Mianzi (面子), the significance of the face in Chinese culture
The concepts of honour, respect and reputation exist in every culture, but in China they have a crucial role in most social interactions, especially in the business world. The term mianzi promotes the trust and respect that are necessary to gradually build guanxi (关系 guānxì), about which we wrote in the previous post of the cycle, which is to bind the Chinese economy.
There are two aspects of the Chinese face that stand out, i.e. the name 面 子, which is identified with the Western notion of honour and reputation, and the face, associated with an individual attitude, authority and image in society, is understood as a social status and the lian 脸, i.e. the moral character of man, which meets social expectations. The loss of 臉 liǎn would mean a loss of trust within a social group, while the loss of 面子 miánzi would mean a loss of authority. Keeping a face is very important for Chinese social relations, because ‘face’ here also means ‘strength’, meaning and goodwill.
A face is something you can give (给面子 gěimiànzi), lose (丢脸 diūliǎn), or fight for (爭面子 zhēng miànzi), and it is understandable to anyone who has the cultural and contextual knowledge to evaluate it. Since humility is at the same time very important in the Confucian tradition, the face is often the most significant when given, especially in the presence of important people such as clients or government officials.
The exchange of favours is very important for the appointment, and therefore not reciprocating for an enthusiastic welcome or rejection of a gift offer is very embarrassing or costly to reputation. The fact that many Chinese are competing for a bill in restaurants to win (爭面子 zhēng miànzi) is proof of how powerful this social currency is.
The face is very visible in the Chinese business environment and plays an important role in internal communication, business negotiations and relationship development and maintenance. In China the hierarchy of companies is much more important than in many Western countries. Not only are leaders and managers placed on a higher pedestal, but the distinction between different levels of management is much clearer and more important. The importance of saving faces in Chinese companies means that it is always a good idea to greet the boss in the morning and not to deny him if he offers anything. It also means that conflicts, especially of a public nature, are usually avoided.
Karolina Pajączek