The Chinese Business Episode about a Banquet or Dinner



In many books and on various sites on the internet related to business with foreign countries, Chinese table manners when having meals with clients, which we should know in advance, are written about. My experience showed me that these manners are very friendly and meaningful. I will introduce some of them here.


Several years ago, 4 members of my company were invited to dinner at a Chinese restaurant by our clients, 6 executives of a local company in Beijing. There was a red package of cigarettes beside a finely folded napkin on the dish on the round table in front of each of us. However, as I stopped smoking several years before, I asked the local employee to interpret that I was sorry, but I would not smoke. All the clients were smiling and talking with him. He told me that they were the most expensive and delicious cigarettes called “chun-fa”, which were distributed to all the attendants at the National People’s Congress (the Chinese assembly). They told me that I should try a puff if I had ever been a smoker. I had prior knowledge of Chinese manners about cigarettes: hosts are to offer cigarettes to their guests at a party or dinner. Besides, I was interested in cigarettes which government officials would smoke, so I accepted their offer. Indeed, I enjoyed the sweet and rich flavor of the cigarette and said repeatedly to them, “Hao-chi! Hao-chi!” without flattery. The clients were glad that I accepted their offer, though I had given up smoking, and told me that I did not have to smoke another cigarette if I didn’t want to. Needless to say, they didn’t mind at all even if I declined to smoke, but it is regarded as a good manner to accept their offer pleasantly if I can without any trouble. Afterward, I was offered cigarettes many times, so I smoked only 1 cigarette without telling them that I gave up smoking, and brought the rest of the cigarettes back to my coworkers.


Next, speaking of alcoholic drinks, in Shanghai, a cosmopolitan city, beer, wine and Shaoxing rice wine are usually drunk, and in Beijing or Tianjin, the north part of China, bai-jiu (a Chinese alcoholic beverage made from grain with high alcohol) is popular. In China, at any banquet or dinner (even among family or friends), a person in the highest position among them, who is called “rao-pan” (a chief), usually proposes the first toast (gan-bei: drinking up without pausing), and all the people present follow him. Even after the first drink, drinking alone is regarded as unfavorable, so it is considered to be polite that several people look one another in the eyes and drink at the same time. When we drink bai-jiu with about 50% of the alcohol content even in a small glass, we need to be careful of not getting “blind drunk”. The rao-pan sometimes taps a table with his glass to propose a toast to all, and then everyone drinks up his glass, and shows others its bottom for proof.


Not only rao-pan, but also any other host member is always careful of all guests, and they smilingly make eye contact and lift a glass for a toast when a guest stops eating or talking. If we don’t drink alcohol, we can drink water or tea from the beginning, or if you cannot drink alcohol any more, you can slow down by saying “Sui-yi” (drinking as much as you like) instead of “Gan-bei!” (Bottoms up!) Like cigarettes, we don’t have to force alcohol on ourselves. However, there is no doubt that they will accept us as close business partners when we drink as much as possible with them even if we easily get drunk. Especially, executives of national enterprises looked tough for the first time and only had a superficial talk, but after drinking together at a banquet or a dinner, most of them became friendly with us.


In a Japanese banquet or dinner, business talk tends to be avoided. In contrast, a banquet and dinner in China are an important social meeting place to know one another, where they talk very openly including business matters. Chinese people are usually cheerful and friendly, and their table manners seem to be based on the spirit of hospitality.










Business Episodes in Singapore



About 20 years ago, at a factory of a major Japanese electric appliance maker in the western part of Singapore, a production system had some problems, so my company was requested to provide technical support and I went to Singapore with an engineer for the first time.


While we were investigating the cause of the trouble of the production system in the huge factory on the shore, we had lunch at the staff cafeteria. I was surprised that the big and clean cafeteria, which was fully equipped with facilities, sold a wide variety of dishes and what I ate was very delicious. The recruiting targets of the factory were various races including ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians, so satisfying welfare facilities and a good labor environment were necessary to obtain high-quality workers for the long term, somewhat different from local European companies.

さらに従業員のマナーの良さと礼儀正しさにも驚かされました。 同工場の日本人管理職に聞くと、採用後に一通りの教育はしますが、日本式のマナーや礼儀を強要したことはないそうです。人種の違いで考え方や表現の仕方が異なりますが、社内の共通語は英語(所謂シンガポール英語のシングリッシュ)で、お互いの意思の疎通に問題はないとのことです。 一概に勤勉で真面目な人が多く、従業員同士のトラブルもないと聞きました。

In addition, I was also surprised at the employees’ good manners and courtesy. I asked a Japanese manager why they acted like that, and he told me that he provided general work training but never forced them to accept Japanese-style manners and courtesy. Ways of thinking or expressing oneself varied from race to race, but they could smoothly communicate with each other in English (Singaporean English: what is called Singlish). Generally, many of the employees were hardworking and no disagreements seemed to occur among them.

シンガポールでは中国系が人口の約74パーセントを占めており教育程度も高く、14パーセントのマレー系や9パーセントのインド系の国民を圧倒しているようでした。 技術打合せにおいても中国系の人々が積極的に発言することが多く、上昇志向と自己主張の強さを感じました。 彼らはアジア圏の様々な国で強い存在感を示しています。

In Singapore, Chinese, who accounted for about 74 percent of all the population, seemed to outnumber Malays (14 percent) and Indians (9 percent). Chinese tended to speak assertively in the technical meetings, and they seemed to have strong ambitions to rise in the world and have their own ways. In many Asian countries, they play important roles.

昼食を終えて外の空気を吸いに建物を出たときに、再び驚きました。 早朝チャンギ空港に着いて同工場にタクシーで移動した時には気持ちいい晴天であったにもかかわらず、昼には辺り一面が薄暗く焦げ臭い臭いが漂っていました。 おそらく近隣で火事があったのだろうと普通に考えましたが、現地従業員に対岸のインドネシアのスマトラ島からマラッカ海峡を超えてマレー半島に流れてくる野焼きや山火事の煙だと教えてもらいました。 それにしても目に染みるし、むせこむような酷い煙でした。 現地の人達はマスクをするでもなく平然としていて、住民の健康面への影響はないのだろうか心配になりました。  4月から9月の乾季だけで毎日ではなく、一日の内でも風の強さや向きにより影響度は変わるみたいであり、我慢できないほどではないのかも知れませんでした。 なるほど夕方その日の仕事を終えた時には煙たさはほぼ消えていました。 この煙害(ヘイズ)については長年に亘り関係国の政府間で改善に向けて対策を講じているようですが、未だに妙策はないようでした。

I was surprised again when I went out of the building for a breath of fresh air after lunch. I smelt something burning all around though it was nice and clear when I came from Changi Airport to the factory by taxi in the early morning. I naturally thought there was a fire in the neighborhood, but one of the local workers told me that it was the smoke of a burning field or a forest fire from Sumatra Island in Indonesia beyond the Malacca Channel to the Malay Peninsula. The really terrible smoke made my eyes tingle and my throat choke. Local people without masks didn’t seem to care about the smoke. It was said that the smoke came only during the dry season, from April to September, and it didn’t come every day, but I was worried about the influence on the residents’ health. It was also said that the degree of influence of the smoke changed by the power or direction of the wind even for one day, so they might endure the smoke. Indeed, the smoke almost disappeared when I finished my work in the evening. The governments of related countries have long taken measures to reduce this smoke pollution (haze), but they have not reached a conclusion yet.






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