The ancient Chinese proverb “礼尚往来” (lǐ shàng wǎng lái, “courtesy requires reciprocation”) highlights one of the most curious and talked about aspects of Chinese business etiquette. The first character “礼” (lĭ, “courtesy”) expresses a sense of ceremonial observance for the Chinese, while the word “礼物” (lǐwù, “things of courtesy”) is translated as “gift”.
The exchange of gifts has a very important role in business relationships in China. Various online sources, books and manuals recount the value of tradition, explain how to behave and underscore that official politics prohibit the practice (which is considered corruption). In effect, the penal code of the People’s Republic of China (in the art. 164) clearly states: “Whoever gives money or something else to an agent of an organization, firm or other entity to obtain undue advantage, is punished…”. It is here however that doubts are raised.
How can you give a gift? What distinguishes it from simple corruption? And above all why is it so important in Chinese business relationships? To respond to these questions, we have to take a few steps back. [Read more…]