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Company Registration Search in China - Conquer China

Just last week I was contacted by a Brazilian importer of automotive parts, who is looking for a business partner in China. He had done his homework by googling Chinese automotive suppliers as well as searching them on Alibaba. After about a week of research, he was left with a healthy list of potential partners, but had no real way of verifying them before he sent thousands of dollars their way. He had been trying to reach out to them, but had little luck doing so. Since I am living in China right now, he asked me if I could look into this for him and send him back a link to a website where his company could verify the legitimacy of the Chinese suppliers.

It seems every foreigner trying to establish ties with Chinese suppliers starts out the same and ends up the same. After some initial phone calls it quickly becomes clear that you are not being fully understood. Email inquiries are often left unanswered or are replied in a way that only Google Translator could understand.  Finally, you are left playing Russian roulette with your money, hoping that your Chinese counterpart is indeed who they say they are and will eventually come through.

In most other countries in the world, this problem could be easily solved by doing a background search on your potential business partner. Company registration databases are quite common in the West, but currently there isn’t a website that exactly offers these services for mainland China.  In this article I invite you to embark with me on my adventures in the quest for the Ancient Myth of the Chines Company Registration Database. So grab your hat, your whip and a pair of balls, ’cause you are going to need them.  I can only hope that my experience will help save some of your precious time.

I am going to hand it to you – my Chinese is not good, so my first impulse was to fire up Baidu and do an English search hoping that China might have already implemented some kind of English service. After a couple of days of searching and asking around, I came to the sad conclusion that at the moments there are no English-language search services for company registrations in mainland China.  Now, your local Chinese nationalist might protest – This is China! Speak Chinese! – and I agree, but being China now the world’s largest manufacturer, servicing hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of foreign businesses, it would be quite nice to see China put a little bit more effort into internationalizing their services.

In China’s defense, one of the main issues for this may be that official Chinese company names are nearly always in Chinese, so business registrations are made using Chinese characters. This means that even if a China company registration search website were made available with an English-language interface, users would still require knowledge of the Chinese language in order to make successful searches on the database. As you can see, the current situation is less than ideal for promoting business with Chinese companies.

Actually, before the local Chinese nationalist protests again, please let me make a quick correction. There IS indeed an English language company registration database in China, but it’s in Hong Kong and it lists Hong Kong companies only.  If you are one of those happy few who happen to be in contact with a Hong Kong company, you may be aware that while Hong Kong does belong to China, it is quite separate from the mainland when it comes to business registrations. One aspect of this is that Hong Kong’s registration search options are much more developed and useful to foreigners.  Again, if your doing business in HK, feel free to check out the Cyber Search Centre of the Integrated Companies Registry Information System (ICRIS).

At this point there are only two ways for you to look up mainland Chinese company registrations. You must either venture in the murky jungles of their fragmented network of local databases or you can hire a hero to do this job for you. Here is a quick breakdown of both alternatives.

The Chinese Company Registration  Jungle

If your Chinese is good and you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can try your luck sorting trough all the local databases. This system for checking Chinese company registrations online comes in the form of AIC websites (工商行政管理局 or just 工商局). Company registrations in China are handled regionally by an AIC – Administration of Industry and Commerce. These are local government offices that deal with business registrations in their specific areas. There seems to be an AIC for each province and major city in China, as well as various sub-branches in smaller districts.

In China, nothing is so complicated that it cannot be made even more complex. With that in mind, here is quick heads up for you. When using these local AIC websites, be aware that they are completely in Chinese and unless you are an outstanding Chinese speaker, you should really get a native Chinese person to assist you. Another frustrating characteristic of this system is that there seems to be no standard. Although the sites look the same, they all have their own little individual searching mechanism and structure. So even if you get a Chinese person to show you how to search in one of them, you might still need their help over and over again.

Finally, keep in mind that these services are not unified and require you to have a previous knowledge of where your partner’s company is located. In the worst-case scenario you will just have to search each one of them until you find. The hat and the whip were just for props, but I’m sure now you are beginning to realize why I told you to bring along a pair of balls.  :-)

In the West, we are taught that China is a country ruled by an authoritarian communist government, with a strong hold over their people. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my days here, I have learned how fragmented China really is and we must start looking at it more as a continent made up of several smaller countries. It seems Chinese local governments and offices still enjoy relative autonomy and the lack of a Chinese unified company registration service is proof of it. To make your life a bit easier, I have made a list of China’s AICs for your Friday night enjoyment.

In the end, I did manage to find a unified database at the National AIC Website, but amusing enough their database was  for national registrations, as in registrations at the national level, and not for searching companies across the nation.

Getting Help for Doing Background Searches on Chinese Companies

By now you are probably ready to give up, right? Well…in the worst case scenario, you can just hire a company to do this work for you. This is actually what we ended up doing in the end at a cost of $130. If you are interested, just do a quick search on Google and I’m sure you will find quite a lot of companies offering these services, like legalmall. We did ours with China Checkup, whose website can be found here.

So as you can see (and had probably already imagined), mainland China is still doing a very poor job of making company registration information available to the rest of the world in English.  I think all of us would agree that transparent, international access to this information would actually bring greater trade volume and business interaction with Chinese companies, but lack of transparency seems to be a ghost that haunts everything from social to business relations in China.

 List of China’s AICs

Do you have any experience doing background check on Chinese companies? Leave your comments below and let us know what obstacles you have encountered so far.

  • Lorenza Mastrorocco

    Very good article! I found the content interesting and helpful. I am particularly grateful that you quoted Legalmall (http://www.legalmall.net/), I used their service of Company Registration and I am satisfied with it!

  • Hedges Edebiri

    I want to know if Wenzhou Huanhai Culture Co.,Ltd. Is genuine. I want to transact business with the company. Reply via hedebiri@yahoo.com. Thanks