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How well do you understand researchers in China?

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

To achieve genuine connection and positive results with your customer base, you need to understand them as individuals, and as a community. During our persona training and strategy sessions, one thing we focus on is the importance of resonating with your audiences. It is not just about who they are, their needs, challenges, pain points etc., but where they are from and what they stand for. By working with key stakeholders, you can really build a more comprehensive picture of who your segmented audience is and how you can make more impact.

China continues to be a strategic priority for many of our clients, so we thought it would be helpful to pass on some specific insights we have learnt along the way to help you develop customized communications and more targeted activities to improve your cultural perspective.

If you are looking for knowledge and expertise in China, check out the interview I did with Andrew Smith from China experts, The Charlesworth Group, about marketing in China.

It all starts with communication

One thing we learn as marketers is that different channels can be more effective than others to specific individual groups (segments). Cultural Atlas highlights some interesting non-verbal and verbal communication points and do's and do not's for the Chinese community, including:


  • posture, expression and tone of voice are more important than words.

  • to maintain politeness, you may find you do not get a direct no or negative response.

  • men generally speak louder than women.

  • Standard Chinese (Putonghua/Mandarin) is the official language taught in schools and is based on the Beijing dialect. It is a tonal language - a single word, when pronounced differently, has multiple meanings.

  • personal space is important, especially when meeting strangers.

  • direct eye contact is considered polite. Lowering the head to lower the gaze is considered respectful to an elder.

  • pausing before answering a question is important to feel that the answer has been considered.

Do's and Do nots

  • give flattery where it is due and with sincerity, and be humble when receiving compliments e.g., with "Not at all" and "It was nothing".

  • keep discussions balanced and pleasant, do not criticize or be insincere.

  • be patient and give people time to communicate - rushing them can make them feel uncomfortable. Do not interrupt or 'fill the silence' in discussions.

  • ask questions in several ways to ensure that it is understood.

  • be respectful, especially to those who are older than you.

  • be understanding of China's cultural differences from others in Asia Pacific like Japan and do not generalize them into one group.

  • avoid boasting about achievements and qualifications.

  • refrain from talking about politics and criticizing China.

We know from our own experiences when presenting, strategizing, or training colleagues in China that it is often more effective to have wordier slide decks. That way, if you present something attendees do not understand (e.g., maybe you have an accent or talk quickly), they can read it from the screen. As we mentioned, you may find that those in China might be a little less forthcoming to engaging verbally when asking questions. Give them time to respond, do not fill the 'awkward' silences, and think about how you structure the questions and how else they might engage. You may also want to write in a live chat or give them the opportunity to ask later so they can respond in a more formal way.

Making the most of online media in China

Social media suffers from 'the Great Firewall of China' with platforms like Facebook, YouTube, TikTok (the Western version), and Twitter being restricted. LinkedIn joined the banned list at the end of 2021. However, Microsoft has launched a China-specific LinkedIn app to help comply with Chinese legislation. If international collaboration is important to the researcher, they can use VPNs to access these sites.

We have collated some tips for engaging with different platforms as part of your China strategy. Ensure you match channels to your segments like early career, mid-career, and established researchers.

  • Use broadcasting with sites like KouShare and Bilibili, accessed with a link instead of registration.

  • Have a user interface with Chinese language options - Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese are used in the written word and Mandarin and Cantonese are used verbally.

  • Offer language and editing services to help improve researchers' confidence and writing.

  • Have templates to guide researchers and help them be more assured in anything they need to submit.

  • Stop or reduce the shortening of words for those whose first language is not English - it can be seen as quite informal e.g. "we're" and "it's".


  • When communicating via email, Chinese researchers can expect a response in 24 hours or less. They may chase after a day or two. Ensure you at least acknowledge their communications as a sign of respect.

  • If using WeChat, for example, your researchers expect a response instantaneously.


  • Tencent and its products, including WeChat, are well established in the lives of the Chinese community. Not only is WeChat embedded into a person's everyday life in China, from communication to paying for shopping, it is also a well-used channel by publishers to engage with researchers directly e.g. about their article in the publication process, to run events, to engage with content like videos, and for research purposes.

    • Share news and announcements with WeChat groups.

    • Use WeChat as a form of communication with your customer services, sales, and marketing teams.

    • Include WeChat as part of your strategy to increase usage of content.

    • Use WeChat to share videos.

  • Using recognized services like WeChat removes the likelihood of responses being filtered or ending up in spam by the institution.

The publishing ecosystem in China

Of the thousands of domestic journals in China, only hundreds qualify on specific rankings lists. They generally have support and commitment from local and national Governments, and very few are privately owned. Global collaboration is still important and recognized as such, and so international journals will always have a place in China to further collaborate across the world.

Chinese researchers are active users of preprint servers in some disciplines, and it can be hard for researchers in China to know where to publish to raise their academic reputation. Peer review is being more valued by institutions as a research activity, so interest and gaining recognition is increasing. In addition, awards and certificates are highly valued. If the journal is recognized and respected, then the researchers are happy to contribute to the process, including peer review. The journal position/impact and the editorial board are contributing factors in their involvement.

Measuring researcher impact

  • Chinese institutions may have a 'white list' that they encourage their researchers to submit to and publish in and a 'black list' they discourage publication in.

  • Journal quality is primarily assessed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) with their annual journal ranking, the Chinese Government ranking (check out this blog post from Cactus about Chinese journal ranking) and the ISI Impact Factor ranking.

  • The Chinese Association of Science and Technology and other societies also release journal rankings.

  • A number of Chinese organizations have taken steps to sign up to DORA and progress research assessment in the Asia Pacific.

  • The number of prestigious awards and achievements a researcher has are important.

  • Chinese institutions may incentivise researchers depending on where they publish e.g. cash bonuses.

  • 'Corresponding author' may not mean the 'lead' author of the manuscript but rather an early career researcher (ECR) who is collating and managing the manuscript for their supervisor.

  • Some ECRs may co-peer review with their supervisor to help gain experience and confidence but will not have recognition for the peer review work as it is their supervisor who is the 'peer reviewer' in this instance.

Cultural differences for Chinese researchers

We know it can be culturally difficult for researchers in China to say a direct 'no'. In reality, they may not be able to dedicate much time to be a peer reviewer or an editorial board member. ECRs may say yes but often do not feel confident, so will require additional support. The more established researchers are very busy - some are asked to be on editorial boards, and though they may not be able to dedicate much time, if any, strategically, their reputation helps with recruiting new members.

Here are some additional sources we found for exploring the importance of a China strategy:

Make sure you check out my interview with Andrew Smith about marketing in China:

We hope this post has given you some helpful insights into marketing and improving communications in China. Interested in persona training or developing your strategy? Get in touch with Lou and Megan -

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