Category Archives: Culture

Author: Neishya Harrison

Chinese New Year. Spring Festival. The Golden Week. Whatever you want to call it, the upcoming February 8 holiday is the no. 1 cultural festival in China. Ahead of even Singles Day in terms of notoriety, Chinese New Year is responsible for what is possibly the largest annual mass migration on the planet. All over the country, over 100 million workers abandon their city jobs, returning to their hometowns to celebrate the New Year with their families.

Online retailers such as Taobao are slashing prices to encourage consumers to splurge when welcoming in the New Year. For many foreign companies, especially those in e-commerce, the annual holiday and virtual shutdown of commercial activity requires planning as many Chinese suppliers may cease or significantly diminish operations during the period.

This year of the monkey will also see a continuation of the trend that sees huge numbers of Chinese travellers heading abroad to celebrate the New Year.

While an expected 2.9 billion domestic trips are estimated to be made during the Spring Festival period, triggering a massive overload to the country’s transportation systems, more and more Chinese are opting to take their celebrations abroad. International, the popular online travel agency, anticipates that over 6 million outbound trips by Chinese tourists will be made, setting a new ‘Golden Week’ travel record.

Airlines such as Air Asia, Air China and Cathay Pacific have all added additional flights to their rosters to accommodate skyrocketing volumes of outward-bound travel over the period. a tourism information sharing website claim that online bookings per capita for international travel are up 30% this year as well.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that 722 200 overseas visitors came to Australia in February 2015, up 14.4% on the previous year. Of that number, 164 000 were Chinese. This year Chinese arrivals are expected to increase. Similarly between 70 000 and 75 000 Chinese are expected to visit New Zealand in February, a 35% increase on the same period last year. Akin to this information, the reputable English language newspaper published in the PRC, has claimed that Australia is always a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

Even despite the recent economic slowdown, this Chinese New Year period is expected to be a busy one. With average spending for Chinese tourists expected to exceed 10 000 RMB ($2200 AUD). Prominent industry insiders at China Tourism Academy have also claimed that the prospects for high-end tourism are bright as Chinese travellers continue to break records, making an average of 4 billion trips annually.

With Australia’s resource based exports on the decline, Tourism is fast becoming one of the country’s most important offerings to Chinese consumers.

Reported as being ‘the next mining boom’ by some, tourism has become Australia’s second largest export earner at $102 billion, and in New Zealand, our closest competitor, is predicted to surpass Dairy as the country’s most significant export. Tourism Australia expects aggregate spending from Chinese tourists to double to around $13 billion by 2020. Sydney also hosts one of the largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of China – so there is great potential for the Australian tourism sector during the Golden Week.

But while the mass exodus of Chinese travellers overseas is a potential boon to our Tourism industry on the whole, it does not come without its challenges. To many local operators the greatest challenge comes in the form of the language barrier. Hiring staff with knowledge of Mandarin during the busy February period is common practice, and the pressure is now on for Australian businesses to upgrade their facilities and services in order to compete for lucrative Chinese tourist dollars.

In order for your business to take advantage of trends in the Chinese market it is important to consult an expert on brand strategy with particular focus on the Chinese market. For more information on the significance of Chinese New Year to your business, or to find out how your business can tap into the Chinese market, contact 3mandarins today and commission a China Opportunities Business Report.

From all of us at 3mandarins祝大家新年快乐!

Author: Neishya Harrison

Christmas is fast becoming one of the biggest days for shopping on the Chinese calendar. So it’s important for your brand to understand how the Chinese celebrate Christmas.

  1. Friends not family

Christmas in China is a time for going out with friends not staying at home with family. In this way it’s similar to Saint Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day or Halloween. Popular activities include going shopping, seeing a movie, singing karaoke or ice-skating. More and more young people are celebrating this festival with Christmas Eve now being a time for young couples to go on a romantic date – which usually just entails shopping at the mall. Interestingly, a uniquely Chinese tradition has developed whereby many shops give away apples wrapped in coloured paper or cellophane. The reason for this is that in Chinese the word for Christmas Eve is ‘ping an ye’ which sounds similar to the word for apple ‘ping guo’.

