This paper examines the use of polite requests in both English and Chinese business correspondence in Hong Kong. The analysis makes use of the three factors of imposition, social distance and relative power in Brown and Levinson's (1987) theory of politeness. It is found that only the factor of imposition has a statistically significant impact on linguistic choice in the English data. There is also a significant effect when all three factors are combined. But none of the factors, either alone or combined, shows any statistically significant effect in the Chinese corpus. The results are attributed to the special characteristics of the type of discourse investigated, the particular socio-cultural factors involved, as well as the way the three factors are defined conceptually.