Chinese Cultural Etiquettes for U.S. Olympic Team Leaders


Reported by USAToday on November 8, 2006 in an article by Vicki Michaelis entitled When in China: Winning more than medals, nearly 60 USOC officials and Olympic and Paralympic team leaders – the people responsible for directly managing the athletes and their needs at the Games took part in a training in Beijing last week learning “everything from Chinese dining etiquette to how to build business relationships to how to find the train station. ”

The article describes the training as “USA’s unprecedented preparations” and “for the first time ever plans to train the U.S. delegation, including athletes, in the culture of the host country”. Regarding the training content, it is reported that parts were basic, such as what countries border China, and others were more complex including the ultra-important function that relationships play in business.

Greetings: Handshakes in China are gentler and last longer than the typical American handshake. The greeting might come with a short bow, from the shoulders, not the waist. If it’s a first-time meeting, business cards are always exchanged. Present your business card with two hands and receive the other person’s card with two hands. Read it, perhaps asking a question such as correct pronunciation of a name, before putting it away. Do not write on the card.
Relations: Cultivating relationships over a period of time is central to doing business. Chinese people are process-oriented rather than goal-oriented. Saving face is very important, whether your own or that of the person with whom you’re dealing. The words “no” and “not” can cause loss of face, so they should be replaced with phrases such as “that would be inconvenient.” Formal titles and adherence to hierarchy are highly valued. Consensus and cooperation are emphasized over competition. Modesty is prized more than confidence.
Dining: The most important host sits facing the door, and the most important guest sits to the host’s right. Guests should sample every dish. Do not put your chopsticks standing up in your rice, as it symbolizes death.

If you are hosting, walk your guests to the door, or to their car, then pay after they leave. It is impolite to handle money in front of guests.
Colors: Red is a lucky color in China. People in China wear red to weddings. When someone dies, the Chinese people wear white. Red and gold paper are best for gift-wrapping. White or black paper symbolizes death.

I find the section about colors particularly interesting. Different perception on colors can really cause confusions.

Since we are talking about Olympics, here is a design picture of the main stadium for the 2008 Olympic in Beijing. The stadium, nicknamed “Bird’s Nest”, is one of the Ten China’s New Architectural Wonders (BusinessWeek December 23, 2005), and actually four of the ten are related to the upcoming Olympic: the Olympic Stadium, the new Beijing International Airport, the Central Television, and the National Swimming Center (nicknamed the Water Cube). You can view them as slide-show with this link to 10 Wonders of the New China on BusinessWeek.


  • This site is very informational and I am glade you guys have posted this on the web free of charge for everyone to view.

  • […] some of the etiquette taught in training, greetings, relations, and dining were noted while the Journal highlights the different perception of […]