Chinese Values and Perspectives

....some interesting facts from Encountering the Chinese - A Modern Country, An Ancient Culture published by Intercultural Press and available to borrow at LMERC

Gift giving – 13 good ideas of what to bring when
Gift giving among the Chinese usually occurs when:
  • Attending a birthday celebration
  • Visiting the sick at home or hospital
  • Visiting relatives/good friends for Spring/Mid-Autumn/New Year festivals
  • Attending lunch or dinner given by an individual with whom you are not on very close terms
  • Returning from long domestic or foreign journey
  • Thanking individual for special service/kindness
  • Thanking institution for hospitality (eg on study tour)
Gifts may be routinely refused (out of modesty) but persevere! It will be opened once you have left (to save face).
Toasting is common. If you don’t wish to drink spirits (maotai) or anything else you don’t like, turn your spirit glass upside down. If necessary, say you are under doctors orders not to drink! But you must join in all toasts using some beverage; not to do so would be rude.

The concept of ‘face’ and ‘saving face’ is a universal one, not merely a Chinese trait. It is about claiming to be someone with certain characteristics and traits. A ‘white lie’ is a face saving device – for yourself and the other – and is often about minimising embarrassment AND minimising any threat that may disrupt the integrity of the group. This is where ‘face’ in Western cultures differs in that it is concerned with the integrity of the individual only, but Chinese culture is concerned with the integrity of both the group AND the individual. Westerners are direct and say how it is regardless of others, whereas Chinese are more circumspect and less likely to say ‘no’ (in all its variations!)
Chinese typically ignore internal wishes and dictates of personal integrity and submit to others’ opinion and expectations. Even when Westerners try to be flexible and non-aggressive it may be ‘perceived as selfish and over assertive to a harmony loving Chinese.’
8 tips for communicating and saving face:
  1. Be deferential to those above you (age or position)
  2. Be considerate to those below you (age or position)
  3. Don’t expect a Chinese to act contrary to group norms
  4. Don’t insist your host always respects your rights and opinions
  5. Don’t defy your hosts moral standards
  6. Don’t show anger; avoid confrontations
  7. If you must say no, do so as tactfully as possible
  8. If you must criticise, do so in private, or when in public, in the context of upgrading an entire working group’s performance.

Making friends with the Chinese
The notion of Guanxi: relationship, connection, obligation and some sort of dependency. It is a mutual assistance by using ones ties and connections. ‘It is the lubricant’ that makes much of daily life run smoothly.’
The Chinese assume that if you have a respected well-paying job, you must also be influential enough to pull strings. Never promise more than you can deliver.
Harmonious interactions: anger is not tolerated by the Chinese and whether it is justifiable or not doesn’t even enter their thinking. An angry person undermines the dignity and well being of the group and is not considered worthy of respect, thus suffering serious loss of face.

Chinese Modesty and Humility
Self deprecation is a central role of showing humility. ‘Well mannered Chinese deprecate not only their own accomplishments and advantages but also those of their family members.’ Saying thank you to a compliment with our protest is a sure sign of bad manners. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer compliments to everything (especially about children) except the appearance of the opposite sex.
Present a business card with both hands and read earnestly on receipt .
The hierarchy also applies to listening (younger/subordinate) and speaking (seniors). A ‘junior’ speaking out of turn is embarrassing. Be prepared for much longer silences than you are usually used to – Westerners usually have a much shorter ‘wait time’.
In a photo, head for the back row unless several appeals are made for you to come forward.
If you are welcomed by applause, you should ‘clap back’ to show appreciation for the welcome and solidarity with the audience. Ensure your speech and writing convey a sense of humility.

Chinese style dining
If you have had enough, leav e a little remaining in your bowl or it will be refilled. Saying you have had enough will only be taken as modesty and ignored.
Peking Duck is eaten with fingers not chopsticks (hence the wet towels). Everything else (except whole fruit as a dessert) is eaten with chopsticks.
Be generous in praise of food (but carefully if you don’t like it!)
Toasts by the host often happen near the beginning of the meal. You should reciprocate a toast towards the end of the meal (perhaps with the serving of the fruit which usually indicates the end of the meal) by the most senior person and others may follow.
The host, not the guest usually brings the event to a close.

Chinese Titles and forms of address
95% of surnames have one syllable – the 10 most common: Wang, Li. Zhang, Liu, Chen, Yang, Huang, Zhao, Wu, Zhou (each have more than 20 million in mainland China)
Given names are often 2 syllables and written after surname.
Chinese prefer formality when addressing each other. A name is often accompanies by an age-related prefix to the family name eg xiae for younger and lao for older.
Mr Li = Li xiangsheng
Ms/Madam = Nüshi (formal)
Miss Zhao = Zhao xiaojie (unmarried young woman)
Mrs Yang = Yang Nüshi (keeps maiden name)
Occupational titles precede the family name
Kinship terms – auntie, uncle, perhaps even grandma are sometimes used by young children, but are tricky for westerners to use in return.
‘In China, formality of address does not imply interpersonal coolness.’

Greetings, conventions and Farewells
Ni Hao – greetings – literally ‘you are well’
Ni Hao Ma – ‘are you well? – equivalent of ‘How are you?
A conventional way to greet a Chinese is to simply say his/her name with a term of orepsect eg Li xiangsheng (Mr Li). Respond by acknowledging in a similar form.
‘Nar qu ya?’ – where are you going? Is another form that doesn’t require a precise answer.
Chi le ma – have you eaten – is another form, not requiring ;true information OR inviting you to a meal! Respond with ‘I’ve eaten’ or ‘I’m going to eat soon’
Statement of the obvious, eg ‘You are writing a letter’ is another form of casual greeting.
Shaking hands (standing up ) has become a very common practice.
Avoid extra hugging as part of a greeting.
Conversation starters – work, where born, about their home town, dialect, customs, food etc; habits of Chinese, sort, music, arts.
Conversational restrictions – sex, income, asking woman around 30 if she is married or has children (very embarrassing if she is not), political hot potatoes (eg criticism of political leaders.
Farewells – the first stage is very quick ‘I won’t waste any more of your valuable time’, goes to the door, but then may walk and talk with you for quite some distance/time, the greater showing greater esteem. A Western farewell is the opposite – that is, prepares to leave, procrastinates but finally leaves and you might just wave from the door. A farewell greeting: Zanjian – see you again.