  1. Time for shopping with Santa

For young Chinese, Christmas is often just before their final exams, so celebrating this western festival has become an excuse to briefly escape the pressures of university life. Despite not having any formal holidays for Christmas, many department stores and online merchants use this festival as a way to lure in shoppers. In fact, at many stores sales volumes on Christmas Eve have been reported to be the highest for the whole year. Most large shopping malls fill their stores with plastic Christmas trees, shining lights and mobs of Santas. That’s right – usually there isn’t just one Santa but a group of Santas followed by Santa’s elves or ‘Santa’s sisters’ as they are known to many Chinese. In Chinese, Santa is called ‘sheng dan lao ren’ which means ‘old Christmas man’, and outside of churches there is little mention of Jesus or the religious significance of Christmas.

  1. Christmas online

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Christmas sales and promotions are not just used by bricks and mortar stores, ecommerce platforms such as Tmall and are also leveraging the commercial power of this Western holiday to boost sales. This year Tmall is holding a special Christmas sale in the two weeks leading up to Christmas (14 – 25 December). The promotion also includes 1 Yuan trips to spend Christmas overseas. Western coffee giant, Starbucks, which already has a huge presence in China, has long used the Christmas season to promote its hot beverages that warm customers during the cold winter months. For Christmas 2015, Starbucks has entered into a deal with Tmall to heavily promote its brand during the Christmas season. You’ll notice that the Starbucks logo and signature cups appear prominently on the home page of the Tmall site.

Perhaps it’s time to think how your brand can promote itself during next year’s festive season.

Image 1: Chinadaily. Image 2:



Professional translator and China engagement strategist, Greg Mikkelsen, talks on the importance of speaking Chinese in today’s Asia-focused business environment.

Should you learn Chinese? The short answer is ABSOLUTELY you should. The real question is how much Chinese should you learn. Read on as I’ll discuss this below.

Why Learn Chinese?

Let me start by explaining why I believe EVERYONE going into business should master the basics. I’m not going to bore you with statistics about how the Australian tourism, education, property and mining industries have all experienced a huge boom because of China. I do however want to emphasise how Chinese language skills can help you understand Chinese culture, build rapport with Chinese people and ultimately be more successful in business.

Let’s work backwards and see why it’s so necessary. When negotiating an important deal, mutual trust and understanding are essential. The deal can look great on paper (especially if it’s been translated into both Chinese and English) however often there needs to be some personal trust or relationship between the parties to give them the confidence to proceed. This level of trust can be difficult to achieve even with other people who share a common language or cultural background. Imagine how much harder it is to form this kind of relationship with Chinese people who don’t speak English. I’m not saying that you need to speak fluent Mandarin to secure a deal – BUT IT IS ESSENTIAL TO BUILD TRUST.

Most people already know that a lack of cultural knowledge or understanding can lead to mistrust or even prejudice views of other people. This is true whether talking about differences in terms of race, nationality, age, gender or sexuality. If you want to be able to build rapport with Chinese people you MUST make an effort to understand their culture and way of life – and I’m not talking about traditional Chinese culture – so put down your history books. You need to develop an appreciation for modern Chinese culture. Of course, Chinese traditions and Confucianism can be very informative in this regard however a more relevant understanding will come from actually engaging with Chinese people and contemporary Chinese society. Which brings us to the importance of learning Chinese.

Chinese language skills are a gateway to understanding the essence of contemporary Chinese thinking and culture. Language and culture are tied up in one. As you learn the language you learn about the culture. Similarly if you try to just learn about ‘Chinese culture’ without the language, so much of it will not make sense and will just be completely out of context. You will find yourself trying to create new English words to explain concepts or things which are uniquely Chinese – it’s best to learn the words that the Chinese use to describe these concepts. Some examples are the concepts of ‘面子’ (face), ‘土豪’(new money) as well as various Chinese foods.


