Guanxi and Mianzi: Building Your Network in China

Guanxi (关系) and Mianzi (面子) are two very important interpersonal relationship concepts in China.  Whether it be trying to get a new job, moving into a new apartment, conducting business, or even hanging out with your Chinese friends, these two concepts will determine your success, or failure in your endeavors.  Building both of these with your network takes time, but will lead to more opportunities, and better success in China.

What is Guanxi?

Guanxi quite literally means relationship, but the real meaning is closer to “the power of your relationships”.  Guanxi with your peers is built over time and generally through being a good and honest friend, or co-worker.  Treating a friend to dinner (Qing ke 请客), helping a friend solve a problem, or simply sharing your ideas and stories are the easiest ways to increase your guanxi, and to build credibility with your friends.  While guanxi is not a mysterious concept by any means, we all create guanxi with friends or new acquaintances, the benefits of having good guanxi with people in China can lead to more benefits than we would see in the West.

Guanxi is also necessary when doing business in China.  Guanxi networks extend over many people, so your guanxi with your friend will connect with the guanxi he/she has with their network, and so on.  Building your guanxi network wisely can make it easier to find a job, get a visa (rare cases), secure a business deal, or to meet an important person.  You can also build guanxi through giving people mianzi.

What is Mianzi?

Mianzi directly translates to “face”, and it means just that.  In the west we have the expression “I don’t want to lose face…”, but in China face is a two way street; you can gain it and lose it.  The most basic way of earning face is to be respectful to others.  Mianzi directly relates back to guanxi, and giving and receiving mianzi is an indication of how strong one’s guanxi is.  There are also specific situations in which one gives mianzi, they are as follows:

You can read an interesting example of mianzi here:

Toasting a Person

While toasting someone, in order to give mianzi, you should clink glasses such that the rim of your glass is lower than the rim of their glass.  This can lead to some funny situations as each person will try and lower their glass as much as possible, ultimately leading to both glasses on the table, or below the table, as they clink.  It is important to try and clink your glass lower than your dinner companion whenever possible.


Smoking is very popular in China, especially for men, and there are several mianzi giving traditions associated with the habit.  The first is to always give out cigarettes.  If you and a friend are smoking, it is important to always offer a cigarette.  In the case of business, it is common to carry one of the expensive packs of cigarettes (Zhong Hua) and offer them to the people you are doing business with.  A friend of mine with whom I did business regularly carried a carton or two of cigarettes with the expectation of giving the cigarettes out during business meetings.  Even if you do not smoke, this can be an easy way to give mianzi to a person.

Lighting a Cigarette

Whether it be a coworker, a friend, or someone you just happen to be talking to, it shows a great deal of respect and mianzi giving to light their cigarette.  The master combo here is to give a cigarette, and then proceed to light it for the person.  After the receiver of the lighting feels that the cigarette is light, they will tap your hand to let you know that they are all set, and that you have done a good job.  This is perhaps the easiest way to give mianzi, and will be greatly appreciated.

Bearing Gifts

Giving mianzi can also be done for a group of people, such as a family.  It is customary to bring gifts to a home that you are visiting.  These gifts are normally consumable, such as fruits or Ferrero Rocher chocolates.  Giving these gifts is an act of giving mianzi as it shows that you are respecting the opportunity to be inivited to the house, and that you took the time to go out of your way to bring something for the family to enjoy.

Life in China

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