The Ultimate A-Z of Working in China

The Ultimate A-Z of Working in China
Jun 11, 2019 By Degen Hill ,

Working in China can be a challenging, but also rewarding experience. Learning to navigate the ins and outs of the Chinese workplace can be tough, especially when all the information you’re looking for is scattered throughout numerous articles. For your convenience, and hopefully to make your introduction to the Chinese workplace easier, here’s my A-Z* of working China.


It will take a while to get accustomed to working in China, but with the right attitude, knowledge, and preparation, it might be the best decision you ever made.


Since Google is blocked in China, Baidu will come in handy, especially its translator function, which can interpret both pasted text and text in photos. An honorable mention also goes to Baidu Waimai, a lifesaver when your office canteen just doesn’t seem that appealing.

Chinese language

This one’s a no-brainer. If you’re working in China, it pays to know some basic Chinese, at the very least for making small talk with your Chinese colleagues.


Both personally and professionally, working in China offers you lots of opportunities to develop your skills. It’s just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunities when they arise.


Excuse the shameless self-promotion, but we really are your one-stop-shop for anything China-related. Articles, community forums, and job postings are all available to help you make the most of your time in the Middle Kingdom.


Anything not related to China is considered “foreign” here, so when looking for jobs in China, don’t be surprised to see this word a lot. You, too, are foreign, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Guanxi (关系 - relationships)

Often translated as “network” or “relationships,” you’ll need a bit of guanxi if you want to succeed in the Chinese workplace. It’s not what you know, but who.

Hot water

Don’t be surprised if you can’t find cold drinking water in your office. After enough time in China, you’ll know that hot water, regardless of the season, reigns supreme.


Companies in China are constantly looking for new ways to innovate. News agencies are creating AI anchors, tech companies track employees with smartwatches, and manufacturers are replacing humans with robots. Innovation is the name of the game in China, so you’d better be ready for change.

Job hunt

Finding a job in China can be a challenge for locals, especially in such a competitive market. But as a foreigner, you immediately stand out from the crowd. With the right resources and connections, you should have no problem at all.


If your company doesn’t hold a KTV team-building activity at least once a year, you’re missing out. Having a few drinks and belting out some ballads is the number-one way to break down barriers in China.

Laowai (老外 - foreigners)

Whether you like it or not, you’re going to hear this word a lot when working in China. And no matter how much it might grind your gears, there’s no use trying to get your coworkers to stop. You’re the laowai, now own it!


In the Chinese workplace, meetings are even more popular than hot water. Also, don’t be surprised if they take up half your day and you’re still left wondering why you had one in the first place. Chinese meetings are more about everyone getting together than actually solving problems.


If you see your coworkers sleeping slumped over their desks or even on fold-out cots after lunch, don’t worry. They’re just taking a quick 45-minute power nap. It’s absolutely a thing here.

Online shopping

Whether they admit it or not, your coworkers get most of their online shopping done at work. You probably will too, as TaoBao is the best place to source office supplies, bits and bobs to decorate your workspace, things you might need for a project you’re working on… and everything else in-between.

Political correctness

This can be a challenge for a country that doesn’t have a lot of diversity. With that in mind, understand that you might hear things that sound insensitive or even outright racist when working in China. Most of the time, it’s not meant that way, it’s just a lack of knowledge and experience. Try to leave some of your political correctness at the office door.

QR codes

Many postings for jobs in China, especially on WeChat or online, have a QR code to scan for the details. Some CVs also have QR codes that when scanned, link to the candidate’s online profile. If you’re handing out business cards, it’s a great idea to have your WeChat QR code on the back.


It’s perfectly normal to ask for a raise in China, especially if you’re re-signing your contract. However, be prepared that some companies have a cap and no matter how good of a negotiator you are, there’s a limit to what you can get. Here’s some tips on how to get the best deal you can, though.


Depending on where you work, seniority can play a big role in who you should defer to when looking for answers as well as who has special rights and privileges. Hierarchy in the Chinese workplace is a big deal.


If you’re worried about your commute in China, don’t be. Subways, taxis, Didi, Mobike, an electric scooter, public busses — you unfortunately have no excuse to be late.


When it rains, expect your office hallway or common area to be filled with open umbrellas. This is not your Chinese colleagues deliberately inviting bad luck, they are, in fact, drying out their brollies so the prongs don’t go rusty. The Chinese are very pragmatic people!

Visa runs

For any foreigner working in China, the visa run is an inevitable rite of passage. Accept it, embrace it, and enjoy your time in Hong Kong.

Windows XP

For whatever reason, Chinese companies love Windows XP, despite the program being 18 years old.

Xi Jinping

When it comes to making changes to your working life in China, look no further than the president himself. Such changes may include visa regulations, hiring policies, and taxes.

Yingyu (英语 – English)

You’ll hear this word, which means “English”, a lot when working in China. However, you will most likely hear it in the context of, “Bù huì shuō yīngyǔ (I don’t speak English)”.

Zhifubao (支付宝 - Alipay)

If we’re talking about China’s essential apps, Alipay is high on that list. It’s especially convenient for getting paid for part-time or freelance jobs, plus, it makes splitting lunch with your coworkers a doddle.

*I had multiple options for some letters, and ultimately it was a tough choice figuring out what to keep or throw out. What words would you switch out for the ones on my list? Let me know in the comments below!

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Keywords: Working in China


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Me start now

Jun 12, 2019 00:27 Report Abuse