How Much Chinese Should I Learn?

Now that you understand the importance of learning Chinese, the real question is – How Much Chinese Should You Learn?

Chinese is a difficult language to learn for Westerners and it takes many hours and much dedication to reach a high level of proficiency. If you are fortunate enough to start from a young age or can take several months off to do in-country study you may be able to reach fluency. However for most people this will never be a reality. However, unless you want to be a translator or use Chinese in a professional working environment it’s not necessary to attain this level of proficiency.

A command of basic spoken Chinese is all that is required to build rapport and strong relationships with Chinese people. Chinese people are very proud of their language and culture and truly appreciate any person who goes to the effort to learn and use Chinese. A simple self-introduction in Chinese or being able to order from a Chinese menu will impress your Chinese business partners and also act as a great conversation starter. You’ll also find that if you know the basics – Chinese people will be all too keen to help you practice and learn more.


The Best Way to Learn

Everyone learns differently, so you really need to find out what suits your learning style. Here’s a few suggestions for how to improve your Chinese:

  • Listen to Chinese language and culture podcasts
  • Attend a night class at TAFE or University
  • Get one-on-one lessons with a Chinese tutor
  • Take a trip to China
  • Watch Chinese movies, TV shows or online videos
  • Practise with Chinese friends

Remember that learning Chinese requires perseverance and a positive attitude. It does require a relatively large investment in the early stages but once you master the basics you’ll have a solid foundation to build upon.  


Good luck or jiayou (which means ‘add oil’).

Finding yourself puzzled at the mention of Mandarin or Cantonese? Don’t know the difference between traditional and simplified characters? Read ahead and be puzzled no longer!  

When I tell people I can speak Chinese one of the first questions they usually ask is – ‘Do you speak Mandarin or Cantonese?’ It’s a great question but most people don’t really even know the difference they just know there are two ‘languages’ and so think it is a good question to ask. However they pretty quickly run out of questions because they’re not sure what to ask next.

That’s why I’ve written 6 surprising facts about the Chinese language that everyone really ought to know. After all, Chinese is the most widely spoken language on the planet – that was fact #1!

#2 HELLO in Chinese

The word for ‘hello’ in Chinese translates directly as ‘you good’ in English.

#3 ‘Shi’ can mean ‘stone’ or ‘poo’ depending on the context

Many words in Chinese have completely different meanings depending on the tone that is used. This means if you say the word ‘shi’ in Chinese it could mean any one of the following depending on the tone: is, stone, style, thing, cause, make, poem or even poo. There are actually over 50 words with the pronunciation of ‘shi’. Each of them is written with a different Chinese character. Many have the exact same tone. For example ‘shi’ when said with the third tone (rising tone) means both ‘stone’ and ‘poo’. So this means when Chinese is spoken, words gain their meaning depending on the context.

#4 There are hundreds of variations of Chinese

There are hundreds of Chinese dialects – many of which are completely incomprehensible for speakers of other Chinese dialects. This means if you spend 5 years learning Mandarin and then jump in a taxi after arriving at Guizhou airport in Southern China the chances are the taxi driver won’t understand what you are saying – and you won’t understand him either. You’re probably thinking – well that’s it, I’m definitely not learning Chinese now, but before you lose hope read on – it does get better.

#5 Mandarin is not a language

Mandarin is not a language – it is just a dialect group. There is only one language and its called ‘Chinese’. Mandarin is the official dialect spoken in Mainland China and is also the most widely spoken. Cantonese is the dialect spoken in Hong Kong and southern parts of China. Many Chinese people who migrated from China to western countries in the late 20th century came from Hong Kong which is why there are many Cantonese speaking Chinese people living abroad. Only 5% of the Chinese speaking population actually speak Cantonese, but up to 70% speak Mandarin. Now as for the problem with not understanding taxi drivers – the good news is that as Mandarin is now the official dialect in China young people in schools right across China all learn to speak Mandarin. This means even though many older people in China can’t speak Mandarin, the younger generation of Chinese speakers can – and they are the future of China. So there is a good reason to learn Mandarin after all.

