For the traveler to China who is there on business, the conference, or huìyì, is the pinnacle event in what has likely been a several day experience. In the western travel industry overnight flights and same day “business meeting” flights are common. The western concept of a business meeting is just that—a meeting. You need not know the party you'll be negotiating with in a personal and social context. To do business with the Chinese means having to learn a new set of customs and a new way of doing things. Understanding a bit of Chinese culture will enable you to understand why Chinese business people do the things they do. The yànhuì is often as much a business obligation as it is a chance to socialize and enjoy.
The Chinese prefer to observe a worker outside of the office before getting down to business. It is for this reason that prior to your actual meeting, your Chinese hosts almost certainly will have invited you to a yànhuì, a bath, or a KTV. Now that they've seen you at play, they're ready to see you at work. The yànhuì is as much a business obligation as it is a place to socialize and enjoy.
Most conference facilities have an anteroom just outside of the main conference room, or a reception area. This will be where you gather before entering the actual conference room. This is probably where some of your new Chinese colleagues will break the ice with you and engage in a little small talk before the seriousness of the conference.
Remember, guānxì is very important to the Chinese, so establishing social ties goes hand in hand with doing business. Since they entertained you before this point, you'll probably get comments or questions like the following:
Nǐ chànggē chàng de hén hǎo
You sing very well.
Nǐ shìyìng shíchā ma?
Are you adjusting to the time difference?
Nǐ zuótiān wǎnshìng wénr de hěn kāixīn ma?
Did you have fun last night?
Jīntiān de tiānqìi hǎo le, duí ma?
Today's weather is very nice, isn't it?
You may indeed croon like Frank Sinatra, but it would be very immodest and un-Chinese of you to respond by saying xièxiè. You must skirt the compliment with something like nálǐ, nálǐ or hái chà de yuǎn ne (far from it). Otherwise, you may simply answer these questions truthfully:
Shìyìng shíchā xūyào hěn cháng shíjiān.
It takes me some time to adjust to the time difference.
Wǒ zuówǎn wánr de hěn yúkuài.
I had a great time last night.
Jīntiān de tiānqì tèbié liángkuìi.
It's particularly cool today.
In business settings and particularly in business related writing, Chinese do not simply refer to themselves as wǒ or nǐ or nǐde gōngsī. Instead, they use honorific forms of address attached to the nouns such as běnrén (I) and běngōngsī (our company). For the business they are addressing they use expressions such as nín (you), and guìgōngsī (your company).
In the West, it is normal for a subordinate, particularly a new one to the company to go and introduce themselves to their superiors. But in China this is not the case. Subordinates speak when spoken to. The senior ranking individual in the organization inquires after you. Remember this as you enter the meeting. You should always let the senior ranking officials in your delegation do the talking. This individual should also do all the introductions of their staff, paying attention to details. It can go something like this:
Nínhǎo, wǒ shì běngōngsī de zǒbghǐbgkǐm Gāo Yǎjǐng.
Hello, I am Company General Manager Gao Yajing.
Nínhǎo, Gǎo zǒngjǐnglǐ. Běnrén shì Lǎluokǎ yǎuxiàn gōngsī de Gina Rose Shìchǎngbù zhŭrèn. Hěn róngxìng jīntiǎn néng yŭ nínjiànmiàn.
Hello General Manager Gao. I am Gina Rose, Marketing Director of La Rocca Ltd. It's an honor to be able to meet you today.
It's not at all uncommon for groups of people to greet each other with applause in China. You should be prepared to return the applause in kind. From this point the two managers introduce the rest of their staffs in descending order of rank in the company. You may be offered a handshake, but if not, be prepared to nod or bow. When all the business cards have been exchanged and introductions made the hosting company escorts the visitors to their seats. Much the same way that the yànhuì begins a huìyì begins with speeches. The only difference is that the strongest drink you're likely to be served is tea. The Chinese delegation should speak first out of courtesy. They will likely say something very polite and welcoming like:
Jīntiān hěn róngxìng néng qǐng nín chūxí wǒmen de huìyì. Huānyíng gèwèi guìbīn de láilín.
We're very honored to have you attend our conference today. Warm welcome to all of our visiting guests.
Now comes the hard part: the negotiation. Unless you are fluent in Modern Standard Chinese, it is highly recommended that you enlist the assistance of a professional interpreter to take part in your negotiation. With an interpreter at the meeting, you might ask, why would you need to know any Chinese at all? The answer is quite simple: brownie points. The Chinese are immensely proud of their culture and heritage, even the most meager attempts at speaking Chinese will be taken as very flattering. It's absolutely worth the effort to try and use some Chinese if only as a gesture of respect. When the meeting draws to a close the Chinese delegation will very likely again say something exceedingly polite, such as:
Zhè cì huìyì néng yāoqǐng dào nínmen, zhēn shì wèi wǒmen de huìchǎng zēngtiān wúxiàn guāngcāi
Literally: You were invited to come to this very meeting in order to add immeasurable brilliance to our meeting place.
Figuratively: We're immensely honored to have you here.
Much the same way the yànhuì concluded, this event will end with an exchange of gifts and very likely a souvenir photo to commemorate the occasion. The gift should just be a simple token, perhaps a fine company brand gift pen. You do not need to purchase gifts for all members of their delegation unless you choose, but a token for the senior manager is a necessity.