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  • Writer's pictureGina Fegan

#China: - make friends first and do business second!

Are you thinking of doing business in China? I started going to China in 2011 and this is a list of things that I think are good to know before you set out. Please send me any additional advice, comments or thoughts you may have.


1. VISA’s:

For your Visa, I suggest that for the first trip you will probably need a business visa rather than a work visa but if you are just looking around then a visitor’s visa should be fine.

You can go through the official agency subcontracted by the Chinese Embassy in the UK

or go through an agent such as Scott

To avoid stress allow five working days from application to reconnecting with your passport, it's faster through an agent but more expensive.


There are lots of people ready to help you, starting with the Department for International Trade in the UK and the trade section of the UK Embassy in China, who have good contacts, and advice. However for the real hands on support use the trade association, network or other organisation that is most relevant to you. The China Britain Business Council is available all the time to do bespoke work for you either in the UK or directly from their bases in China.

For FILM and TELEVISION: PACT the BFI and the Childrens Media Conference have brought many focused delegations from time to time to China. The BFI also manage the process for establishing both film and TV co-productions.

For DIGITAL Chinwag often handle the digital missions.

Useful websites:

Cultural preparation....

3. WHAT TO EXPECT: - Make friends first and do business second.

The thing I wasn’t expecting was the wonderful warmth and open-hearted welcome. While many people are aware of the importance of eating and drinking together, not many realise that, in China for a successful experience you really must make friends first and do business second.

Indeed, across a number of companies I noticed that people were employed more because they were trusted than because they were qualified for the job - so don’t be surprised to meet a senior executive in charge of acquisitions whose previous experience was in logistics of delivering sports events. This approach means that the social events with a lot of delicious eating, drinking, and welcome ‘toast’s are essential to increase your ‘guanxi’ and really help you to get established.

4. KEY VOCAB: - Some essentials

‘Ni hao’ – ‘knee – how’ means ‘hello’

‘Xie xie’ – ‘she-ah she-ah’ is ‘Thank you’

‘Guanxi’ – ‘goo-an-shee’ means network of friends, contacts, and colleagues, people you can call on to help you.

‘Ganbai’ – ‘ganb –bay’ is ‘cheers’

‘Pijiu’ – ‘pee-Joe’ is beer

‘Baijiu’ – ‘buy-Joe’ is a very strong Chinese white spirit alcohol with a distinctive flavour.

5. LESSONS LEARNED: - Approach to doing business in China:

The lessons I learned, can largely be summarised by the list below which I wish I had found back in 2011 when I first went to China:

1. Everything is possible in China

2. Nothing is easy

3. Patience is the key to success

4. The answer ‘yes’ is not necessarily an indication of agreement or confirmation

5. “You don’t understand China” means disagreement

6. “Provisional Regulation” means the rules can change at any time even retroactively

7. “Basically no problem” means BIG problem.

8. Signing a contract means the beginning of the real negotiation

9. When you are optimistic think of rule 2.

10. When you are discouraged think of rule 1.

6. BE SURE: - Why do business in China?

To give you some idea of why I focused on China, here are some of the figures I was looking at. Using cinema growth as a stand-in to indicate ‘growth in media consumption’ because these figures are easy to get.

In most of the world, cinema attendance has been ‘flat-lining’, but in China it has been growing at around 30% per annum. Clearly something different is going on over there. In the West, it’s reasonable to estimate the box office as approx 30% of the value of a film. In China, it’s nearer 90%. As a result it works as a measure for what’s happening in the Chinese market, the weekly published box office figures, along with regular updates on the number of cinema screens are available and help us see the growth and market penetration happening in real time. Here is a snapshot of annual growth:

It is also worth noting that if the penetration of cinema screens was equal to that of the USA then, with a population of 1.3 billion (or now 1.4billion), it would continue to grow to 160,000 screens. Check for up to date box office information.


Having experience in film, television, theatre and music in China I can confidently say that successfully doing business is not easy but it will be part of our future and it can be very rewarding. So it's worth the time and effort of becoming familiar with the Chinese people and understanding their way of doing business. Talking to people who have been there and done it really helps.

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