China is an ethnically and culturally diverse country. Its dominant cultural tradition has been heavily influenced by Confucianism and Taoism, but within that tradition are many different subcultures. The spoken language also varies greatly from region to region. Without special study of Cantonese, for example, someone from Beijing cannot understand residents of Guangdong or neighboring Hong Kong. Other regional languages and subcultures are also quite distinct. A Shanghaiese, for instance, will likely encounter difficulties doing business with someone from the northeast, particularly if he or she has not prepared for different business practices in that part of China.
Most Chinese people attach great importance to cultivating, maintaining, and developing connections (guanxi) and are highly sensitive to face (mianzi) These social values, which are the keys for understanding Chinese social behavioral patterns and their business dynamics, are shared by Chinese living not only in the PRC but also by those living in Taiwan, Hong Kong and in overseas Chinese societies all over the world.
Nevertheless, throughout history, Chinese businesspeople from different regions have exhibited distinct characteristics. More recently, these distinctions have reemerged or evolved into features that have differentiated one region's businesspeople from another's and even contributed to the formation of unique competitive advantages.
This article intends to describe, in general terms, the different styles of businesspeople from a few key areas of China. Of course, generalizations of this kind risk oversimplifying the situation and tend to highlight the more extreme stereotypes of a given group. Also, China's big cities, like commercial and political capitals around the world, attract people from all over the country, so the people one meets in Shanghai, for example, may not, in fact, be from the area. Nevertheless, in the same way that native Californians are considered easy-going and New Yorkers known as loud, aggressive, and business-savvy, natives of Chinese regions share characteristics of which many foreigners may be unaware that affect how they do business.
Source: This is an excerpt from an article originally published in the Sept-Oct, 2004 .issue of the China Business Review. Reprinted with the permission of The US-China Business Council, Washington D.C.