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China’s face culture, and how it impacts your business

By Juwai, 02 April 2015
chinese face culture

Let’s face it (pardon the pun), but to achieve success with Chinese, first you'll need to grasp the importance of face in China.

A deeply rooted concept in Chinese culture, face or “Miàn Zi” (面子) in China roughly translates to a combination of “honour”, “reputation”, and “respect”.

Hence, unlike Westerners who tend to be more direct and blunt when communicating with others, Chinese believe in "giving face" to others as a show of respect to those they interact with.

Face is such a vital part of Chinese business interaction that it can literally make or break a business in China.

 

Face concept 101

Needless to say, face should be respected whenever you interact with your Chinese customers. However, that may be easier said than done. You may need some time to learn and fully comprehend the subtleties of giving face.

Here's a quick breakdown below to help ease your way in:

  • Having face(有面子)[ Yǒu Miàn Zi ]
    To have gained pride or prestige through some kind of achievement

  • Not having face(没面子)[ Méi Miàn Zi ]
    To look bad or warrant embarrassment, caused by an act (sometimes by others)

  • Giving face(给面子)[ Gěi Miàn Zi ]
    To praise or give deference to someone else to improve/uphold their reputation
  • [Liking to] Save face(爱面子)[ Ài Miàn Zi ]
    A term describing someone who places high emphasis on preserving their own appearance of respect and dignity at all costs (**Use this with caution though, as it can have a slightly negative connotation with Chinese from regions outside of China.)
  • Losing face(丢脸)[ Diū Liǎn ]
    To be humiliated or to suffer the loss of social standing
  • No face(不要脸)[ Bù Yào Liǎn ]
    An insulting term to imply someone who is acting shamelessly without any scruples or principles

 

Doing business with face

Inevitably, giving face and saving face is crucial when it comes to business in China.

Chinese culture dictates a heavy emphasis on rank and hierarchy though, so getting a good grasp on Chinese business etiquettes, protocols, and cultural practices is critically important to prevent yourself from inadvertently making you or your Chinese client lose face.

On top of that, it can also cause a Chinese buyer to call into question your credibility, and deter them from conducting further business with you.

This is especially true given that face is intrinsically intertwined with guanxi – relationships or connections with people that bring mutual benefits and reciprocal obligations.

The more guanxi you have with influential individuals, the more face you will gain.

In short, the more connections you have, the higher your status becomes. So, for international agents keen on securing Chinese clientele, understanding and practicing the concept of face is a vital tactic in cultivating guanxi as you build up your business network.

 

Linking face with your branding

Interestingly enough, China’s face culture extends beyond individuals.

That’s right. Even a corporation or an organisation has face, and this is something you can use to enhance your branding when you’re with a Chinese investor, such as getting the ball rolling with an introduction of your company.

By showcasing your company’s background – from its history to noteworthy affiliates, to milestones and global presence – you are in fact, adding on to your company’s face.

Similarly, your business card is also a face of your company, and it’s vital your business card measures up and will not cause you to lose face.

TIP: Have your business cards translated into Chinese on one side, and be sure to include information, such as your rank and qualifications that may raise your esteem in their eyes.

What we’ve mentioned above are just a few examples to shed light on the face concept for you. In truth, China’s face culture is so intricate that we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Nevertheless, we hope our quick 101 gets you started on the right foot for your next Chinese buyer.

Good luck and “jiā yóu!” (that means “add power!” in Mandarin)