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The Meaning of Harmony in China and its Importance in Business Life

Seminararbeit 2016 23 Seiten

Orientalistik / Sinologie - Chinesisch / China


Table of contents



1 The Meaning and Core Principles of Harmony

2 Historical Symbols of Harmony
2.1 Confucianism
2.2 Taoism
2.2.1 Wuxing
2.2.2 Yin und Yáng

3 Harmony in Business
3.1 Mianzi
3.2 Guanxi
3.3 Other practices - gifts

4 Hofestede’S cultural dimensions
4.1 Individualism vs. Collecitivism
4.1.1 Task and relationship orientation - avoidance of conflict
4.1.2 Difference between communication with members of a group and outsiders
4.2 Power Distance
4.3 Masculinity/Femininity dimension
4.4 Uncertainty Avoidance
4.4.1 Neutral - Affective
4.4.2 Chinese modesty
4.5 Long term orientation

5 Advantages and Disadvantages of posting foreign professionals and managers
5.1 Advantages of posting foreign professionals/managers
5.2 Advantages of Chinese employees
5.3 Disadvantages of posting foreign professionals/managers
5.4 Disadvantages of Chinese employees

6 Training of Chinese employees

7 Dining etiquettes
7.1 Dress code and business cards
7.2 Seating
7.3 During the dinner
7.4 Drinking and toasting
7.5 Do’s and Don’ts in dining
7.5.1 Do’s
7.5.2 Don’ts




This term paper investigates the impact of the Chinese understanding of harmony in daily and business life. The main objective of the study is to scrutinize the importance of harmony to Chinese people and companies who want to break into the Chinese market and to compare the differences between western countries and the People’s Republic of China. To gather relevant data a literature research (analyse, evaluation and interpretation) was conducted. The outcome shows that China has very different approaches regarding the way of communication. Harmo­ny can be found everywhere in Chinese life and is deeply rooted in people’s mind. The fact that a business is on a good way to take a successful outcome is therefore ensured as long as harmony is maintained. Furthermore, it is essential to give face and respect the other party, while doing business with the counterpart, so that a strong cooperation can be fostered and the business can grow and last. This shows that being aware and possessing knowledge of these differences does not make one a successful intercultural communicator. To put it in a nutshell, it is a long and difficult process to bridge the intercultural gap, but sensibility, awareness and knowledge make it a lot easier.


The Chinese economy had an annual growth rate between 7,5% and 10% during the last fif­teen years. So it becomes and is a market three times bigger than Europe. Especially the re­forms, which turned the communist society into a market economy lead to an higher attrac­tiveness of the Chinese market to foreign investments (Becher, Schlagintweit, p. 6)

Another reason why many companies invest in China is on the one hand the cheap labour and on the other hand the country’s purchasing power. Reisach, Tauber and Yuan explain in their book that foreign companies, if they wanted to sell in China, have to produce at least 50% of their products in China. Consequently, many Joint Ventures were formed. However, by the time, many companies were not profitable enough and went bankrupt. But in most cases (70%) the reason for these failures were not management mistakes. The main problems were cultural differences and the inability to overcome these intercultural obstacles. Thus, the most important aspect, which has to be mastered in daily business life is communication and main­taining harmony (Reisach, Tauber, & Yuan, 2006, p. 292).

The aim of this paper is to analyze the importance of harmony in daily and business life of Chinese. To do so different approaches like the cultural dimensions defined by Geert Hof­stede will be analyzed. Furthennore, an emphasis will be lied on the concept of face. Never­theless, it has to be mentioned that cultural generalizations regarding the Chinese and Western culture are not universal facts, but rather describe tendencies. This means, they may apply to the majority of a culture but not to everybody.

1 The Meaning and Core Principles of Harmony

Once a famous philosopher, namely Xun Zi, who lived in the Warring States Period said, that all things under the will flourish when harmony prevails. This quote highlights pretty well the importance of harmony in the lives of Chinese. Already in ancient China people lived togeth­er in groups and relied on each other. In order to live together peacefully, a strong need to communicate well was needed. Therefore, harmony, which is defined as a situation of peace, happiness and agreement, played a major role in the earlier days. The importance of commu­nication in this context is shown by the believe that total harmony can only be achieved through finding the right balance in communication.

Even today harmony is highly valued in China, because it is the basic principle of nature, hu­manity and society as a whole. Moreover, living in harmony can improve relationships, stabi­lize a nation and help to conduct business successfully (China Human Rights, 2008).

