the ins and outs of Chinese etiquette, from proper ban-quet behavior to gift-giving and business card exchange,can only help to enhance business relations and avoidembarrassing faux pas.
The Asian concept of face is similar to the Westernconcept of face, but it is far more important in most Asian countries. Face is associated with honor, dignity,and a deep sense of pride. Causing someone to lose face,even if the offense was unintentional, could cause seriousdamage to a relationship.The collective nature of most Asiansocieties means that the loss of faceaffects not only the individual but alsohis or her family, village, or even coun-try. If one member of a group loses face,the whole group loses face. The notionof face is also present in national sport-ing events, where losing a game or eventcan be considered shameful. Chinese ath-letes have been known to apologize tothe Chinese people for not winning aparticular game, as this is perceived asdamaging not only to the athlete’s orteam’s sense of face, but to the national sense of face.Face is also manifest in the case of the Olympics, anevent that involves national pride and holds face-gainingand face-losing potential for China.In addition, the concept of face is important in thebusiness world. In China, where rank and hierarchy aremore important than they are in most Western societies,sending someone of lower status to receive a high-rankingguest could cause the guest to lose face. Similarly, seatingsomeone of high rank inappropriately at a banquet, whereguests are seated according to rank, could damage thatperson’s sense of honor and dignity. If the guest attends anevent planned in his or her honor—and later reciprocates with a similarly impressive display—both sides can gainface, the host because he or she had the means to put onsuch an impressive event, and the guest because he or she warranted the event. The absence of the guest of honorfrom an event that was especially planned could damagethe host’s face.
combines aspects of face, obligation, reciproci-ty, and hierarchy. Simply put, it is a network of relation-ships that carries a certain expectation of mutual benefit. A
network is made up of people one can count onand trust, who can pull strings and arrange for extra help.First and foremost, these people are family, then perhapsclassmates or colleagues. In granting a favor or help, thereis the unspoken expectation of reciprocity, and the receiv-er is somewhat in debt until the favor is returned.
and face are interconnected and are both critical-ly important in understanding Chinese business practices,particularly with people over age 35. A generational andgeographical gap in the importance of these cultural con-cepts is emerging in China today, however.Until economic reform and the shift toward the rule of law accelerated in the 1990s, having and maintaininggood
was essential to getting anything done.People raised during the Cultural Revolution or beforeChina opened in the late 1970s were shaped by a systemthat relied on a robust network of rela-tionships to get anything done. Frombuying train tickets to transferring to adifferent work unit,
was essential.In the early days of reform and opening, when much of China’s economy was stillrun by the state, having the right
connection was crucial to landing adecent job. In fact, it was often moreimportant than having the necessary skillsand training.China’s “Generation Y,” or people age35 and under, particularly in urban cen-ters, spent their formative years in a vastly different society, one in which the focus has shifted from thegroup to the individual. These young urbanites are morelikely to put their own careers and nuclear families beforetheir extended families or communities. As a result of theone-child policy, most members of this generation are only children, raised without siblings but with incredible pressureto succeed and become rich. Many young urbanites in theirtwenties and thirties have been exposed to Western businesspractices by attending MBA programs or working in foreigncompanies. Instead of obtaining their positions through acomplex web of
, they tend to rely on their own cre-dentials, helped by professional headhunters. They tend tobe more savvy and determined than their elders, moreinclined to speak directly, and less likely to be concernedabout losing or saving face. They are more likely to haveread books on business success by Warren Buffet or DonaldTrump than the collective works of Mao Zedong orConfucius’s
. For them, getting ahead and makingmoney are often more important than group dynamics or worries about offending colleagues.Thus, though it is essential for foreign businesspeopleto have a deep understanding of face,
, and themore subtle aspects of Chinese culture when meeting witholder Chinese colleagues, those concepts are slightly lessimportant when interacting with younger urbanites. Therising importance of sound business principles and cre-dentials makes it easier to accomplish things without rely-ing exclusively on
connections in contemporary China. Also, China’s shift toward the rule of law is weak-ening the need for
is certainly still rele-
Foreign businesspeople going to China should take the time tolearn about Chinese culture andhistory.
Knowing even a little aboutconcepts such as face and
goes a long way with Chinesehosts and can save one frominadvertently causing offense.