Chinese Trade Fair Survival Kit: Part 2 – Ins and Outs

As mentioned in Part 1 of my Chinese Trade Fair Survival Kit on this website, attending trade fairs can be a great first step if you want to make direct personal contacts, identify suppliers, and find out the ‘ins and outs’ of doing business in China. The same could be said for attending trade fairs in other Asian countries. However, it is important to bear some points in mind to get the most out of your business visit to Hong Kong and/or the rest of China.

Your business card is your passport…

Bring a plentiful supply of business cards. And I mean plentiful!  In China (and in Asia as a whole), business cards are not an optional extra that you hand out casually. They are the face of you and your company, and they are an essential part of the introduction process. If you don’t have one to present, you will not be taken seriously and you may not even be given a catalogue!

Include your country and international dialling code along with company details and your position in English on one side. For full effect, have the translation in simplified Chinese characters on the other side. Find a Chinese printer in your home city or on the internet that will do this for you.

Present your card with both thumbs holding the card in front of you, not in one hand as if you are about to play poker, with the Chinese version uppermost and facing towards the other party. Accept the other person’s business card in the same respectful manner.

It’s amazing what effect a little foreknowledge can have and presenting cards properly both shows respect (a big ‘open sesame’ in Asia) and that you know with whom you are dealing (another ‘open sesame’ in Asia’s high-context cultures).

Always stand to exchange business cards, which should not be bent or second-hand or damaged. Use an elegant cardholder if possible (not a plastic box). Don’t’ scribble details on a card you are given; that’s someone’s face you are doodling on!

Chinese respect seniority and status, as do many Asians. If you can identify the most senior counterpart, present him or her with your card first and work round the booth. Make sure your company position is clear on your card.

Address someone using his or her family name only, such as Mr. Wu. Given names follow the surname on Chinese business cards (‘Wu Hok-yau’). Don’t attempt to be friendly by using ‘Hok-yau’. Some Chinese use English names (‘Jacky’) or even nicknames instead of given names. Only use this form if the other person insists and is particularly friendly.

Be a good road warrior

Your cell phone should have global roaming services available in China. If not, you will need to buy a local SIM card from retail outlets such as China Mobile in China and PCCW or CSL 1010 in Hong Kong.

 It may seem obvious but take a good notebook or a PDI such as an i-Pad with you to write down the notes of each meeting you have. Business cards can be stapled to notes if you carry a small stapler.

An airline carry-on business case with wheels and retractable handle is useful for carrying copies of photos, drawings, samples that you want to show or to pick up for sourcing. It can also be used for carrying heavy catalogues.

Many fair catalogues are poorly conceived and often omit companies’ descriptions or contact details. It’s better to collect information that is of specific interest rather than turn up to the check-in desk for your return flight weighed down with 20 kilos of expensive, useless material!

Energy bars or sandwiches and energy drinks are useful as snacks, since food outlets may be a long way distant, introductions and queues at booths may be lengthy, and the outlets themselves are likely to be very crowded. Avoid lunch hours like the plague.

Dress in casual-elegant, lightweight and comfortable clothes and make sure shoes are not tight fitting or heavy.

Don’t rush off but do follow up

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get away on the last day. There are a number of useful samples that are no longer required, information and even contacts to be picked up as the fair closes. Remember that the products on display probably did not represent the full range of goods available on the market. There may be clues or samples of other products still to be found.

When you have some distance to the fair, spend some time writing up your ideas and conclusions for future reference.  Chinese business contacts are based on relationships and referrals, which means you have to build them over a period of time. So don’t expect a rapid response to your ‘cold-calling’ discussions. In fact you may well have to follow up by e-mailing or calling through your interpreter or representative several times after the fair before you hear anything concrete.

As always in Asia, be patient. For example, if you have asked to see a factory you may have to prolong your visit for several more days. Other customers might be doing the same thing, so you’ll have to wait your turn in line. It is never a good idea to be pushy or step outside the ‘harmony zone’ or be assertively individual or self-important when dealing with the Chinese, or with Asian contacts in general. Always try to fall in with the prevailing business etiquette.

There are always ways to get round difficulties in Asia, but they are largely based on knowledge and relationships. You must make an effort not only to get to know the other person, but also to understand where he or she is coming from and to be ready to do business in China, business in Japan, business in Korea, business in Singapore or Malaysia, according to the traditions and culture (including business culture) of the host country.

These cultures are often similar, sometimes related, but as whole Asian countries do business in a subtly different manner to the way business is conducted in Western countries. It pays to observe what those differences might be. Your business success in Asia may well depend on it!


David Clive Price, Author of The Master Key to Asia and several books on Asia, helps entrepreneurs and businesses to improve their knowledge of Asian culture to grow their profits and promote their brand. Claim your free special ‘3 Key Elements of Asian Business Culture’ at

Countries: China, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea
Topics: Getting Started, Promotion, and Trade Fairs
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