Mianzi and Guanxi, how to do business in China

It is well known that doing business in a country other than one’s own implies knowledge of certain cultural aspects that are deemed necessary for the negotiation. This is especially true in China, where one must be very familiar with the two concepts of 面子 (miànzi/face) and 关系 (guānxì /network of interpersonal relations), which refer to the teachings of the Master of the Middle Country, namely Confucius. Here we explain what Mianzi and Guanxi in China mean.

How to do Business in China

To this day, it remains very difficult to translate and explain these two elements, as there are no counterparts in our culture.

Guanxi in Cina
Guanxi in China Abs-Cbn News source

What does “Guanxi” mean in Cina?

According to Parnell, “Chinese guanxi is not a term that can be adequately expressed by a one-word English-language equivalent; the concept is too culture-specific.” We usually tend to use this term to describe an individual’s mutually beneficial personal and business relationships, and it refers not only to the special relationship established between two people, but also implies a constant exchange of favors. Thus, it requires a very long process to be established but once done it could last a lifetime.

Il Guanxi is essential to do business in China

So, why is it so important to know and understand guanxi to make one’s business negotiation successful? The most difficult explanation for us to understand, as we are used to a different business approach, is that in China it is quite necessary, first, to establish a relationship of mutual trust before the deal can be concluded. With this trust, you have a way forward.

Trust is the key to growing your business in China

For this very reason, most of the time business banquets are held to get to know each other better, where we often find ourselves talking about so many topics without mentioning the topic of the business deal, and in fact, these moments are precisely the key that goes into defining the success or otherwise of the negotiation.

What happens if you do not respect Guanxi in China?

The concept of reciprocity in guanxi is considered a real key point, in fact, any individual who does not respect this “rule” by refusing, for example, to return the favor will find himself “losing face”. Knowing this concept of guanxi can help any individual intent on doing business in China to win the trust of the other party and succeed in his or her business. In addition to the business world, in the Middle Country, this is also very important for those in close contact with Chinese culture.

Mianzi-in-China Global Business Culture source

What does “Mianzi” mean in China

As for mianzi, it is most often defined by “face”, and is thus the way we present ourselves to others, determining other people’s perception of us. Mianzi promotes trust and respect, which are essential for building guanxi, and these two concepts are in fact closely related to each other. Moreover, mianzi is considered a fundamental concept that people need to preserve and stabilize to gain more prestige carefully, so “giving face” implies an act that can communicate an appropriate level of respect.

To Lose faith in the Chinese market may represent an high-risk for your business

In fact, writer and translator Lin Yutang (1895 -1976) stated that “face” “can be granted and lost, fought for and presented as a gift.”  This makes us realize the importance of having a “good face” in dealing with Chinese customers.

Indeed, “giving face” gives the interlocutor a sense of respect, makes him feel important, and this can influence business relationships. However, for example, if you “make a Chinese person lose face”, either intentionally or accidentally, during the negotiation of a deal, the deal can never be salvaged. For all these reasons, it is a real humiliation for the Chinese to make a mistake in public, and “losing face” is a source of great embarrassment and shame. Underestimating the concept of mianzi and its importance in Chinese business can be a fatal mistake for foreign companies and businessmen.

Mianzi e Guanzi to do business in China

These two concepts of mianzi and guanxi make us realize the importance the Chinese place on trust, personal relationships, and face. Once one enters this vision and understands these two pillars of the Chinese culture one is ready to enter the business world of the Middle Country. Without this knowledge you will be able to make mistakes, which from the Chinese point of view, will be considered the key element that will not allow the negotiation to succeed.

This article has been written by Fabiola Tiberio a student of Asian and Mediterranean African Languages, Economies, and Institutions at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. She lived one year in China, in Harbin, with the Intercultura AFS association.

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Fabiola Tiberio

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