If you are a newly arrived expat, you will most certainly be confronted with culture shocks with Chinese people, and one of them is the ‘’face’’ (Mianzi面子).
A quick example: after a business meeting, your Chinese colleague kindly offers you a lift and you turn his offer down just as kindly. If this happened in the West, nobody would think twice about it, but in China, declining a colleague’s thoughtful gesture may cause him/her to lose face.
What is face in China?
Some say that Chinese face is pure vanity. Others say it is a mask that makes things appear better than they really are. In fact, Chinese face has a much broader meaning. It represents a person’s reputation and dignity within multiple spheres, including the workplace, the family, personal friends, and society at large.
Doing business with face
Inevitably, giving face and saving face is crucial when it comes to do business in China. One of the most obvious ways in which this plays out is the avoidance of public criticism in all but the most dire of circumstances. In this way, you give people face in public. Where in a Western business meeting a boss might criticize an employee’s proposal, for example, direct criticism would be uncommon in a Chinese business meeting because it would cause the person being criticized to lose face. Since much of China’s business culture is based on personal relationships (Guanxi 关系), giving face is also a tool that is frequently used in making inroads into new social circles. If you can get the endorsement of one particular person of high social standing, that person’s approval and standing within their peer group can “give” you the “face” that you need to be more broadly welcomed in your business in China.
Here are some short sentences about face:
Having face（有面子）[ Yǒu Miàn Zi ]
To have gained pride or prestige through some kind of achievement
Giving face（给面子）[ Gěi Miàn Zi ]
To praise or give deference to someone else to improve/uphold their reputation
Losing face（丢脸）[ Diū Liǎn ]
To be humiliated or to suffer the loss of social standing
What about you? Have you ever made someone lose face in China? We’d love to hear about your experience of the Face. Please feel free to post your thoughts in the comments section below.