Keep Face, Keep Relationship



Like guan xi, mianzi or face keeping is an important feature of Chinese etiqutte. it is so important that it can sometime sweep business or relationship aside.

If you are insensitive to the face issue, you may unwittingly lose the support you need. The price can be heavy if the support is critical. This refers not only to relationships with Chinese in China, but also with Chinese outside the country, such as those in Singapore and Malaysia.

Click here to find out how the phrase 'mianzi' is pronounced.



Mian zi, or face, in this context refers to more than physical face. It is more about the dignity of the person, and to Chinese this is more important than physical appearance. 

Due to historical influence, Chinese is a collective community. In such social environment, how one is being perceived by others is of grave concern.  Losing of face, when serious enough, can affect one's position in a guanxi network -- something many can ill-afford.

See it in perspective, it'd be easy for you to understand why it is important for you to give face to the people you meet.

You'd also understand that when you give face to an individual, you may be giving face to a network of people. For the same token, when you hurt the dignity of a person, you may be insulting a group. 

'Face' management, therefore, is an integral part of daily routine, as it is critical in avoiding unnecessary damage to relationships -- which can be so important to you whether in the personal or business capacity.

How to manage 'face'?

There are many ways to manage face. Do it with care. If the receiving party feels that you are hypocritical, the outcome can be more harmful than good.


You may ‘give’ face to someone by praising him in front of others, especially the people that he values, such as important customers or government officials.  It could also be done through presentation of token gifts, or expressing your gratitude for what he has done on occasions where people important to the receiving parties are around.

'Saving' face

You may ‘save’ someone’s face by coming to his rescue by saying something to salvage an embarrassing situation.

'Giving' face

You may ‘give’ face to someone when he seek favor from you by going out of your way to help.

'Keeping' face

You may ‘keep’ someone’s face by subtly doing something for him.  For example, intentionally lose the golf game that you could easily win.

Read more about mianzi management.


Not hypocritical

Taking care of mianzi is not hypocritical.  

It is an integral part of the Chinese culture that demands accountability to collectivity. It is also a means to create and maintain harmonious relationships among people. In a way, it is an enabler of good guan xi.

On the other hand, the high value placed on personal dignity is a way to say that one means once words. Although this does not mean that you can trust everybody you meet, since each person is conscious about keeping his face, it does reflect a culture that sees accountability as a virtue.

In fact, this is why for centuries; business in China could be conducted mainly by guan xi and gentlemen agreements alone.


Read further about management of mianzi.

Read about guanxi.

Read more about the Chinese mindset.

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