Doing business in China requires some understanding of Chinese culture. You probably already know about Guanxi and gifts in China. You need to give a return gift that is slightly better than what you receive. As the relationship develops, you need to continue to exchange gifts favors. It is best to keep it roughly even. Sometimes it gets out of balance and they want something that is difficult for you to give. You have to make a choice, find a way to make it even or lose the relationship. Who that person is and how important they are has obvious impacts on your choice here.
My First Lesson in Chinese Business Relationships
I was on a plane on my first trip to Taiwan in 1999 and I did not understand how business relationships worked in China. I had spent part of the flight talking with a nice woman who happened to be a tour guide taking her group home to Taipei She asked how I would get to Taichung. I wasn’t entirely sure and explained that I’d figure it out. Before I knew it, her husband was driving me to a hotel in Taipei. The next morning, both the woman and her husband picked me up and took me halfway across the country to Taichung. I was both grateful and nervous about their kindness. Just in case, I did my best to fight jet lag and stay awake on the 4 hour trip. When we arrived in Taichung, another friend of theirs bought us all lunch. After lunch, we exchanged emails and I went off to begin my new life in Taichung. I was grateful but did not understand her help. I emailed her and her husband once in a while to keep in touch. About 6 months later, she called and wanted me to go up to Taipei to teach her English once a week. Being American, I had no problem saying no this was impossible. My response ended our friendship. I never heard from them again.
What Went Wrong
I didn’t understand how things went wrong for several years. I thought that they’d been unreasonable and when I would not cave in, they ended the brief friendship. I do regret how things turned out with the woman and her family. I was lucky that they were not influential in my finding work in Taichung. I would have been far better off being proactive and giving them a thank you gift before they had an opportunity to ask for something I could not give. I might still have the two as friends and business contacts. They were kind people and I wish things had gone differently.