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Chinese business culture essentials

​Knowledge of Chinese etiquette has become invaluable as business dealings with China increase. But what is also crucial is an awareness of the much broader context of Chinese culture. Core cultural values and beliefs exist throughout the Chinese community, including business relationships. Understanding them can be essential to the success of a business meeting or negotiation. In this short course you’ll discover a broad overview of Chinese culture. You'll explore topics including language, building trust, hierarchical society and gift-giving. It will also identify the potential challenges these present. You'll even learn some useful expressions in Mandarin Chinese and simplified characters along the way.

After successfully completing this short course, you will receive a digital badge. This can be shared on social media, added to email signatures or act as a certificate.

Standalone study only

This module is available for standalone study only. Any credits from this module cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.


Module code
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU levels correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

Business dealings with China are on the increase. More and more people are realising that they need to do more than have knowledge of a list of the ‘dos and don’ts’ of Chinese etiquette. Following rules such as presenting business cards with both hands, or not opening gifts in front of your hosts, can help a business meeting or negotiation be successful. But to create positive, long-term business relationships, what you’ll need is an understanding of the much broader context of Chinese culture and values that permeate Chinese business contexts.

This short course introduces you to some core Chinese cultural beliefs and values. Using stories and reflections from Westerners who have lived and worked in China, it will also highlight some potential challenges you may face.

China is a huge country with diverse cultures, and this course focuses on just a few fundamental aspects of Chinese culture, engaging you with reflective activities. You’ll gain a critical appreciation of different approaches. You’ll develop a better understanding of Chinese business culture, and more effective communication in Chinese business contexts.

This course is divided into four units:

  • language, culture and intercultural competence
  • hierarchical society and power relationships
  • guānxi, miànzi and building trust
  • harmony, gift-giving and traditional festivals.

As part of the course you will learn some useful expressions in Mandarin Chinese, share your thoughts with other students via a dedicated online forum, and keep an online downloadable record of your thoughts and answers to some questions, which will help you consider and reflect upon a number of cultural scenarios.

By the end of the course you’ll have developed a degree of cultural intelligence and intercultural sensitivity that can be applied beyond Chinese-speaking cultures.

Please note that although this course is non-accredited, it can be used towards the module Making your learning count (YXM130) to gain OU credits.

You will learn

In the context of working within Chinese culture, whether this be business trips, hosting delegations, partnerships with Chinese organisations, or simply doing business in this market, this course aims to help you:

  • raise your cultural awareness and improve your intercultural competence
  • develop and integrate intercultural skills and strategies in Chinese business contexts
  • reflect on and deepen your understanding of why China is a hierarchical society, and its impact when conducting business in China
  • explore the concepts of guānxi, Confucius values, harmony and miànzi that underpin Chinese business dealings
  • communicate more effectively with the Chinese people you interact with
  • master some essential Mandarin Chinese expressions.

Learner support

The course is taught entirely online. You will have access to online forums that you are strongly encouraged to participate in, as they are an excellent source of support and information. These forums combine self-help from fellow students with input from language specialist learning advisers.

Course length

This course is made up of 4 units, with each unit expected to take 8–9 hours to study. In total, you'll need around 36 hours to complete. The course will be open for 16 weeks to allow you to complete your study at your own pace.

Future availability

This page describes the course that will start in October 2021.

After October 2021, Chinese business culture essentials will open again for registration in January 2022.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations, which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Course work includes:

    No examination
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    There are no entry requirements to this course. It’s suitable if you are completely new to Chinese and to language learning, and it does not assume any prior knowledge.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact us.

    Course length

    This course is made up of 4 units, with each unit expected to take 8–9 hours to study. In total, you'll need around 36 hours to complete. The course will be open for 16 weeks to allow you to complete your study at your own pace.


    Start End England fee Register
    30 Oct 2021 Feb 2022 £195.00

    Registration closes 21/10/21 (places subject to availability)

    October 2021 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

    Ways to pay

    Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron.

    Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

    The fee information provided here is valid for short courses starting in the 2021/22 academic year. Fees for short courses starting in the 2022/23 academic year or later may increase in line with the University’s strategic approach to fees.

    What's included

    All learning materials are delivered entirely online. You’ll have access to a course website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • course-specific materials and activities
    • audio and video content
    • discussion forums and a course forum
    • support from language-specialist learning advisers.

    Please note the course website closes soon after the end of week 16 and becomes read-only. In read-only format, you can access all materials, but you can no longer complete the weekly quizzes or post in the forums.

    Computing requirements

    You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    Functionality may be limited on mobile devices. For example, voice recorder activities, which are common in language short courses, will not work on iOS/Apple devices.

    Our module websites comply with web standards and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

    Our OU Study mobile App will operate on all current, supported, versions of Android and iOS. It's not available on Kindle.

    It's also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook, however, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you'll also require a desktop or laptop as described above.

    If you have a disability

    The course is delivered online and makes use of a variety of online resources. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs. If you are a new learner with the OU, make sure that you look at our website.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.