9 - Communication
the Contents menu]
9.2 Useful Phrases
9.3 Aesthetics and culture
Mandarin - or Putonghua
- is the official language or the common language of the
People's Republic of China and the world's most spoken language.
Over 750 million people use it as their mother tongue. It
is also, to a certain extent, a contact language, since
there are around 500 spoken Chinese dialects, which themselves
are part of five major regional groupings. Cantonese, one
of the major dialects is the main language of Hong Kong
and of Guangdong (Canton) Province in South China and also
of the Chinese community in the UK, which traces its ancestry
to that part of China. The Hakka dialect is also widely
spoken in the UK.
Other major dialects, for example, Shanghaihua (Shanghaiese)
is spoken in Shanghai, Shandonghua is spoken in Shangdong
province and Fujianhua is spoken in Fujian province, etc.
Speakers of one dialect usually do not understand speakers
of another dialect.
Written Chinese language
Historically, the written Chinese language has served as
a means of uniting the Chinese people behind one language.
In recent times, the written language itself has undergone
reform. Between the 1950's and 1970's, the Chinese government
embarked on a far-reaching programme in which redundant
characters were excised from the language and many others
simplified, with the aim of promoting literacy and making
the language generally less arcane and easier to use. Simplified
character written Chinese is used in China itself and in
Singapore. The old, complex form characters are still widely
used in Taiwan and Hong Kong
Chinese uses characters, which are quite different from
an alphabet. Characters have two functions, one of which
represents the general meaning and the other the approximation
of the sound. Not all characters can stand alone as a word
and most Chinese words consist of two separate characters.
For example "zhongguo" (China), also meaning the
Middle Kingdom as ancient Chinese regarded China as the
centre of the earth, has two characters. Knowledge of about
4,000 characters is necessary for reading a newspaper.
At roughly the same time as the written language was being
reformed; the government introduced the pinyin system of
romanization, replacing the older wade-Giles system. Pinyin
replaced the letter clusters, hyphens and apostrophes of
the earlier system with single letters that bore a closer
resemblance to how words are actually pronounced. This is
how, for instance, Peking became Beijing and Mao Tse-tung
became Mao Zedong.
Chinese is not just a different language from English but
it also has a different linguistic system. In Western languages,
the words used to convey meaning are entirely symbolic.
Chinese characters have an innate meaning - in many cases
several meanings - which are conveyed by their appearance.
Additionally, spoken Chinese has a tone grammar - the same
characters have different meanings when spoken in different
Learning even a little Chinese can be a daunting prospect.
Yet in China, the Chinese language is not only regarded
as a means of transmitting culture - up until the 19th century
over half the world's entire output of books was published
in Chinese - but a cultural asset in itself. While negotiations
and discussions will be conducted in both languages, through
an interpreter, learning a little of the language and the
principles that underlie it can work in favour of the foreigner
on several levels. It helps break the ice, promotes respect
and helps convince the Chinese side of the sincerity and
seriousness of your mission.
Your name in Chinese?
Business cards themselves should always be presented on
first meetings. They are considered a mark of respect and
a token of seriousness of purpose. They also establish a
person’s position in his or her company, enabling
the Chinese to identify their counterparts in your organisation.
Additionally, your business card should be translated into
Chinese, along with your position in the company. Chinese
names are traditionally formed from three characters. The
first character comprises the surname and precedes the given
name. Deng Xiaoping is Mr Deng. The given name follows and
is usually made up of two characters, though some names
have only one.
Chinese names are chosen after careful thought and are meant
to express desirable concepts or qualities, which the parents
hope the child will develop. Western names are usually translated
by taking the first syllable of the surname (if it has more
than one) and the first two of the given name and transliterating
these into characters that sound similar in Chinese. As
well as sounding alike, these should also reflect some aspect
Foreign words are generally translated into Chinese along
these lines. Names of foreign countries often sound like
the originals, with the character for country following
some moral quality which the natives of that country are
thought to posses. England, for instance, becomes Yingguo,
or "hero country". For other words, China imports
the concept alone and gives it characters to fit. So the
word telephone is translated into characters meaning "electric
Should the brand name of your product be translated into
Chinese, the process will work in exactly the same way.
Many mainland Chinese students in the UK offer informal
tuition in basic mandarin along with some instruction of
how Chinese works as a language and its origin and history.
