This is a powerful force in Chinese culture. Since China entered the WTO, we have become used to interpretingthis term as meaning ‘to doing business in China’. You might however be alarmed to discover that the word actually means nothing more than ‘relationship’. The term includes a richer, more encompassing sense of obligation, built up over time through many interactions and exchanges. It carries a deep sense of responsibility and encapsulates a need for both reciprocity and anticipation in needs of another.
Guanxi can be seen as a kind of currency between two parties, to be saved and spent. If you don’t reciprocate, Guanxi will die off. Of course, there are straight forward business relationship and more complicated ones. How and what you do depends on your business and on your roles.
Think of this as an etiquette rather than the scarier notion of hierarchy that might come as a more natural association. In accordance with Chinese business protocol, people are expected to enter the meeting room in hierarchical order. For example, the Chinese will assume that the first foreigner to enter the room is the head of the delegation. Only the senior members of your group are expected to lead the discussion. Interruptions of any kind from subordinates may be considered shocking by the Chinese.
Chinese take saving face far more seriously than Westerners. This Chinese idiom defines it all: 先敬羅衣後敬人 (literal translation: first respect the good clothes and then respect the man) which is the equivalent of saying “good clothes open all doors”. Companies have face just as individuals do, and face often dictates the choices made in both interpersonal and business realms. By saving face, one is basically seeking respect.