Work Culture in China

In recent decade, with the expansion of market globalization, more multinational companies tend to develop their business in China. It is no doubt that China has become a new important business market in the world and many international enterprises have set up branches in China. For overseas employees, it is a new cultural experience working in China and this provides an opportunity to gain more work experience in global context. However, work culture which is influenced deeply by Chinese traditional history and culture differs largely from westerns with distinctive characteristics. It is necessary and valuable to understand the differences for overseas employees who are coming to work in China.


–          Challenge Boss?

No! In Chinese workplace, there is a strict hierarchy in management. The typical structure is strong top-down and subordinates are expected to obey their senior manager. A manager is not willing to be challenged or criticized by his employees directly. It is known as saving face influenced by the Chinese culture which argues people in the higher position have right to be respected. In this case, unlike western manager, a Chinese manager tends to act as a controller which would like to manage all the process during the work. Normally, in the Chinese work culture the manager usually gives clear directions to the staff and asks them to complete the work following the guidance.

Tip! If you really want to give some suggestions to your boss, you can tell him privately.

–          Family Culture

Chinese work culture emphasizes a family structure and all social relations are based on this. Being a good employee means to be a proper actor in the company family. For example, if you are the new in the team, you have to respect all the former staff since they are qualified in this company. Besides, as a member in the family, you have to think collectively rather than individually and meanwhile you need to know your position in this structure similar to the family. This is the special culture in Chinses workplace differing from Westerns. The more information you know about this structure, the less conflicts occur.

–          GUANXI (Relationships) is the King

Guanxi is mainly derived from the social philosophy of Confucianism in China, which emphasizes the importance linking oneself to others in a hierarchy to maintain social and economic order (Guanxi 2017). Particularly, guanxi and social guanxi networks are strongly based on the informal implicit mutual obligations, reciprocity and trust. In Chinese workplaces, guanxi has a significant impact on getting benefits and addressing the problems. You can receive insider information to do your work efficiently through guanxi from your close colleagues. For example, you need to finish an urgent work needing some information but you have to do more research. In this case, a colleague who has the information already can support you through guanxi. Thus, working in China, you should understand this culture and know that a good guanxi enables a long-term relationship and brings more convenience to you.

–          Hard Working?

With the integration of global economic, more and more offshore factories have set up in China because of the lower cost. Under this circumstance, Chinese people need to work hard to ensure the cost competitiveness. On the other hand, due to the big pressure in the workloads market, it is necessary to work hard for employees to maintain their jobs. Furthermore, working hard is also treated as a good habit in the workplaces and most bosses are pleased with this since it can build a hard-working environment to motivate all the team members.

But, interestingly, there is another smart ‘hard working’ which is not real. For example, some employees pretend to work hard in front of their bosses while relaxing off office or some of them used to send E-mails at midnight to indicate they work late at night.

Tip! As an intelligent manager from overseas, you need to distinguish which is real and which is disguise because it will lead to the fair evaluation of the employees.


For Western staff, it seems difficult to go into an unfamiliar work environment due to the different culture. The culture barriers are the key problems and knowing them can help you to succeed in the Chinese workplaces. There are some effective steps for you to follow,

  1. Be patient & Open minded – Being calm when confronting barrier and holding a global mindset to new differences and new culture
  2. Spent time to learn the workplace hierarchy
  3. Try to build Guanxi with your new colleagues, such as small talk, participating in team activities.
  4. Be curious in Chinese traditional cultures, such as Chinese unique festivals, history, Chinese.

Nowadays, China is an important market in the global context and paying more attention to Chinese culture will open up more job opportunities for you. Hope you are comfortable in your Chinese work journey!


‘Guanxi’, in Encyclopedia of Wikipedia, viewed 26 April 2017, <;.

‘Related Reading’

Chinese Work Culture – Still Influenced by Confucius

6 Differences between a Western and a Chinese workplace


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