Guan Xi (Relationships)

The Fundamental to doing business with the locals

Every business transaction is a dealing of guanxi (關係) and every guanxi is intricately connected and maintained. A Chinese has guanxi with all kinds of people: in the work unit, at local shops and street stands, and with relatives, friends, colleagues, subordinates and supervisors. It’s what makes many aspects of daily life run smoothly. No one should wish to remain completely outside the guanxi system, and no one can. It is just as important to accumulate credit in what I call the ‘guanxi account’ as it is to save money in one’s bank account. Just as we all wish to have more money in our bank account, every Taiwanese desires to accumulate more connections in their ‘guanxi account’. The more one has in his/her ‘guanxi account’, the more face, respect and prestige are gained.

There is no direct English translation for the word guanxi. It’s often translated as ‘relationship’ but it is far more than that; it describes your relationship, connection, dependency, network, friendship and, most importantly, your obligation. One’s life revolves around the accumulated guanxi and the resulting obligations of these connections. Guanxi involves an ongoing series of reciprocal exchanges. One helps and gives to another and therefore expects, at some unspecified future date, to receive from that other person......


Jia- (Family)

Jia - Where one's identity comes from

Ask your colleagues in Taiwan what they did at the weekend, and most of them will probably tell you that they spent time eating and catching up with their family members. In Taiwan it is indeed very typical, especially for married couples and those with children, to visit their parents every weekend. (Yes, that’s every weekend!). For many non-Taiwanese, this will probably seem a bit too often.

Interestingly, the character for family (家, jia) is formed by placing the ‘pig’ radical under the ‘roof’ radical. Taiwanese believe that family is a place where shelter is provided. The pig also represents wealth for those living under the same roof, as the family shares living space and finances. The Taiwanese think of their family as an indivisible unit that prospers if functioning properly, while being equally capable of bringing ruin to all its members if not.

A person’s identity comes from the family, or the ‘group,’ that one feels part of. One’s ‘self’ can only be complete when living up to the expectations of the group (the family, the extended family, the community, colleagues & anyone who is considered part of the family, or part of the group). The survival and prosperity of the family takes precedence over individual interests. As a result, Taiwanese people care very much about what others say and think of them, both positive appraisals and negative criticisms.

Taiwanese families regularly interact and socialize with one another. One’s life revolves around ‘family’; one can never separate one’s self from the family, the inside group nor the work unit. Family is both a home and the center of the community. It is the foundation of the Taiwanese society.


Face (Mianzi)

Face (Mianzi)-One’s social image and prestige

Everything you do is about ‘face’ here in Taiwan! How you give and save it for yourself and for others is extremely important, both professionally and socially.

The Taiwanese concept of ‘face’ is similar to the Western sense of ‘being embarrassed’ or one’s ‘reputation’ but it’s much more serious than that for any Taiwanese. Face goes far beyond the self to embrace the entire family, ancestors, and everybody that is part of their ’group’. If anybody does something bad, they haven’t just harmed their own reputation, but have also brought shame upon many people (to all those in the ‘group’).

The term mianzi (面子), literally means ‘face’, but it refers to the whole of a Taiwanese person’s identity. Mianzi is the perception of prestige, one’s projected social image, social self-respect and social self-esteem. It influences how people see each other, and how they relate to (and are expected to speak to) others.

A person’s self-concept is connected closely with one’s ‘face’. Taiwanese who are in prestigious positions are often perceived to have ‘face’, and consequently their respect, pride and self-worth are enhanced greatly.

Losing face is when one’s reputation is reduced or destroyed in public; it brings shame upon the individual, and thus everyone tries to avoid losing face at all costs. Face can only be lost in public; it is external only if someone finds out about it. Once face is lost, it is hard to regain or to recover. It’s not only a loss of trust, influence, and power, but it also affects one’s connections in the social network and one’s ability to function effectively in business.


Taiwan A to Z: The Essential Cultural Guide

Essential for Newcomers, Informative for Old Timers -
This book gives fascinating insight into the traditions, cultures, peoples, and food on this very special island.


Do you know:
Why it’s a very bad idea to give a clock as a gift?
Why so many Taiwanese have a PhD?
How Taiwanese parents choose names for their children?
Why a new mother shouldn’t take a bath for a month after giving birth?

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