Doing Business in China – Face

by smartamarketing

The worst thing to do any foreign country or with foreign people is to assume you understand a situation or the person thinks (or should think) just like you.

Dr Brian Monger


In Chinese and Chinese based cultures, if someone has “good face it means they have  a good reputation in front of their peers.  Face in Chinese culture is even more important than “reputation” in Western cultures.

Having face in front of one’s business colleagues or within a community is  a statement of that person’s value.

Losing Face

In situations where someone  has made a mistake or done something wrong, and the error is attributable to that person in public, then that one person has “lost face” – their reputation in the eyes of their peers has been reduced. Losing face is an experience no-one wishes to happen to them. So, even if the one losing face is clearly “wrong”, some folks will go to great lengths to avoid the appearance of losing face.

In any case, when face has been lost, the losing party leaves with “bad face”.

Saving Face

Saving face implies a situation where someone’s reputation is under question, or has already been lost, and is undergoing restoration. Saving face is an action whereby one is able to prove that they were not wrong, or show that the degree of their wrongdoing was only very small – not such a big deal.

This restoration is usually done with the help of someone else with good face, usually by making some kind of announcement before one’s peers, exonerating or endorsing the person who had lost face.

Giving (or Lending) Face

In a case where a person has no face or no recognised reputation within certain circles, this person may be required to seek out and “borrow” a certain measure of face from someone willing to “lend” it to them.

When dealing with Chinese do not make people lose face in public, you will likely make an enemy for life

Learn to not always state your opinion in public (especially about Chinese things), especially if it is contrary to a Chinese person’s opinion, this could cause them to think you are attacking them, which might make them feel they are loosing face, which leads to the first situation. Avoid arguing with Chinese people about things that are not critical. You will just piss people off. Many people are more emotional and think much more about face and often less empathetic about others (outside their social group), and not very direct/straight forward in many social relationships (which to Westerns can appear dishonest at times, but Chinese do not mean it that way, they are often trying to save themselves or you face)…keep that in mind and you will be okay.

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