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For every business that failed in China, the possible reasons could be traced to “face” including Google’s inability to survive in China. As an intern, Business fellow, Student, Corporate Executive, and Business Developer, your ability to succeed in China will depend on mastering social relationships and able to handle “the Face” factor in all areas. This is probably the first test, and if you fail it, your project is dead from the origin.

Follow me as I explore this complex yet crucial human phenomenon in China that is relevant to all intending to do business or relate to Chinese in any way.


The Concept of Face (面子miàn zi)is so significant for all intending to do business with Chinese. Losing or giving face has become one of the most common Chinese words we can hear in conversation. Chinese cultural studies 101, will sure mention the concept of “main zi” and “Guanxi”. Every It is a concept which Chinese are too familiar with and even ignore the existence of it.

Few days ago,one of our New Zealand interns asked me: why is the face so crucial for Chinese people?

This question triggered an interesting conversation, and I will like to share with our readers.

In fact, I do feel that people all over the world are sensitive about their reputation. It is a human thing; we tend to worry about what others think about us; the Chinese are no exception.  In very recent times, the all famous movement on social media “#metoo” took on several respectable men in society including lawmakers. Many of the accused used all resources it will cost them to repair their names. So why do they care?

Reputation in English is almost similar to our Chinese face (面子miàn zi). I think the difference is that Chinese People promotes “face” to “face culture” partly because of their communist affiliation and socialism.

Beautiful girl with a scarf and black veil.jpeg


In the English expression “saving face”, the “face” we’re talking about here isn’t a literal face. Rather, it’s a metaphor for a person’s reputation amongst their peers. So, for example, if you hear it said that someone “ has face”, that means that they have a good reputation. Someone who doesn’t have face is someone who has a very bad reputation.

In the English-speaking world, the expression “to save face” describes the lengths that an individual may go to in order to preserve their established position in society, taking action to ensure that one is not thought badly of by his or her peers.

The term face idiomatically refers to one’s own sense of dignity or prestige in social contexts. In the English-speaking world, the expression “to save face” describes the lengths that an individual may go to in order to preserve their established position in society, taking action to ensure that one is not thought badly of by his or her peers

“Face culture” is an important part of Chinese traditional culture, which permeates the behavior of Chinese. When people are unable to know someone’s talent or power status, they are judged by whether they can gain face. A man who has face is regarded as a capable man. So generally, Chinese like to craft what people think of them.

As a result,many people pay too much attention to their face or even get so addicted to brag that they are unable to extricate themselves. It contains the deep image of Chinese culture and social psychology, which is regarded as super important thing. In fact, it has become the “unspoken rule” that governs the operation of Chinese society. To give each other face is to respect each other,otherwise it is considered as violation of one’s dignity. Therefore, people always pay attention to face, respect and public opinion.

In my opinion, I feel that face is a person’s self-esteem and respect for others.

Face can predominantly be split into 2 parts: Losing Face and Giving/Gaining Face.

Losing Face

Showing a weakness may be considered as losing face.

Criticizing someone in public will damage their reputation and both of you could lose face.

Giving/Gaining Face

Giving someone a compliment or giving an expensive gift will earn yourself or someone face.

 never criticize your boss in a meeting or directly reject a suggestion from  your superior 

Application of Face In business and Social Settings

What actions will cause someone to gain or lose Face? In what situations should Face be given? How can Face affect your business and daily life in China?

Relationship with The Chinese Boss

In Chinese business circles hierarchy is more predominant, the distinction between different levels of management is much clearer and more important, and with this in mind respecting superiors is well observed. In a Chinese environment a subordinate would rarely question, interrupt or disagree with their manager, especially in a public setting.  This would cause a huge loss of face for the manager and potentially the company. When dealing with your superiors or elders in China it is always important to respect their position and ensure that they “keep face”. So if you are making a toast with your manager make sure that your glass is below theirs-this way you maintain respect and give them face.

How to deal with such a situation? 

If you are very close with the boss, you may be plain and open but I will always say that you proceed with caution. If it happens that you are new to the environment, hold your trigger, and don’t fire yet. All additions to your superiors’ submissions should be done in a “suggestive” manner and respectfully ask for their opinion on your point. This way, you are subtly drawing their attention to the side of the coin. If they ignore you, move on

Relationship between foreigners and work mates

As foreigners whether you are working or on a China internship, you may also find that Chinese employees are scared to approach or talk to you. They may not be so confident in their English skills and fear that by speaking English with you, they might show a weakness and lose face. If you are known for not being warm to people, you are seen as not having face.

For those who have been to China before, they will have noticed that the little effort you make at speaking Chinese Language, they will praise you. Even a “Ni Hao” to the Taxi Driver could get you an applause. You will need to treat Chinese with same respect when they try to speak English

How do you deal with such a situation?

If you come across this kind of situation, assure them that you are impressed by their English skills, give them compliments, and even try your own hand at Chinese, they will automatically feel a lot more comfortable around you and at the same time you will be improving their face.

