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In China, business cards are serious business

April 10, 2013|By Anthony York

BEIJING --The frenzied atmosphere in the 10th-floor ballroom of the Hunan Hotel had little to do with the presence of the vice minister of commerce or the governor of California.

For more than a hundred business people and low-level bureaucrats from around China, this was a chance to meet new American business contacts. And that meant handing out business cards  --  lots and lots of business cards.

To the uninitiated, be forewarned – Chinese professionals share cards with missionary-like zeal. Strangers aggressively introduce themselves to tell you about their work and expect you to do the same.

Think speed dating.

The dozens of California business officials traveling with Gov. Jerry Brown were fresh meat for their eager Chinese counterparts. Aspiring developers from Guangzhou, bureaucrats from Chongqing, mid-level managers from Nanjing all buzzed about the room, delivering the cards in the ritualized way that is custom here.

Not even a visible reporter's pad, the rough equivalent of a “do not disturb” sign in most similar settings in the U.S., was enough to deter them.  

So central is the card exchange to Chinese business culture that a business etiquette pamphlet given to state delegates this week dedicated a full page to the subject. Among the tips: hand out the card after offering your name and your company. Receive and give cards with both hands. When receiving, make sure to read the card and comment on the person’s title, especially if it is one of high-rank like president or chief executive.

And by all means, make sure your pockets are full.

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anthony.york@latimes.com

@anthonyyorklat

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