White Paper, Black Letters

Agreements in general, especially within China, should rarely be done solely based on verbal agreements despite popular belief that the standard is such.

Let the paper do the talking for you; get everything in wording.

In China, contracts or agreements done in a written format are done with “white paper and black letters/白紙黑字.” In other words, the agreements are typed up, edited or translated and then sent out for signing (most likely with a chop/蓋章).

This is the standard even though many businesses try to push otherwise, especially under social conditions that usually involve karaoke, drinking and the like. Do not accept such scenarios, as you will not be able to defend your words if disputes arise. Ambiguity and the possibility of verbal language being misinterpreted is not something you want to sacrifice, especially when dealing with international business affairs.

Yet, many small and large businesses repeat this mistake over and over and it could cost them a fortune.

Once a Western businessman in China told me he didn’t want to insult the Chinese partner by being too adamant with signing a contract. He felt this would be an insult to them, showing a lack of trust. While there is some truth to that, there are clever ways to get around it.

For instance, you could push the defense for the benefit on his end. In other words, tell the businessperson that you want to make sure they get what they deserve and that your company requires such negotiations to be in writing in order to be processed. You can also try to make a list of the points talked about and turn them into a contract, then when re-clarifying the points go over the document together and have it signed as a confirmation. Making that list and having it appear as something that you do to make yourself organized rather than paranoid over the deal will make a difference.

Let the white paper be your friend and the black letters your guide. They make the perfect balance in allowing a business transaction or agreement of sorts go smoothly and in tact.

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