As a foreigner, when you read a Chinese business name in English you naturally assume that the name you are reading is the name of the company.
Difficult as it may be to comprehend, in Mainland China and Taiwan, the only official Chinese business name is the company’s name as written in Chinese characters, so the English name in usually just a translation.
Explaining this vital point with words alone can be quite difficult, but fortunately we have a fantastic example to share with you in this article – from a Taiwanese hotel which appears to have 3 different names.
[such a lovely place, such a lovely face]
Carefully look at the three images below, which were each taken in Kenting National Park in the south of Taiwan:
To non-Chinese readers, your eyes are naturally drawn to the English words, and you would think that the images relate to 3 different hotels:
On closer inspection however, you will notice that they have more in common than first meets the eye, sharing:
You guessed it, they are all from the same hotel.
Now imagine you have booked this hotel online, you only have the hotel’s name “Shin Osaka Hotel” and address in English, it is dark and raining and you’re feeling more than a little lost.
This is the situation I found myself in, whilst working in Taiwan as an auditor, during one night in July 2012.
[My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim. I had to stop for the night]
Fairly sure that I was walking along the right road, ahead of me I saw a hotel which seemed to be in just the right spot. “Fantastic” I thought, I’ve found it!
However, as I got closer the name revealed itself not to be the “Shin Osaka Hotel” as hoped for, but the “Xin Da Ban Hotel”.
Initially perplexed, I was staring at my map and scratching my head looking for answers when it clicked – “Da Ban” is the Chinese word for “Osaka”, and “Shin” is similar to “Xin” – this was the right place after all. Fortunately my Chinese skills were sufficient to solve this riddle.
Although this example may seem specific to the difficulties of travelling in Taiwan, it is actually symptomatic of a much wider issue of doing business anywhere in Mainland China or Taiwan – the disconnect between the Chinese and English versions of a Chinese business name.
The three names photographed (there may have been more I didn’t spot!) are:
To many Chinese companies, having an English name or displaying English text can be more about portraying an “international” image, than for practical economic reasons such as attracting foreign clients to their business.
This is especially the case for Chinese companies with a domestic focus, who often have no English-language skills and for whom choosing an English name is almost something of a novelty.
Without management putting any focus on maintaining the integrity of their company’s English name, it is likely that English translations were made up on an ad-hoc basis when various items were ordered from different suppliers.
It’s very doubtful that the owners of this hotel will ever read this article, but if they do, our advice would be to choose an English name and stick to it.
Whether in Mainland China, or as in this case, Taiwan, it is important to remember that it is the Chinese business name in Chinese that counts. This applies as much for trying to track down your hotel late at night as it does for placing an order with your Chinese supplier.
When visiting China, especially outside of the big cities, if possible always try to get names and addresses written in Chinese characters. If you are staying in a hotel, ask the reception to help you with this.
For the majority of Chinese people, invariably including taxi drivers, English isn’t understood and pinyin is like a foreign language and your attempts to read it will be greeted with nothing more than a puzzled look.
Another important consideration is more formal business documentation, such as contracts, invoices and even company literature. In many of the scams that we see, there is either a lack of Chinese text or a level of ambiguity which makes it difficult to pinpoint whether or not there is a registered entity behind the scheme.
Even if you are unable to read Chinese, the fact that a Chinese company is willing to put their company’s name in Chinese on such documents gives some reassurance that they are being transparent about who they are and their dealings.
Dealing with a Chinese company can be very confusing and the ambiguity relating to the use of both an English and a Chinese business name is certainly a factor in this.
Even though there are many occasions when a Chinese company must use an English name, for example to accept an international bank transfer, there are also good reasons to be concerned if it isn’t forthcoming.
Verifying a Chinese company is a good way to determine their official company name and ensure that it is being used on key documentation.
China Checkup offers online company verification services for both Mainland China and Taiwanese companies with accurate results and fast, guaranteed turnaround times.
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