Respect of hierarchy is of fundamental importance in China.
During meetings, the Chinese rigorously respect hierarchy, and no one may speak unless expressly questioned by someone of higher rank, who most of the time, is also the eldest of the group.
Knowing the seniority or rank of all the Chinese participants in every meeting will help you to interpret the responses received.
Generally speaking, when a Westerner is involved in a formal discussion, it is advisable to speak to a Chinese associate of similar rank. If a Western company wants to meet the President or CEO of a Chinese company, someone in a similar position must represent the requesting company. Quite often, Western companies prefer sending younger managers to the initial meetings, in order to avoid wasting time, but the presence of managers without decision making power, is interpreted by the Chinese as a lack of interest if not respect and risks compromising the outcome of the negotiations right from the beginning.