Managing in China

Working in a Global Powerhouse

Managing in China

Find out how to be an effective boss in China.

© iStockphoto/Nikada

What comes to mind when you think of working in China? Perhaps you picture city streets crowded with people. Or maybe you consider the challenging language barrier, or the country's incredibly diverse culture.

For many of us, it's a place that can really capture the imagination.

In addition to being the oldest continuous civilization on the planet, China's economy is the fastest growing in the world. It's also the most populated country on the planet, making up almost 20 percent of the global population.

As you might imagine, living and working in such a diverse and different country can be an exciting and challenging opportunity. If you're facing a transfer to China, or you've been assigned a Chinese team to manage, you might be wondering just how to manage people from this unique culture.

In this article, we'll examine what it's like to live, manage, and work in China. We'll cover basic business etiquette, and we'll introduce you to some of the local employment laws.


Bear in mind that this article is a general guide only. China has a very diverse workforce, which varies between different cities and regions. So use your own best judgment, based on the situations you find yourself in.

Language and Culture

In China, the official language is Mandarin, which is spoken by more than 70 percent of the population. However, an additional 202 languages are officially recognized, with Cantonese and Shanghainese the next most common. Note, though, that there's only one written language.

English is relatively widely spoken in Chinese organizations that operate globally. However, it's not so common away from a business environment. In any case, you should make an effort to learn at least some Mandarin (or the relevant regional language) before beginning work with your team. They'll appreciate that you took the time to learn it; and it will also help to ease communications and give you a greater understanding of this diverse and interesting culture. (See our article on Cross-Cultural Communication   for more on this.)

China is a very large and diverse country.

It's important to remember that China is a communist country. This means that many of the liberties that people from other cultures may take for granted, such as freedom of speech, aren't allowed.

Keep in mind, too, that the government has been known to censor Internet use, and that they have the power to shut down websites and Internet cafes. Also, because the state controls many aspects of life in China, you'll want to get a good handle on Chinese law – and on what constitutes acceptable behavior – before visiting the country.


Remember that you'll probably need a Visa to visit or work in China. You can get more information on these from the Chinese Embassy in your own country.

Working Hours

There are three categories of working hours in China, as described below:

1. Standard Working Time System

Most organizations in China use the Standard Working Time System.

Under this arrangement, employees are legally restricted to a 40-hour working week, meaning no more than eight hours per day, with Saturday and Sunday usually set aside as rest days. They're allowed to work a small amount of overtime, but this is usually no more than one hour per day. Compensation for overtime is paid at 150 percent of normal salary.

2. Irregular Working Hours System

The Irregular Working Hours System is typically used in organizations that need a more flexible workforce.

Under this system, there is no limit to how much time employees can spend at work.

3. Comprehensive Working Hours System

The Comprehensive Working Hours System is most often found in the...

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