The number of norms surrounding different social activities should be proof of how much importance the act carries in society. If so, business card culture is so important in China that it surpasses the oft-written-about everyone-must-cheers drinking culture in Chinese business.
Norms range from handing cards so that the words are oriented so that the receiver can read them without flipping the card to using both hands to extend the card. Yet the encumbrance of all of the rules doesn’t prevent people from sharing business cards; on the contrary, they’re mere reflections of how widespread the practice is in China.
An article in yesterday’s Beijing Youth Daily demonstrated exactly the sort of trouble an unprepared foreigner can get himself into when delving into all the norms surrounding China’s business card culture. The Commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service James Williams, identified in the article only as Weilianmusi (威廉姆斯), was surrounded by attendees trying to get their hands on one of his business cards:
As soon as the speech ended, the Chinese business representatives locked themselves around Weilianmusi. Perhaps Weilianmusi didn’t anticipate he would be so popular as to run out of business cards very quickly. Only under the assistance of an employee was Weilianmusi able to extract himself from the crowd of card-seekers.
The streets of Beijing don’t suffer from muggings and rarely from armed robbery, so I walk the streets—even in the middle of the night—without ever so much as a clip in my step or a look behind my shoulder. I just make sure to carry enough business cards.