• Written by  Eins Yu

A Matter of Face

Chinese face
Photo: chinesechurchstudies

The matter of face is a very sensitive and subtle problem in China’s society. When doing business with Chinese people, if you neglect this point, chances are that you will offend your Chinese partners even without notice. Respecting Chinese’ faces sometime can win you more connections and more opportunities for business. So let’s look into this “superficial” problem and get a deep understanding.

Scene 1: Rejection
Photo: clipartoday

Mr. Li and Mr. Smith are business partners. One day they held a business talk in Mr. Li’s office. After the negotiation, Mr. Smith saw a Chinese painting on the wall, out of politeness, said: ”That’s a lovely painting!” When Mr. Li heard that, he said: "Thank you. If you like it, I am much willing to give it to you as a present.” “No, thanks.” Said Mr. Smith flatly. Mr. Li felt quiet embarrassed.

Probably, Mr. Smith didn't intend to have the painting and meant nothing else. But, obviously, he didn't give "face" to Mr. Li’s. The problem was not that Mr. Smith should have accepted the painting, but he should have rejected in a proper way, that was he could keep Mr. Li’s face when he declined. It was a better way for him to use a compelling and convincing reason to reject the present and propose something else that dould spare Mr. Li from embarrassment, such as “It was very kind of you, but it would be inconvenient for me to send it back to the U.K., I’d rather like to take a photo of it.”

Scene 2: Suggestion suggestion Photo: activerain.trulia

At the table, Mr. Smith saw Mr. Li used the wrong hand to hold the knife and fork. Mr. Smith reminded Mr. Li in front of many of his subordinates. Again, Mr. Li was put in a embarrassing situation. Mr. Smith may just want to remind Mr. Li of the manner and he didn’t give to much thought to the situation. The very essential point of Chinese face is that most of Chinese people can’t stand “losing face” in the public, especially in front of people who are inferior to them. If Mr. Smith wanted to make a successful suggestion, he should heed the situation and just whisper to Mr. Li.

Scene 3: Introduction
business introduction
Photo: dm-unseen.blogspot

Mr. Li introduced Mr. Smith to Mr. Wang in a party. But Mr. Smith wanted to have a conversation with one of his friends, so he just exchanged the business cards with Mr. Wang , said “excuse me” and went away. Now, Mr. Smith didn't give "face" to Mr. Li in front of Mr. Li’s friends.

One problem we can see that Mr. Smith didn’t use a compelling and convincing reason to leave, however Mr. Smith also neglected an important element in Chinese society. Mr. Li regarded him as a friend and introduced him to his other friends. Somehow, Mr. Li expected Mr. Smith to show some respect to his friends which means Mr. Smith “buys” Mr. li’s face. But Mr. Smith certainly didn't do so.

In summary, the matter of face in China matters a lot. Basically speaking, Chinese like to use an indirect way to express their rejection and suggestion. More importantly, you should pay attention to whether or not you give "face" to your business partners. If you show your earnest respect in a proper way, you will experience less misunderstandings and be more welcome in China.

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