Chinese Business Culture – The important of ‘face’ in the Chinese business environment

The importance of ‘face’ is extremely relevant in the Chinese business environment. Chinese business people often help each other save ‘face’. ‘Giving face’ is a tool that is frequently used in creating new social connections.

A Chinese person’s reputation rests on how much ‘face’ he/she gains. It defines a person’s place in their social networks. ‘Face’ is a significant and deeply-held cultural value in the Chinese business environment.

The Chinese concept of ‘face’ is different to the Western notion of ‘self-esteem’. Self-esteem is centred around “how I feel about myself “, whereas ‘face’ is more to do with “what other people think about me”. ‘Face’ usually involves social interaction and the exchange of information.

In Chinese society it is important to be respected by the group to which you belong, as the focus is on an individual’s position within his/her own social group. ‘Face’ is gained, lost, or given in the presence of others. A Chinese person’s reputation rests on how much ‘face’ he/she gains. The amount of ‘face’ a Chinese person has is a significant factor in defining a position in their social network.

‘Face’ plays an important role in the reason Chinese consumers purchase a particular product. They are often motivated to make this purchase to gain ‘face’ and to give ‘face’, through purchasing a consumable item as a gift to give a friend.

For a Chinese person to ‘lose face’ means to lose the respect of others and to be humiliated or experience public disgrace. It can perhaps be most closely defined as ‘dignity’ or ‘prestige’, however there is no translation that can complete cover all the fine nuances. As the Chinese and Western culture are very different, it is easy for a foreigner to unwittingly cause an embarrassing situation. One of the worst things that can happen to someone in Chinese culture is to ‘lose face’.

 Ways you can ‘give face’:

  • Praise your Chinese contact in front of their superiors.
  • Pronouncing a Chinese person’s names correctly.
  • Inviting your Chinese contact for a meal to a well-known restaurant.

Ways you can cause ‘loss of face’:

  • Revealing a Chinese person’s lack of knowledge or ability in front of their group.
  • Not showing respect to Chinese people of a higher authority.
  • Pronouncing a Chinese person’s name incorrectly.

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