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Cultural caveats: On wining and dining

by John Niggl

Have you ever been in the position of a guest who tries graciously to refuse a lavish gift or over-generous act of kindness from a host? How about the sometimes awkward task of declining an invitation?

If you’ve been there, you know how uncomfortable these types of situations can be. It can be difficult to refuse the kind favors of an insistent host. Different peoples of various cultures have developed their own accepted etiquette regarding the host-guest dynamic, and if you travel to China, you’re bound to find yourself acting as guest on more than one occasion – sometimes without even realizing! That’s why Quality Wars saw fit to address this from the perspective of a foreigner working with Chinese suppliers in this week’s feature of Cultural Caveats.

You may have been told repeatedly about the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with factory staff and management. Maybe you’ve also heard of the tendency for factory staff and management to treat their clients to dinner, drinking, karaoke or the works.

That’s all true.

But something you may not be aware of is that all this “wining and dining” night after night that someone on an extended stay in China might be subject to is not necessary. If you’re going to be with your supplier during both lunch and dinnertime, don’t feel as though you have to accept both invitations, unless you actually enjoy doing so. In fact, what you might think is a required part of doing business in China is actually an obligation felt on the part of Chinese who are assuming the role of host. If they’re treating you to lavish dinners and nightly entertainment while you’re visiting, it’s because that behavior defines a proper host in Chinese culture and not doing so would be considered rude.


The reason China is a nation of hospitable people is because they place such a great importance on making friends and building relationships. That’s perhaps no more apparent than in their treatment of foreign guests. Take it from Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius (551–479 BC) who famously said, “How happy to have friends from far away.” Chances are you’re a foreigner of China if you’re reading this blog with little or no difficulty. And if you’re planning your first trip to the Middle Kingdom anytime soon, you may find yourself in the aforementioned circumstances.

If you plan to visit a Chinese supplier over a number of days, it’s recommended that you pick one night for dining and entertainment. Let the supplier know that you’re reserving that night to party with them. It’s totally acceptable to say that you have “something else to do” other nights. Giving a vague kind of excuse like this is actually favorable to outright rejection since, as we discussed in the last edition of Cultural Caveats, Chinese have a difficult time saying “no” and declining an offer or proposal. You won’t need to worry about the host grilling you for an explanation of what that “something else” is.


Most of us have had to decline a generous offer at one time or another. In China, generosity is tantamount to a proper host and gentleman. A visit to a Chinese supplier can entail a great deal of generous offers of dinner at a nice restaurant, drinks at an expensive bar, or other makings of a “night on the town”. But when one night becomes several, and you’re struggling to decline without offending your host, know that all it takes is a simple excuse and, if you have the benefit of foresight, some scheduling beforehand. Your supplier won’t take offense, and you’ll be able to spend your evening satisfying your hunger for more great posts from Quality Wars!

John Niggl is a Client Manager at InTouch Manufacturing Services, a QC firm that performs product inspections and factory audits in China for US and EU clients. John also writes for the QC-related blog, Quality Wars.

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