doing business in ChinaUnderstanding concepts like mianzi and gei mianzi is essential for doing business in China successfully. If you work with companies from this country, as we do, then you already know how important it is to know their customs and other cultural aspects that influence their social relationships, as well as business communication.

Mianzi, which literally translates to “face”, is defined as the level of reputation that a person has socially. It is prestige, the respect that others have for them socially, and it is something that can be gained and lost. For Chinese society, a person who is not respected is a person without power, and, in some cases, even a person without dignity.

For example, being cautious in conversation whenever other people are present will help you maintain your mianzi. Consequently, maintaining and not “losing mianzi” through your behavior in interactions with your Chinese business partners will help you avoid accidentally failing during a negotiation.

Doing business in China without “losing mianzi” (shi mianzi 失面子):

This concept comes from Confucian ideals of good behavior. It has to do with knowing how to act in any situation in order to avoid bringing shame to yourself and others.

As a matter of fact, there are a number of actions that might go unnoticed from a Western perspective, but that can cause you to lose mianzi. From a Chinese point of view, they are considered serious signs of a lack of respect. These actions are:

  • • Being interrupted while you are talking.
  • • Receiving contradiction or insubordination in a business meeting from someone of a lower rank.
  • • Receiving criticism publicly.
  • • Sitting at a conference table with people of a lower rank.
  • • Speaking in a way that is perceived as presumptuous or immodest.
  • • Being ridiculed in front of other people, even if they are family members or coworkers.
  • • Being humiliated or forced to admit to a mistake publicly.

In order to understand what mianzi means in daily life in China, a very common example occurs when you are lost, looking for an address. You stop someone and ask them how to get where you need to go. If they know, they will tell you with no problem. On the other hand, if they don’t know, the problem is that they will rarely, if ever, admit it. Instead, they will say they don’t understand what you are saying. They will try to help however they can—anything to avoid saying they don’t know. This response can translate to any situation within a negotiation, or to what happens when you request a quote for furniture hardware in China, etc.


But mianzi is also gained (gei mianzi)…

It can be gained, and it is very advisable to help your Chinese counterpart gain it, too, so that they feel supported. “Giving mianzi” (gei mianzi 給面子) strengthens relationships in China and is done constantly. It is something that is expected to be reciprocal. For that reason, you need to do it, too.

How? It’s very easy:

  • • Giving your counterpart a compliment, and receiving theirs with humility.
  • • Praising somebody’s work, especially in front of a superior. This will improve their reputation and make them more receptive during your agreement.
  • • Hearing their opinions with absolute respect.
  • • Responding positively to small favors they may ask of you.

It is common for Asians, as a way to strengthen the reputation of Westerners, to praise your Chinese pronunciation, even if it isn’t very good. Our recommendation is to always respond to this very humbly. Return the compliment as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

IBMH, the best solution for doing business in China without communication problems

At IBMH, we understand better than anyone the time and effort it takes for any importer of furniture hardware to correctly resolve even the simplest of problems when doing business in China. Making just a minor change in the orders you place to Chinese manufacturers can be complicated.

Thanks to more than 20 years of experience in the hardware industry and the linguistic and cultural diversity of our team of Chinese and European professionals, we are able to understand exactly what you need and transmit this to Chinese manufacturers in their own language, without any mistakes or misunderstandings. But don’t take our word for it—contact IBMH today!