In the context of building business relationships in China
a few words of Chinese can go quite a long way.
Non-verbal communication plays an important part in Chinese
daily life. For example, when you are greeting someone senior,
it is expected to lower your head and bend slightly to show
respect. Shaking hands is not commonly practised between
people of very different social status, but between equals.
In the West, silence is considered as an awkward moment
during conversations. In China silence can be interpreted
as a sign of politeness and of thought, there is no rush
to fill the silence with words.
The Chinese do not normally show signs of affection in public
and in many instances the Chinese may avoid direct eye contact
to show respect to another. In the West straightforward
gestures may be regarded as signs of sincerity and confidence.
(To find out more, see http://www.zhongwen.com)
9.2 Useful Phrases
This section of the course provides translations
of phrases that may be of use to you if you are traveling
The table below consists of 4 columns
of information. The first column is obviously the English
phrase, the second is this phrase written in Chinese. Column
3 is a pronunciation of the Chinese text that you may find
useful and hopefully (with a little practice), quite easy
The last column is the Pinyin version
of the phrase. Pinyin is a scheme of Latinised spelling,
derived from the phonetic transcription of Chinese characters
- the true version of this should have various accents over
a number of the characters and this can be downloaded here.
|Hello (on the phone)
|Please take me to …
(show the address)
||Ching Di War Do
||Qing Dai Wo Dao
|How do I get there?
||Ger Mer Chu-E
||Zen Me Qu
You may find it useful to download
and print out a copy of the complete table – you can
then take this with you if you are visiting China and either
show the Chinese text or use the pronunciation if you are
attempting to communicate in Chinese.
Aesthetics and culture
Aesthetics and culture are
not normally the main focus of business. However, China
has an intricate body of what sociologists call "cultural
signifiers." Colours, numbers and animals, for instance,
each have a specific meaning or significance in Chinese
culture. This in turn can impact on the foreigner's relations
with Chinese partners in various minor but significant ways.
• Business apparel is a good example. White is the
colour of death in China, and while a white shirt is acceptable
the colour should not be predominant in clothing. A combination
of blue and yellow can also mean death. Red is considered
to be a lucky colour, suggestive of wealth and good fortune.
Yellow, in different shades, has been traditionally reserved
for emperors or monks.
• Numbers between one and ten also have significance.
Even numbers are considered feminine, and odd numbers masculine.
Eight represents prosperity, while four is associated with
death (of a person or project) and considered to be extremely
unlucky. Three represents vigour or capability and nine
stands for longevity.
• Animal symbols include the tortoise for longevity,
the horse for strength and speed, and the tiger for leadership
and domination. The fox is considered a smart animal. It
can even help you find lost documents!
• Foreigners will not be expected to believe in these
things, any more than their Chinese counterparts. Knowledge
of cultural and aesthetic signifiers, however, is considered
respectful and in practical terms they make a good icebreaker
and topic for small talk. It is important not to be overbearing
in displaying this knowledge. Knowing about it is fine,
knowing more about it than a Chinese person can be considered
rude or disrespectful.
The Chinese special holidays
are based on the Chinese Lunar Calendar and they vary each
year within the Western calendar.
Chinese New Year (29th of January,
2006 for Year of the Dog). This is one of the most important
holidays celebrated in China. It falls in the weeks of late
January and early February. It is important to check in
advance, to avoid arranging a trip during this period, as
comparatively little business activity takes place. Whilst
you would undoubtedly enjoy yourself, from the point of
view of doing business, it would result in a largely wasted
• The Lantern Festival
(12th of February, 2006)
This is celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month
of the Lunar Calendar and closes the New Year festivities.
• Ching Ming Festival
(also called Pure Brightness Day, 5th of April, 2006)
This is celebrated in April and is a Chinese Memorial Day
to honour those who have passed away.
• The Dragon Boat Festival
(31st of May, 2006)
This is celebrated on the fifth day of the lunar fifth moon
of the Lunar Calendar.
• Mid-Autumn Festival
(6th of October, 2006)
This is celebrated during mid autumn, which is the fifteenth
day of the eighth month of the Lunar Calendar.
• Chongyang Festival
(also called Double Ninth Day, 30th of October, 2006)
It is celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth month of
the Chinese lunar calendar, so it is also known as the Double
• October 1st This is
the Chinese National day.