How to make sure you win over your Chinese clients

Some of the cultural and ethical values deeply rooted in Chinese society are reflected in the way many of its companies operate. Understanding and knowing these principles is a great advantage for all those entrepreneurs who aim to gain a stronger and long-lasting foothold in the Chinese market. If you’re one of these individuals, our article is for you.

The Western approach to work has become part of the modus operandiin several Chinese companies. Even so, many of the business relationships established in this market are still based on millenary concepts of Confucian inspirations. There are three cultural values in particular that one should follow and learn about for those who really want to do business with China.

Guānxi(关系) or “friends first”

The concept of Guānxi is the result of China’s rural past, when every relationship was based on intense family connections and there was a strong sense of reciprocity. It is a value that arises exclusively from an authentic personal bond, which only later can lead to the work environment. You have Guānxi, only when two people become friends.

The first thing to do as a foreign company arriving in China is to reach a state of good Guānxi. How would one do this? Building networks, getting to know as many people as possible, building personal relationships. Only when the private bond becomes deep enough is it time to begin to trust the other party and work towards commercial goals. Guānxi helps us do business with someone we trust. Even signing a contract with someone with whom we don’t have a good Guānxi makes the power of the pact more limited. Why is that? Because in China some legal systems are not yet fully developed and relying on purely legal protection is not enough. It is much better to rely on a bond that goes beyond the working environment.  

Miànzi(面子) or “kindness pays off, always”

The notion of Miànzi defines the reputation and dignity of an individual in social contexts. The concepts of honor, prestige and respect are exacerbated in many Eastern cultures, but it is in Chinese society that they play a fundamental role in any social interaction, especially in the business world. Miànzi promotes precisely these concepts. In Chinese working environments, showing respect for others is a fundamental practice to reach Miànzi; respecting to gain respect.

Have you planned a trip to Beijing for some of your employees? Then remind them to be considerate, listen and respond positively to the people they are going to interact with; showing a strong interest in others is rewarded. Always. On the contrary, warn them that indelicacy or being too direct in expressing opinions can have negative consequences (a characteristic approach that China shares with India, which we talked about in the article “4 things you should know about the Indian wine market“).

Rénqíng(人情) or “I help you, you help me”

This concept expresses both the demonstration of affection and attention, and the benefits and connections that one can derive from them. Simply put, Rénqíng is the way in which two people who know each other, help each other, and how this effort results in a common benefit: you help me this time, and next time I will return the favor. Clearly, this idea comes from the collectivist nature of Chinese society, where everyone is committed to contributing. The Rénqíng is also demonstrated by simple gestures, such as complimenting a friend or bringing a little present to a colleague. A seemingly small gesture, but it could take your company farther than the competition’s.

So next time you go to those new customers in China, don’t be surprised if a few dinners and a few good bottles are not enough to close the deal. You need someone who knows his Chinese counterpart’s business vision, who has built a strong Guānxi, who can show off a high Miànzi and who may already owe him a few favors. Actually, after reading this article the go-to person for the Chinese market could be you…

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Ornella Begalli - Copywriter