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18 January 2009
Business people should give food serious thought when they travel to China, a Deakin University researcher said at its Law School's Food Law and Policy Symposium (Saturday 18 January).
"Food and eating is in Chinese culture," Dr Chung explained.
"Food provides the opportunity to be social. Important deals can be made during a banquet. Trust can be built at a dinner table. Negotiations can be continued at lunch."
Dr Chung said the Chinese believed they were able to examine a person's integrity and conduct through the way they ate.
"This is the reason why a guest is always invited to dine with a host," she said. "Those who eat by themselves and never allow others to eat first present a poor personal quality. A good host will always put food into their guest's bowl and will continue to do so through dinner. The host will invite the guest to have more, to drink more. It is a sign of good manners."
Dr Chung said western business people often misunderstood banquets in China as a form of bribery.
"Dining out is an important tool in building Chinese business relationships, it is a way of socialising and building networks," she said.
"Many Westerners can find banquets intimidating, particularly the etiquette surrounding them. To eat to satisfy hunger is not the prime purpose of attending a Chinese banquet."
To start with seating arrangements are very different and follows a strict hierarchical order.
During the banquet, "It is the duty of a host to show that the guests are properly received, so the higher the position of the guest, the more elaborate the banquet will be. This is reflected in the delicacies and the amount of alcohol served."
Dr Chung said business people were also intimidated by the amount of alcohol served at such occasions.
"For the Chinese drinking is part of their hospitality and it is a part of long lasting relationship building. It is also a way of building trust. The Chinese have a saying 'the truth reveals after drinks', so if a guest trusts a host enough to have a good drink without worrying about the truth coming out it is an indication of their honesty and trust."
Top tips for the eating business in China