#6 Newspapers in Hong Kong are printed with different characters to the papers in Beijing

Firstly, let’s talk a bit about how Chinese characters work. Chinese words are made up of characters. Most words are made up of one single character or a combination of two or more characters.  These characters were originally pictures and have evolved into a formal script over time. In 1956 Chairman Mao ordered that the characters be simplified so that they would be easier to learn and write. These simplified characters became known as ‘Simplified Chinese’ and is what is used in Mainland China today.  Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, which were not under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party when the change was introduced, did not adopt Simplified Chinese and still use ‘Traditional Chinese’ characters. So when asking for a written translation into Chinese you may want to specify if you want it in Simplified or Traditional Chinese – if you’re doing business in Mainland China many people will find it difficult to read traditional Chinese.


If you found these facts interesting and would like to learn more about Chinese culture from a business perspective you can download our free guide ‘8 must knows about doing business in China’ – Click here


Written by Greg Mikkelsen – Founder and Managing Director, 3mandarins

Written by Christine Bu and Greg Mikkelsen

In the last few years Halloween has been gaining popularity tremendously in Australia. It seems that every aspect of American culture is slowly infiltrating Australia – BUT it’s not just the American’s that have been celebrating this ‘spooky’ festival – the Chinese have been doing so for centuries too!

Before you go out ‘trick or treating’ tonight – take 2 minutes to learn about the origins of this festival both in the East and the West!

The Western Halloween goes back some 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival “Samhain” which was celebrated on 1 November. On the night before Samhain, people believed that the dead would return as ghosts. They would leave food and wine on their doorstep to keep roaming spirits at bay and wear masks when they left the house so they would be mistaken for “fellow ghosts”. The Christian church turned Samhain into “All Saints Day” or “All Hallows” in the 8th century. The night before became “All Hallow’s Eve”, which was later shortened to “Halloween”.

You’ve heard about “Trick-or-Treating” on Halloween, but how about “Guising”or “Souling”. In the Medieval Halloween tradition of “Guising”, young people would dress up in costumes and go from door to door receiving cakes, fruit and money in exchange for singing, reciting poetry or telling jokes. “Souling” was where children and poor people would sing and say prayers for the dead in exchange for ‘soul cakes’. In 19th century America, Irish and Scottish immigrants revived these traditions and the modern day “Trick-or-Treating” emerged.

Today, Halloween is big business with US consumers spending $2.5 billion on costumes annually. Adding the candy, it is estimated that Americans spend $6 billion on Halloween each year, making it the second most commercial holiday after Christmas.

In China there is not just one ghost festival, but THREE!

The Qingming Festival is a three day festival where Chinese people have three days off work to pay their respects by sweeping the tombs of their ancestors and making offerings of food, wine and chopsticks. It’s also a time to take a stroll in the fresh spring air. Around this time, you may notice many Chinese people wearing hats made of willow branches, flying kites or even swing away on swings – all traditional practices of Qingming Festival.

The Ghost Festival is a day when Chinese people offer sacrifices to their ancestors. It is also the day when the doors of the underworld are said to open up. Deceased family members are able to wander the world and reunite with their family members on this day. Steamed buns are offered to the deceased ancestors to keep their hunger at bay on their return journey to the underworld. People also light lanterns to send the ghosts on their way and guide them back to the underworld. Families also gather together to share a big meal to show that they are living a happy life so their ancestors don’t need to worry about them. It’s also best not to go out at night – if you’re not planning on having an encounter with a ghost.

The third, and least well-known, is Hanyi Festival (Winter Clothing Festival). Along with offering sacrifices to ancestors and sweeping their tombs, Chinese people also make clothing for their ancestors to wear in the underworld and burn imitation paper money at their front door. So don’t be surprised if you see Chinese people burning thick wads of cash on the road outside their homes.