Business in China is very personal and centered around the relationship with the person you are doing business with. As a Chinese with a career in international trade, I work with foreigners every day concerning price terms, freight, arrival date, customs declaration, duty-free policy, and more. If my clients or suppliers said several Chinese idioms, I would be very happy to work with them in the future. OK! Now, let’s have a look to see what idioms and well known phrases will help you when doing business with Chinese clients!


1. 王  婆 卖 瓜, 自 卖 自 夸 “Every potter praises his own pot”

Pinyin: Wáng pó mài guā, zì mài zì kuā


This idiom literally translates to Mrs. Wang sells melon and extols (praises highly) the goods she sells. Its English equivalents are “tooting your own horn” or “every potter praises his own pot”. The idea is that you can’t trust someone’s biased opinion!



2. 有 一 说 一 ,有 二 说 二  “To call a spade a spade”

Pinyin: Yǒuyī shuō yī, Yǒu èr shuō èr


This one can be shortened to just 有一说一, which means to be honest, never overstate or lie: to call a spade a spade is to "call it for what it is".


For example, you might use the first two if working with me, Ms. Wang (王小姐):


“中国人常说,  "王婆卖瓜, 自卖自夸”,  可是今天我是诚诚实实地期待和王小姐合作,而且有一说一。”

Zhōng guò rén cháng shuō "Wáng pò mài guā zì mài zì kuā"  kě shì jīn tiān wǒ shì chéng chéng shí shí dì qī dài hé Wáng xiáo jiě hé zuò ěr qiě yǒu yī shuō yī.


Translation: “There is a saying in China, every potter praises his pot, but today, I really expect to do business with Ms. Wang and be honest with you about our business”.



3. 一 锤 子 买 卖 ; “Once and for all” deal

Pinyin: yì chuí zi mǎimai


The story behind this one is that a customer bought a hammer (锤子) but found the hammer in poor quality but could not return it for a second one. This one is a well known phrase referring to a one-off business deal. In China, we like to do business for long term and keep regular customers. This phrase is more short-term thinking with the idea that cheating is possibly involved without consideration of the long term, so you don’t want to be a business man of “一 锤 子 买 卖”!


For example, in our transaction or business deal (买卖):


"为 的 就 是 和你 们  长  期 合 作 而 不 是“一 锤 子 买  卖”!"

wèi de jìu shì hé nǐ mén cháng qī hé zuò ěr  bú shì "yì chuí zi mǎi mai"


Translation: “I expect to cooperate with you in long term but not temporarily”.



4.  货  比 三  家 ; “Compare before you buy”

Pinyin:  huò bǐ sān  jiā


This phrase means that you should compare the product with another seller’s (preferably three as the idiom states!) and choose the best one. It’s a good rule to go by when you walk through the marketplace and maybe decide that you could just buy it off of Taobao, China’s equivalent of the e-commerce company, Amazon.


For example, you could say:


“这 是 我 们  最近 新 推 的, 性 价 比 不 错 … 王 小  姐 可以 货 比 三 家

zhè shì wǒ ménzuì jìn xīn tuī de xìng jià bǐ búcuò wáng xiáo jiě ké yǐ huò bǐ sān jiā


Translation: "This is our new product, which is cost-effective... Ms. Wang can go to compare with others".


Test your Chinese:

J.L 买鞋的时候要找三家鞋店看遍所有的鞋并 对比他们的价格和好评,才决定出一双性价比最高的鞋。(J.L是不是很厉害?为省十元钱,在网上对比几天才下手。)It’s 货比三家.



5.  让  利  酬  宾 ; “Give a discount”

Pinyin: ràng lì chóu bīn


This phrase will be incredibly helpful for you for maintaining customer loyalty. Who doesn't love a good bargain? It literally means giving up part (or the whole) of the profit to reward customers for their many years of purchase. “让 出 利 润,感  谢 客户(多 年  来 的 购 买)”. It’s just like the Black Friday discount holiday in USA, every shop gives a big discount to attract and retain customers. 


For example:


上  次 那 款… 王   小 姐 的 市  场  反 响   怎 么  样?  因 为 最 近 一直有 客户 加 单,现  在 马  上  到  春  节 档  期,我 们 特 推 出  让 利 酬 宾……

Shàng cì nà kuǎn wáng xiáo jiě de shì chǎng fǎn xiǎng zěn me yáng?  yīn wèi zuì jìn yì zhí yǒu kè hù jiā dān xiān zài mǎ shàng dào chūn jié dǎng qī,  wǒ mén tè tuī chū ràng lì chóu bīn...


Translation: The product we signed last time, how is your client’s response? As there are customers keeping purchasing, and the spring festival* is approaching, we’re going to give more discount…).


* Spring Festival is Chinse New Year usually during late January and February. 


6. 错  失 良  机 ; “Miss the big chance”

Pinyin:  cuò shī liáng jī


It means literally missing the big chance by mistake. Many women prepare a lot before November 11th (which is Singles Day in China marked by the date 11/11 for all single people, usually celebrated with shopping). They pick bags, comestics, or jewery which are noted with “big discount on 11th nov” as much as they can, and calculate how much discount they will get. They will prepare for the holiday one week in advance because they don't want to “错 失 良 机”.




王小姐不要 错失良机哦!

wáng xiáo jiěbú yào cuó shī liáng jī ou!


Translation: Ms. Wang, please don’t miss the big chance!




OK! Now,you can speak more Chinese idioms when you negotiate with Chinese. Have you used any of these phrases? Comment below to let me know. J.L wish you have good business in China! 


Hero Image by Fabrizio Chiagano on Unsplash