Nature of the Chinese Culture and its Main Difference from Western Cultures

Family-centered communitarianism vs individualism.

In most western countries, in particular Anglo-Saxon countries, people emphasizes personal freedom, personal rights, and privacy etc.. In contrast, in Chinese societies, no matter in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, Singapore as well as overseas Chinese communities, people more emphasize relationship, and ※we-ness§ and ※community§. This leads to the following 4 key words in understand the Chinese culture which is different from western cultures.

5 key words in understanding the contemporary Chinese Culture:

1. Guanxi (Relations)

The Chinese term for relationship is ※guanxi§, one of the most important cultural traits of Chinese people. The term ※guanxi§ may be better translated as personal contacts§ or ※personal connections§. ※guanxi§ can also be understood as ※reciprocal obligation§, i.e. ※a special relationship individual have with each other in which eachcan make unlimited demand on the other§, ※friendship with implications of a continual exchange of favors§, or ※the establishment of a connection between two independent individuals to enable a bilateral flow of personal or social transactions§.

※guanxi§ derives essentially from the Chinese family system. In the traditional Chinese family, whenever small immediate or extended, members are mutually obligated to help one another. ※guanxi§ is strongly colored by Confucian reciprocal obligation toward family members. Through the establishment of the ※guanxi§, people bond with each other with respected obligation toward each other. ※guanxi§ is essentially a network.

※guanxi§ is usually established among people who share a commonality of certain identies 每 for example, tongxue (schoolmates), laoxiang (fellow viligers) and laopengyou (old friends). China is not a full-fledged market economy yet, which makes it difficult to allocate resources through market mechanisms alone, therefore, ※guanxi§ is a major means of resources aalocation. Without ※guanxi§, one ※simply cannot get anything done§. In recent years, making intensive use of ※guanxi§, or getting through the ※backdoor§ to get things done, has been legitimately criticized by the Chinese government. However, in china hardly any aspect of social life is not touched by ※guanxi§.

※guanxi§ pervades the whole Chinese business process. Many sholars find that ※guanxi§ stratey is helpful for seeking background information about potential Chinese partners, negotiating prices and terms of payment, and implementing contract. Many western business men believe that doing business in china is not just a matter of price and product. To succeed in the Chinese market, foreign businesspeople must rely on friendship or good personal relationships (※guanxi§), which often take time and patience to build. At least most people believe that a fine ※guanxi§ with high level officials in Chinese bureaucracy can facilitate market penetration and smooth negociation and generate good business.

Closely intertwined with ※guanxi§ is ※renqing§ an important vehicle in Chinese social exchanges. ※renqing§ which literally translates as ※human feelings§ is defines by one western scholar as ※covers not only sentiment but also its social expressions such as the offering of congratulations, or condolences or the making of gifts on appropriate occasions. The rule of ※renqing§ in Chinese society as fellows: ※if you have received a drop of beneficence from other people, you should return to them a fountain of beneficence§. A Chinese who has done a favor for you automatically feels that he or she is owned a favor from you in return. Actually ※renqing§ follows Confucian notion of reciprocity. There are many Chinese expressions that associated with ※renqing§, such as giving somebody a ※renqing§ (song renqin) owing somebody a ※renqing§ ( qian renqing) ect..

3. Li

※renqing§ is related to another Confucian concept ※li§. We have already discussed ※li§ in above when I talk about Confucius philosophy. Here I should add that ※li§ in Chinese has many meanings in English expression such as ※etiquette§, ※decorum§, ※protocol§, ※rites§, ※propriety§, ※ceremony§, ※rule of conduct§, ※courtesy§, ※politeness§, and so on. In Confucius*s time, however, the term ※li§ originally referred to ※the social hierarchy and order of the salvery system of the Zhou Dynasty (dating back to 1100 B.C.), which regarded by Confucius as an ideal model of any society. It was not until the publication of the book ※li ji§ ( On li ) 200 or 300 years after Confucius that the current meanings of ※li§ came into use.

As we mentioned before, Confucianism stresses responsibility of individuals, who must behave according to certain prescribed principles of ※li§. ※li§ . ※li§ dictes the manner in which Chinese position themselves in hierarchical society and perform their roles accordingly. Therefore, ※li§ can be understood as doing the proper things with the right people in the appropriate relationships.

4, Keqi (polite)

※li§ is closely related to another Chinese term: ※keqi§, In Chinese, if someone is aid to be particular bout ※li§, then he or she is very ※keqi§. In Chinese ※ke§ means ※guest§, ※qi§ means ※air§ or behavior§; together the term ※keqi§ means ※behavior of guest§, or in a generalized sense, it means ※polite§, ※courteous§, ※modest§, ※humble§, ※understanding§, ※considerate§ and ※well-manned§. Politeness, or ※keqi§, is basic principle observed by the Chinese in their everyday communication.

5, Lian ( face) and Mianzi  In mainland China, people often use ※lian§, in Taiwan the people usually use ※mianzi§ ,but actually they refer the same thing. ※Lian§ can be properly translate into ※face§ in English. In here I directly use English word ※face§ to discuss the special characteristics of Chinese culture. As many sinologists noticed, although a universal human nature and a ubiquitous concept that occurs in all culture, face is particularly salient for Chinese culture. Even some scholars believe that the concept of face is in fact Chinese in origin. In Short Oxford Dictionary on Historical Princeples , ※to lose face§ is rendered directly from the Chinese phrase ※diu lian§: English explanation is ※ to lose one*s credit, good name or reputation§.

※Face§ is evident in all aspects of Chinese life. The Chinese often avoid the word ※No§ to save face for both parties. Words such as ※bu fangbian§ (inconvenient) , ※tai kunnan§ (too difficult) or ※huoxu§ (maybe) are aften synonyms of ※No§ in Chinese culture. The Chinese ※Yes§ (shi) can also be elusive 每 a word that has little meaning because it is used t repond to almost everything, such as ※Yes, but it is inconvenient§ 每 it actually means ※No§.

Face is also evident in a Chinese business negotiation context. Many observers find that the Chinese prefer to do business with large companies with world reputations to gain face. Even in business negotiations, you can use the face to explain the Chinese negotiation style 每 for example, meeting in a group, proceeding cautiously and slowly 每 from the face perspective. Therefore, it would be difficult for Chinese negotiator to make concessions because of his face consciousness. To deal with Chinese face in negotiation, I advice that you must give face to the Chinese and avoid actions that cause them to lose face. I will further discuss the matter in the last part of this lecture when I talk about Chinese negotiation tactics.