Businesswoman smiling at camera while colleagues discussing over digital tablet and laptop in the office.jpeg

Chinese Business Negotiation and the role of “Face Factor”

Westerners, when conducting business and trying to seal deals, are used to straight forward answers from partners or clients whether it be a “Yes” or a “No”. This is not always the case in China.

Now get ready for this! As you lead deals, negotiations on the behalf of your company with Chinese, make sure you pay attention to the following

Negotiations can often seem quite drawn out and sometimes a conclusive decision may not ever be reached. Direct refusals or disagreements are uncommon in China, there is a fear that a negative decision may cause both sides to lose face. A more common response is “maybe” or “I will think about it…”, or it might even be that a tricky situation is ignored until it is forgotten about. In Chinese circles, they know how to read between the lines, but foreigners may find this situation more awkward or frustrating. Sometimes an initial “yes” to save face might mean a “no” in the long term. The best thing to do is be patient, take a deep breath and try resolve the situation privately.

The other advantage to this is that Face can get you landing a contract when you play the cards well. Spend more time with your clients, eat and dine with them, they may be convinced to agree to your proposals and give you a business deal just like that without thinking twice. This is because they will lose face if they reject you the offer.

If you’re coming over to China, here are some tips on face (面子miàn zi) :

So for interns, Students, business people, corporate executives and workers moving to China to either do business or interact with Chinese, there are few tips to consider. It may look complex and winding but keep it simple and humble.

Tips for giving/gaining face

1、Paying someone a compliment.

2、Inviting someone out for dinner

3,    Quickly taking and settling bills after eating or drinking with colleagues

4、Presenting a special gift when visiting a Chinese

5,    Praising someone publicly (especially in front of their elders or boss).

6,    Giving high marks on customer evaluation forms (the Chinese are generally generous, especially when giving reviews of their teachers).

7.    Treating someone to an expensive meal or banquet (the most common face-giving technique that makes Chinese business and society run).

8,    Giving sincere compliments and showing that you’re enjoying oneself when being treated out.

9,    Giving an expensive gift, especially an imported one.

Tips to avoid losing face

1、Calling someone out on a lie.

2、Criticizing, disagreeing with or questioning someone’s decision.

3、Directly refusing an invitation to a dinner or event.

4,   Openly criticizing, challenging, disagreeing with, or denying someone.

5,   Calling someone out on a lie.

6,   Not showing proper deference to elders or superiors.

7,   Turning down an invitation with an outright no (instead, they usually say “maybe”, “yes, maybe”, “we’ll do our best”, ” let’s think/talk about it later,” or “I need to discuss it with so-and so first”)

8,   Being late on a flimsy excuse (demonstrates that you don’t respect or take them seriously).

9,   Interrupting someone while they are talking.

10,  Being angry at someone –mutual loss of face for both parties

11.  Revealing someone’s lack of ability or knowledge (such as being able to speak English).

Whilst a lot of companies in China have experience dealing with Westerners and vice versa, face is deeply rooted in China’s society and history; its importance will never fade. If you are able to uphold the fundamentals of face and give your colleagues and managers face it will always be appreciated.


1、Having face (有面子 yǒu miàn zi ): Having a good reputation or good social standing.

2、Not having face (没面子 méi miàn zi ): Not having a good reputation or having bad social standing.

3、Giving face (给面子 gěi miàn zi): Giving deference to someone in order to improve their standing or reputation, or to pay homage to their superior reputation or standing.

4、Keeping face(留面子liú miàn zi): Respect someone’s position and do not do things which can make them not have a good social standing.

4、Losing face (丢脸 diū liǎn): Losing social status or hurting one’s reputation.

5、Not wanting face (不要脸 bú yào liǎn): Acting shamelessly in a way that suggests one doesn’t care about one’s own reputation.

Now I would love to share one great video with you and help you know more about (面子miàn zi).

Since it is a video, I have taken screen shots to help you appreciate some of the important scenes. It is a conversation which depicts how Chinese place premium on the “Face Factor”

The title of the Movie is


miàn zi duō shǎo qián yì jīn ?

How much is face?


鲁迅说 :“ 面子就是中国人的辫子,你抓住他的面子,就像揪住了他的辫子,他的身子就跟着你走。”

lǔ xùn shuō: “ miàn zi jiù shì zhōng guó rén de biàn zi , nǐ zhuā zhù tā de miàn zi , jiù xiàng jiū zhù le tā de biàn zi , tā de shēn zi jiù gēn zhe nǐ zǒu 。”

Luxun,a very famous writer  in China ,said:“ Face is the core of Chinese culture, if you understand and master it, You can get whatever you want in China. Its just like holding people by their hair braids



miàn zi zài shú rén de shè huì lǐ shì ké yǐ yòng de。zěn me yòng ne?yīn wèi nà gè miàn zi chéng wéi tā de zī yuán,tā de shēn fèn。nǐ yǒu miàn zi le,nǐ cái néng chéng wéi nà gè shè huì lǐ miàn de lǐng xiù,cái néng yòng 。suó yǐ tā lǐ miàn yǒu yì zhǒng lǐ xìng de chéng běn jì suàn。

