„Time is time, money are money”– with this sentence a speaker at the Expo China Poland 2012 has ended her presentation on the differences in approach to business in China.

China is the second large economy in the world, so it is worth to take closer look to the ways of communications and building relations with Chine from perspective of Polish culture.

To understand another culture you should be are of the differences and commonalities between your culture and this of counterpart.

Only when you are aware of differences and you know what is the background of them you can understand the behaviour of another person and respect them.

When you know what have you common with another person, you can easy build on these commonalities the relations.

The differences are huge, this visible, which you can recognise at first glimpse and these invisible –in values, beliefs which are shown off in behaviour.

Knowing the differences you can start understanding Chinese culture.


New Year

New Year –in January, different date in every year

Be aware of this when planning business trip and sending New Year greetings


New Year

Always on 1st January


Chinese sign of Zodiac – all represents animals

Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep



Sign of Zodiac – represents people and animal

Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces. 



A lot of rice, noodles, no milk products, no potatoes, no bread, a lot of spices (hot). 


A lof of bread, potatoes, Polish spices used are mild, no eating of snakes.



Chinese characters are logograms. In Chinese orthography, the characters are largely morph syllabic, each corresponding to a spoken syllable with a distinct meaning. However, the majority of Chinese words today consist of two or more character (會意字, huìyìzì).


“Woman and child” 好   – good

“Woman under the roof” 安 – peace, harmony, quiet

“Pig under the roof” 家  – home, family

“Field and heart” 思  – thought thinking;

“Field and plough” 男  – man

source: Wikipedia

New characters are still invented, the alphabet is living. They write top down.

This system of Chinese characters determine the way of thinking – Chinese are intuitive as they need intuition to read the word and define its meaning as the same logogram can have different meaning. The Chinese are than used to ambiguity, they ask many questions for clarification. When Chinese negotiations’ partner are coming back again and again to the subject which for Westerners seems to be already settled, they could regard it as technique for slowing down the negotiation. In fact such behaviour express the Chinese way of thinking (in cycle manner) and communicating (asking questions for clarification), what is common practice when communicating in Chinese, as Chinese language is high context language and the meaning of the words can depend on context.

When we know this (and many mores about Chinese culture) we can have more understanding for the manner of communication and behaviour. We understand why Chinese communicate not direct way, ask so many questions, discus in cycle way (lateral approach) many subject and than deciding, in contrast to Westerner who prefer to discuss issues in linear manner and take decision subject by subject.

We could have more understanding for lateral way of thinking of Chinese versus Western’ linear way of thinking.


Latin alphabet. The number of letters is defined, no new letters are added


Feng shui

Feng shui (literally wind and water) – ancient practice of planning aimed to achieve the harmony with nature environment. Traditional feng shui in ancient China was applied when planning the structure of cities and building.

The meaning of Feng Shui was expressed by symbols:

Wind – symbolizing something what cannot be seen – invisible.

Water – symbolizing something what cannot be grasped.

Feng shui symbolises vital source/power, which is invisible and ungrasped.

Polarity – Yin and Yang Theory

Polarity is expressed in feng shui as Yin and Yang Theory. Yin represents feminine part of nature, receiving power, passive, dark, inside.

Yang represents masculine part of nature, giving power, active, light, outside.

Theory Yin and Yang is used to explain the structure and model of universe and changes occurring in the world. 

Both parts should be in harmony, every part includes elements of another. This is expressed in Taiji symbol representing unity of Yin-Yang. Harmony is fundamental Chinese value. The colours of the Yin- Yang symbol have the symbolic meaning. Ancient Chinese regarded black as the king of colours  – as Heaven’s colour. White represents gold and symbolizes brightness, purity, and fulfilment.

The Yin –Yang harmony concept is rooted in Chinese behaviour, as harmony and order are most highlighted values for them.

No confrontation during discussion, guarding face (own and interlocutor) are common rules of behaviours.

When we know the concept of „not losing face” and its background, it is easier for us to understand why Chinese do not argue and do not object in direct manner (not saying „NO”), but they convey their „ no” in more indirect way.

This knowledge is important when negotiating with Chinese and when managing people – to know and understand their way of thinking and behaviour – and take it into consideration when giving feedback, scoring the performance and attitude of Chinese employees.

Manager who is aware of traditional values of Confucianism ethical and philosophical system like for example group identity, and that Chinese programmed in this system are behaving respecting them (unconsciously) can adjust her or his behaviour and management style to the Chinese employees, or at least to understand the differences in way of thinking and not judging it.

What is conclusion? 

When you work with people rooted in Chinese culture and you would like to have efficiently and friendly relations with them, you should know the cultural differences at least in following aspects:

  • High –low context communication
  • Individualism and collectivism
  • Reserve and emotion
  • Self promotion and self-depreciation
  • Attitudes towards conflict
  • Decision making style
  • Time and space concept

When you know the reason for the differences in thinking, behaving and communication you – you know the cultural background of them, you achieve higher level of intercultural competencies.

Enjoy the last months of the Year of Dragon, which due to symbolic of Chinese Zodiac Signs is regarded as very fortune.

Wiola Malota