The aspect of Chinese culture that was the most surprising to me was the depth of indirect communication, and how it affects each person’s面子 (miànzi), which translates into “face.” Face is one of the cornerstones of Chinese business culture. A Western foreigner attempting to deconstruct the concept of face would most likely understand it as reputation. While the two ideas are extremely similar, a Westerner would not contribute subtle action body language to their reputation. In China, many actions affect your face. Introducing a coworker using the word brother or sister can “give face” (给面子|gěimiànzi), and publicly rejecting someone’s invitation to an event can cause someone to “lose face” (丢脸|diūliǎn). The continual task of respecting the concept of face is not something that comes naturally to Westerners and is often the cause of miscommunications between Chinese and Western businesses. When visiting China, it is especially important to keep this concept at the forefront of any interactions.
Another striking difference between Chinese and Western business culture is the concept of 关系 (guanxi). It directly translates as “relationship,” but it encompasses far more than relationships. The term describes everyone’s personal network of social relationships. In business it is often expressed as a desire to learn a potential partner’s personal character before ever discussing terms. This is a stark contrast to the business culture of the United States. Many transactions and deals are constructed without ever interacting with the organizers of the deal in a non-professional setting. As a result, many American businessmen are confused when long banquets and social outings take place before business is ever discussed. Guanxi exemplifies a desire to become personally well-acquainted with a potential business partner before making a commitment. To do business in China, you will have to make have to become friends before becoming business partners.
Even though Chines culture is very different from American culture, the two share some commonalities. One example of this is the emphasis on punctuality. In both Chinese and American culture, a person is expected to be on-time for their scheduled meetings, appointments, and even social events. Another similarity is patriotism – both countries have an emphasis on national loyalties and beliefs.