TESOL Course Articles
Getting to know Chinese People

Giving and preserving face for the Chinese is an important part of the Chinese culture. Having "face" within the Chinese culture commands respect from and influence over other Chinese. To avoid losing face, the Chinese are unwilling to openly reject others' requests and avoid direct conflict with others. In resolving conflicts, the most preferred approach is through discussion or informal mediation by a common third party. "Torn face" or broken relationship, is avoided as much as possible. The result is often a compromise after both sides have made some concessions.

The Chinese, in general, show leniency toward foreigners following local customs. They are also willing to bend a few rules, or cut a few corners, to reach the desired goals. In their own words, the Chinese believe that "The end justifies the means".

The Chinese seem to apply higher context communication patterns than most Westerners. Low context Westerners find the Chinese way of communication difficult to adjust to. Some Westerners have accused the Chinese of being secretive and unwilling to share because of such differences. To communicate effectively and avoid conflicts, Westerners need to adjust their own communication approach as well as encouraging the Chinese to speak more freely and expressively.

Being modest is a traditional virtue in the Chinese culture. "A sharp sword will penetrate the cover and eventually shine" say the Chinese. If one is really talented, this talent will show through one's work. Chinese individuals still treasure this value. It is therefore very rare for Chinese people to discuss their accomplishments or abilities. They instead will "let" a third party tell you about these things if there is a reason for you to know about them. Chinese will also find it amusing if you accept a compliment or discuss your strengths. However, they will be expecting you to do this so don't feel compelled to act otherwise.

Another important part of Chinese behaviour that may affect you is that the Chinese individuals behave very differently in groups, than they do as an individual. When in a group, the Chinese are less flexible and not straight-forward. They may appear to be difficult to negotiate with for fear of exhibiting improper behaviour or inconsistency with other group members. As an individual, however, the Chinese are very easy to deal with and flexible. Especially after they get to know the foreigner and become comfortable, they become open and more straight-forward. This behavioral difference has important implications for any negotiation situation.

Understanding, respect and tolerance are the keys to dealing with cross-cultural differences. Westerners should bear in mind that Chinese will not become Westerners nor do they expect Westerners to become Chinese. Develop close friends who will help you to learn more about the culture and who will not be afraid of insulting you when they point out your faux pas.

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