Rank & Title

Addressing with Chinese Name


rank and title in china

Think before you address someone with his chinese name. Depending on the occasions, addressing first name can be interpreted as impolite in China. In a culture with strong Confucianism influence, a person's position and associated roles are first and foremost in an organization. 

As the confucius sayings go, “If the title is not right, what a person says carries no weight.” 

Chinese are very conscious about the rank and titles they hold.  People around them are also consciously accord them with respect based on their titles. 

For that reason, you usually do not address a person whom you newly know by his first name. 

You may address the person with the generic titles like ‘Mister’ or ‘Madam’. You may also address the person by using official or professional titles. 

The bosses

For example, if the person is with the surname Li, and he's heads the company that you are talking to, you may address him as ‘Li Zong’, meaning something like “Boss Li”. 

The professionals

If he is a manager, you would address him as ‘Manager’.  If his surname is Li, then he would be addressed as 'Manager Li'.

If he is a professional, such as an engineer or business consultant, you can either address him by using his profession, or respectfully addressed him as ‘lao shi’, which means teacher, even when he is not an educator.

Addressing a group

When you are addressing a group of people by giving public speeches, take care to address the persons in the order of importance.

It is risky to simply address people in alphabetical order! 

You must be careful about who to be addressed first, and who later. Usually, the governmental officials are given priority, followed by business bosses. It is, however, difficult to generalize. when in doubt, it is wise to consult your Chinese friends.

Importance of age

Be aware that age plays an important role in the social relationships. 

You are expected to show respect to someone who are more senior than you in term of age, even if his official position is below you.

Bear this in mind when you are planning a business negotiation. The key members of your team should not be too 'young' -- if the other party consists of mainly people who are more senior in age.

Your own rank and position

Even if you care little about rank and title, give yourself appropriate rank and title when doing business in China. Otherwise, you may not be accorded with the right respect and attention.  at the same time, it may put you at a disadvantageous position when you are at the business negotiation table.

Take care of your collaterals, such as name cards. If you are a owner of small and medium-size companies who does not see the importance of rank and title, you will have to take a relook at this when you are doing business in China.

The name card has to reflect the appropriate title you hold.  Otherwise, your Chinese counterpart may not take you seriously, causing you to miss business opportunities that you care about.

The carefree generation

There is a trend among the younger generation of Chinese to adopt English names, such as John or Mary, or unusual names like Lion or Cloudy smile (usually a translation of their Chinese name).  

You can be casual when dealing with them. In this case, addressing a person by first name is acceptable.

When you are dealing with the more conventional Chinese, it is better to err on the right side by addressing with the appropriate titles.


The emphasis on rank and title may give one an impression that the social system is a hierarchical, unfair system.  This is however not exactly the case.

While the hierarchy is clear, one's position in the hierarchy does not need to be fixed. 

Quite unlike caste system, for centuries Confucianism recognizes one's value and effort, and gives room to personal mobility within the system.  

The ancient imperial examination system is a case in point.  An ordinary folk with the right ability could become somebody when his capability was recognized. Although the percentages of those who changed their destiny by passing imperial examinations were few and far between, the system was meant to be egalitarian.

The same principle is still observed in the Chinese business organizations today.


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