5 things Western managers need to know about Beijing
You are going to move for work to the Middle Kingdom, maybe even to Beijing? If that is the case, and if you want to be a successful manager in China’s capital, you’d better assimilate as early as possible some essential aspects of Chinese culture and local business practices.
1 – The concept of face = mianzi
The “face culture” in China, or how to “give face” = gěi miànzi (给面子) to someone, is something that although more complex could be compared to what is simply called in English “Saving Face”. It represents a person’s reputation, and one of the most basic aspects to be able to well perform in Business is to “have face” (having a good reputation and good standing). As a concrete example, criticizing someone in public even in the lightest form can lead this person to lose face, and in this case, you may lose your potential business partner or client.
2- The importance of relations and networks = the guānxì (关系)
Your future clients, associates or partners will choose you if they trust you and believe you are a good opportunity for them. A good guanxi will bring you more opportunities, credibility and as a result success, at least if you manage to maintain and even develop these business relationships over the time through regular dinners, events or even small gifts… Obviously, you should avoid corruption and legally, the maximum value for a present to be considered as a gift and not a bribe is 200 RMB.
3- Respect of Chinese culture and tradition = zhōngguó wénhuà (中国文化)
Understanding Chinese culture, being aware of its history at least know the big picture and respecting it is also very important to understand how business works in China. Small mistakes regarding basic politeness can cost a lot as it can make someone dislike you for a detail, and in the opposite a good knowledge and understanding of most basic Chinese customs will be a great advantage to develop your business, it may also help you to win some projects by understanding what are your clients’ real needs. Finally, you will be more credible, and mastering these aspects will demonstrate your great adaptability to Chinese market.
4- Speak Chinese, at least some! shuō zhōngwén / hànyǔ / pǔtōnghuà (说中文 / 汉语 / 普通话)
Obviously, if you can speak some Chinese, things will go smoother in China. It is of course better if you are fluent in Chinese, and almost perfect if you speak with a Beijing Accent. But even some simple Chinese will be of great help. You will feel much more respected by your Chinese partners and prospects, you will also better understand situations, people’s positions, and as a result better identify or even concretize opportunities that may appear to you.
When it comes this aspect of learning Chinese, naturally we would recommend you to learn through a teacher (a Chinese one), and ideally in 1 to 1 classes. Even with a busy professional life and loads of business trips, it is still possible to follow a regular training as several Chinese schools propose online lessons via Skype or other software, WeChat for example which is quite more stable at least in China. You can in fact also download some mobile apps that will help you learn basic words and expressions in a first time. However, at some point if you really want to speak Chinese, you will need a Chinese teacher and some real situation practice.
5- Having a Beijing business associate, if you find one ☺
Ask you could imagine, having a Chinese business associate can be of great help for your own business. And having one from Beijing especially if you intend to start your business there is of course even better. Your local partner will be useful for better understanding government policies, for any administrative tasks as well. He will also share his knowledge about local market, but most importantly, it will help you much faster develop your guanxi, a critical aspect for the success of your enterprise.
Meanwhile, probably even more than anywhere else, you should pay great attention to whom you will choose, and make sure you are an essential element in your business model… or you may end up with bad surprises.