First of all, it has to be said that harmony cannot be generalized. If it is applied to music it might be a pleasant sound we hear, or if we apply it to food it might be a delicious meal. Ac­cording to the Chinese human rights it is about finding the right balance in different situations in order to obtain peace and happiness. Since culture and harmony have been established in China, many things changed. Nowadays people are facing much more possibilities. That is to say, huge open markets, a growing economy and traditional changes. Thus, trouble can be found everywhere and it is more or less hard to avoid it. In China harmony stands above all. Living in harmony means that people can share various kinds of interests and accept different opinions without showing disagreement. This shows that harmony is a concept which ties people but also nations together. However, most important is the harmony between people, especially the family. It is therefore essential to treat each other with respect, above all older people. As harmony is based on loyalty and justice, one should never do anything to others one would not want to experience oneself either. In order to obtain harmony in any situation, feelings like mourning, discomfort and dissatisfaction are not openly expressed (China Human Rights, 2008).

2 Historical Symbols of Harmony

Harmony can be described better when looking at his historical background. There are two main approaches, namely the Confucianism and Taoism. Those two theories obtain different symbols and meaning, that can be referred to harmony.

2.1 Confucianism

Confucius is the most famous philosopher in China. He lived between 551 and 479 before Christ in the Han dynasty. It was him who re-established the old order when the Chinese em­pire was in a chaotic state of feudalism. Although there were many attempts to fight Confu- ciu’s ideas (e. g. Culture Revolution), it still influences the values and attitudes of the Chinese population. His key theory was his view on the concept of harmony. In other words the key idea is to maintain the harmony of the ideal order of human beings (Lin-Huber, 2006, pp. 41­42). Confucianism sees the whole nation as one community, in which everybody has his own position determined by the five unequal relationships (father to son, ruler to subordinate, man to woman, older brother to younger brother and older friend to younger friend). This already shows that there is no equality. One of those person has always more power over the other one (Cultural China, 2005). But through this clearly definition of relationships, struggling over power can be avoided and according to Wickert this concept enabled the Chinese to sta­bilize their nation for more than 2000 years. Even after eruptions such as war, they re­established order and normality at a remarkable speed (Wickert, 1984, p. 214).

Confucius emphasized three different commitments. That is to say the one between husband and wife, parent and child as well as disposer and subject. Between each of them, a harmoni­ous interaction is necessary to live respectfully and peacefully together. So, if these relation­ships should be strengthened universal love and respect for human dignity as well as harmo­nious social relations are essential. “Li”, “Ren” and “Yi” are the three important ideas to achieve harmony, which Confucius developed (Lin-Huber, 2006, pp. 41-42).

“Li” means etiquette and refers to an appropriate behaviour in any given situation. Showing respect towards other members of society, especially the hierarchical higher ones, is mainly important. It is necessary to stick to any given rules, because that is the only possibility to balance harmony. In other words, “li” defines good and bad. It draws up the inequality which is generated by the five relationships. For example, in the criminal law this would mean the following. Li does not reach down to the ordinary people, the punishments do not reach up to the superior people (Lin-Huber, 2006, p. 42).

“Ren” means benevolence or person and refers to the fact that a person should only do to an­other person what it would have done to itself as well. It illustrates the ideal of what a human being should be and encourages others to strive towards it (Lin-Huber, 2006, p. 42).

“Yi” means strength and justice. It should help a person to recognize the difference between bad and good things. It is kind of an internal controller which gives someone the ability to make right judgment about people and situations and to react appropriate (Lin-Huber, 2006, p. 42).

To put it in a nutshell, Confucius teaching had and still has a great influence on the im­portance of harmony. With harmony as the basis of each family, people can create fortune and live among each other in a gentle and peaceful way.

2.2 Taoism

Taoism is a religious and philosophical Chinese tradition. The aim of this approach is to live together in harmony with Tao, which stands for “way” or “principle”. Philosophers describe Tao as the one source and driving force of anything that exists. The logical consequence of this is that a person’s inner spirit is the key to peace and harmony. Another conclusion that can be drawn from this tradition is that a nation can do well without any government or writ­ten rules, because the nature is seen as a constant, reliable source of harmony. The acceptance of this steadily and the the need to develop an inner harmony is therefore much more im­portant (Hyper History).

2.2.1 Wuxing

Wuxing means „five phases“ or „five elements“. It is a traditional philosophy that forms a major part of the Chinese Culture and understanding of harmony. According to the model everything can be separated into the five basic elements (Xing) water, wood, fire, earth and metal. The symbol of earth for instance is representing harmony towards nature. Although they are regarded as independent and dynamic modes, they are interacting between each oth­er. The five elements describe a circulation whereas wood turns into fire, then earth, metal and finally water. The ancient Chinese applied this model to the human body and mind and found out that if the states are in balance, they are in harmony as well. But as there exist many conflicts between the single counterparts, it is hard to maintain harmony at all times. The elements can even destroy each other, as burning wood for instance is turning into ash­es. The word Xing stands for “movement” as well as “changing states of being”. This means that the states will always change ac­cording to changes in society or the human body. As a result, harmony can struggle and regaining the right balance is necessary. The symbols can be applied to many events in life, such as health (e. g. acupuncture), histo­ry or astrology. With them even natural phe­nomena can more easily be explained. The interaction of the different modes IS regarded Figure 1: The Interrelation of พนXing (Wikipedia, 2008) responsible for the universe’s ongoing exist­ence and development (Wenzel & Herwegh, 2014).

