Cultural intelligence

China: Building trust

Traditional Chinese values are based on a finely-tuned art of managing human relationships and not, as with other civilizations, on religious principles. To this end, respect for human feelings, or ‘face’ is present in every aspect of Chinese interpersonal relationships.


This has two inter-related aspects. Mianzi 面子 (face, outer side), which refers to a person’s standing in society, such that a person with mianzi has influence, prestige, wealth or some combination of the three. Lian 脸面 (face, self-respect) on the other hand, refers to a person’s inner self, their reputation for honesty and reliability. In that sense, it is more valuable. Hence the Chinese proverb “She who loses lian, loses mianzi” (丢脸面丢面子).


Another implication of this value, is difficulty with candor. Rather than discuss matters face-to-face, the use of intermediaries or third parties in personal and business dealings is a common practice. That way, if a request cannot be fulfilled there is no loss of face for either party. The significance of mianzi and lian increases with managerial responsibility and with age.

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