“Face” can be used in the society of acquaintances. How? Because that “face” becomes a resource, and identity. If you “have face”, you can become the leader in any Chinese society, get what you want and exert influence on a group of people. This means you can use your “face” as resource. So there’s a rational cost calculation in it.


wǒ men hěn duō shí hou hái shì huā qián qù mǎi miàn zi ,bǐ fang shuō míng pái 。tóng yàng yí gè bāo sān qiān kuài ,sān wàn kuài 、 sān bǎi kuài 、nà gè sān wàn kuài de jiù shì miàn zi 。

We are still trying to buy “face” and we crave for it just like famous brand. A famous brand’s Hand bag may costs thirty thousand,  but an infamous one of same look and design may cost just 300. The thirty thousand bag can be regarded as your face.

this is how much value is placed on face. It is regarded as an expensive commodity


nǐ fàng de dōng xi shì yì mó yí yàng de ,wèi shén me wǒ yào sān wàn kuài mǎi lái ,wǒ zì jǐ dōu jué de zhí,yīn wèi páng biān rén kàn nǐ de yǎn guāng bù yí yàng。

If these hypothetical bags looks exactly the same,why do I want to buy it with thirty thousand without bothering about the price? It is an indication that people look at you differently and ascribe different value to you.


nǐ yòng sān wàn kuài de bāo dài biǎo le nǐ de shēn fèn de bù yí yàng , tā wán quán chāo chū shí yòng jià zhí , zhè ge bú jiù zēng jiā nǐ de miàn zi le ma ?

You represent your identity with 30,000 bags. It’s totally beyond the practical value. Doesn’t that make you feel that you have better reputation?

the role of face in chinese business


miàn zi jiù shì nǐ de biāo qiān,nǐ zì jǐ xíng zǒu shè huì,bié rén kào shén me lái lùn duàn nǐ,héng liáng nǐ ?

You will by far agree that Face is your label. If you are working and living in this society, how do people determine you worht or measure your value?

mz 4.jpg


ruò zhě yào miàn zi,qiáng zhě gěi miàn zi。qí shí zuò líng dǎo de, zuò láo bǎn de。cōng míng yì diǎn jiù duō gěi rén jia miàn zi,gěi rén jia yì diǎn zì zūn。jiù suàn nǐ bù tí bá,bù jiā rén gōng,nǐ shuō jǐ jù hǎo huà qǐng chī yí dùn fàn ,rén jia yě jué de shòu zūn jìng 。fǒu zé de huà nǐ jiù suàn gěi tā jiā rén gōng,dàn shì nǐ de tài dù (bù hǎo),xià mian de rén hái shì huǒ dà de。

The weak want face, the strong give face. Actually, as a leader, if you are smart,you should give all others face, give a person a bit of respect.

Even if you do not promote them, do not raise their salary, if you can say a few good words or treat them for a meal, they also feel respected. But if you raise their salary,but your attitude is bad,they will still feel angry.


ràng rén shū fu diǎn , qí shí nǐ bù kuī 。

Make others feel more comfortable,you will not lose anything

This Conversation is a close description of what Chinese think about Face. It is defined to be your representation, image and self –respect. If you have it, society will do anything for you. If you don’t have any, you will lack respect. If you want to make it in Chinese society, give face, and others will reciprocate Face.

Face Opens all locked doors in China

For your organization to gain grounds and penetrate the Chinese market, you don’t only need awesome strategies and marketing plan. You need people who have “face” to lead your brand; that way, your company is seen to have value. Chinese will then be willing to buy your product. Jack Ma, the owner of Alibaba gave a simple advice to all Foreign Businesses in China. He said “when coming to China, do not over rely on the complex terms and conditions, contracts, strategy and years of experience, rather pick locals with good amount of “face” to lead your strategy and you are bound to succeed”

I agree to this assertion because we see “face” play several roles to our merit and demerit as we partner companies in China to deliver transformative services and immersion experiences to our clients.

For Job seekers, interns and young graduates looking to work in China, always keep your social network full of people with “face” because their recommendations are powerful than the CV. Always give face and people will do you good. If you have face, Chinese people will perceive you as a team player.

Shall we give up on China because of its intricate cultural characteristics? The answer is simply no! I believe Chinese also find other cultures annoying, nauseating and uncomfortable dealing with. As more of Chinese Business People invest out of Asia, they are learning to cope.

China has a huge consumer market and huge enough for all players. The entire Middle income population of China is more than the whole population in the United States. Foreign Companies need growth and the number one point of call is China

Chinese Economy is booming over the last 2 decades and it comes with abundance of jobs and demand for quality skills. As unemployment continues to expand in the west and opportunities begin shifting to China, its time for Young graduates to explore these job opportunities

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