive investment opportunities to global companies.

According to BBC News, China’s fast-growing economy has driven the demand for energy. China is the largest oil consumer after the United States, and is the world’s top producer and consumer of coal. It spends billions of dollars pursuing foreign energy supplies and is investing heavily in hydro-power.

China is a country with a long and complex history and it has rich culture and tradition. Anyone looking to do business in China must not only understand their economy and language, but be familiar with and respect their way of life.

Chinese Language and Translation Resources

To further explore issues specific to Chinese translation and Chinese localization, you may wish to review our previous blogs.