If you work in China, in Chinese companies or simply are in close contact with Chinese people, it’s important to be aware that some aspects of a Chinese business culture must be understood and applied.
The first concept to know is that of Mianzi (面子).
It can be translated literally as “face” but this term contains numerous shades of meaning that define a very complex concept.
Basically, mianzi expresses the public image that an individual has built within a community.
It could be translated as “reputation”, but it also includes other meanings such as “respect”, “dignity” and “credibility”. It concerns the subject’s position of prestige and the perception that others have of him and of the relationship they cultivate with him.
The mianzi has primary importance in any kind of relationships which can be professional, family or social: each individual has the moral duty to preserve his own and others’.
For all these reasons, it is a real humiliation for the Chinese to make a mistake in public: lose the face (diu mianzi 丢面子) is a source of great embarrassment and shame.
A foreigner who relates with Chinese must always keep in mind the importance of avoiding any words or attitudes that could lead to the loss of face.
Closely related to the concept of mianzi is a second aspect, called Guanxi 关系.
The term guanxi indicates the network of relationships and interpersonal connections that each person need to cultivate from childhood: a network of contacts established on the basis of mutual relations of knowledge, respect and trust.
According to the Chinese business culture, a good guanxi has two solid foundations: trust, which allows the establishment of profitable and lasting relationships, and reciprocity, which is morally obligatory and takes the form of a mutual exchange of favors.
The contacts must be considered anything but transitory, as they must be constantly fed and maintained. The more the circle of interpersonal contacts is extended, the greater the possibility of success in every area of daily life.
Mianzi and Guanxi are two concepts, therefore, which although difficult to understand and put into practice for us Westerners, remain very important in Chinese business culture.
Underestimate these two concepts and their importance in the Chinese business culture can be a fatal mistake for foreign companies and businessmen.
Indeed, all the negotiations or agreements are subject to the formation of an interpersonal relationship which is achieved through repeated meetings, dinners and karaoke evenings.
Therefore, the construction of a commercial partnership relationship takes longer than Western standards. Usually this aspect is experienced with a certain amount of frustration by many foreign businessmen, who come to misinterpret the behavior of the Chinese counterpart, accusing it of inefficiency and a desire to waste time but they cannot be further from reality: according to the Chinese business culture, for Chinese negotiators building a personal relationship is essential, as they tend to place greater emphasis on trust and their word than signing formal agreements and contracts.