Human behaviour is the main key to harmonious interaction between the elements. Whenever a person misbehaves, it causes trouble and disorder towards nature because the five elements are thrown out of harmony. Consequently, weakness and illness can arise inside the human body. Through the right application of wuxing, however, those negative effects can be elimi­nated (Wenzel & Herwegh, 2014).

2.2.2 Yin und Yáng

The symbol of Yin and Yang has not only been used in Taoism. It has already been used be­fore. As in Taoism, Yin and Yang represent the balance of extremes, which signifies harmo­ny. According to the traditional Chinese concept the health, strength and harmony of a person, depends highly upon the balance and harmonious transformation of Yin and Yang inside the person’s body. Yin and yang is the cycle of life, which starts with the rise of the Sนท in the morning. Next, the Sนท goes higher into the sky creating rays of light that point downwards creating shadows. Then the Sนท creates heat, which in turn creates energy and movement. Those Items that were in the dark are now in the light. Later in the day the things that were creating a shadow are now in a shadow. This means the light is heading towards darkness and yang is now becoming yin. Astrological said, the Sนท is replaced with the moon (Holtbriigge & Puck, 2008, p. 31-32).

The white portion of the circle represents yang energy. The darker or black portion of the cir­cle represents yin energy. Both portions are seamless and fit into each other. This fit high­lights that when yang energy is at its fullest yin energy is just beginning and vice versa. With­in each half, there is a small circle of the opposite colors. The meaning of this is that yin gives birth to yang and that yang gives birth to yin. Yin and yang are pairs of opposites. They both need each other to exist (see Figure 2). This can be explained when looking at night becoming day and then becoming night again. Without the counterpart, this process would not be possi­ble. The circle itself signifies Tao - the source of everything (Holtbriigge & Puck, 2008, p. 33-33).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 2: Yin und Yang (Berce, 2013)

An example for the table above would be the following. On a wet rainy day people usually feel tired and want to rest. So, rain has “yin” qualities. On the opposite people tend to feel alive and want to do things on a sunny day, due to the reason of the yang qualities of the Sนท. Additionally, rain might be nice, but many people start to feel depressed when the rain never ends. On the other hand, too much Sนท leads to sun-burn. This means that we have to find a way to bring some yang energy into our life on dark rainy winter days. A possibility to do so might be a hot soup or an indoor activity for pets. But on hot summer days it is important to know when to sit in the shade to take advantage of the yin energy that shade provides. If this concept is transferred to the health sector it can be stated that a sick body means either too much yin or yang energy (Berce, 2013).

3 Harmony in Business

As harmony is now defined, a closer look will be taken at its significance in the Chinese busi­ness world. Over the last few years’ companies decided to enter the Chinese market and opened plants in mainland China. Therefore, it became more and more important to under-

Stand the Chinese culture in order to execute business successfully. Cross-cultural misunder­standings can only be avoided by applying the knowledge about another culture correctly. Especially harmony, as an important part of a Chinese’s life, should be obtained in all situa­tions. Thus, paying attention to the following points is crucial for managers (Irwin, 2012, pp. 4-5).

3.1 Mianzi

Mianzi is a concept which is mainly based on harmony. It refers to the concept of face, that is defined as pride or self-respect and preservation of the self-respect of others. Particularly in business life it is related to prestige and one’s position in hierarchy. For example, direct disa­greement or confrontation with someone such as a colleague or a person in a position of au­thority, may cause them to lose mianzi and because of that it is usually avoided. As a conse­quence, opinions can be difficult, but that does not mean impossible, to gather from employ­ees because any proposal for improvement could cause their superior to “lose face” by sug­gesting that they are in some way deficient (Llamazares, 2011). Reflecting the Confucian val­ues of loyalty to one’s group, respect for superiors in a hierarchy, and avoiding loss of “face”, the willingness of Chinese to speak up or “blow the whistle” on fellow employees, if they become aware of unethical practices is very low. However, successful Chinese found a way that can overcome this problem. You just have to take care to solicit opinions up and down the hierarchy before you have spoken out your own views. By praising an outranked in front of a higher ranking person face IS given and loyalty is ensured. This concept just works, with­in a group of people who know each other. With regards to foreigners it can be observed, that giving or losing face does not exist (Seligman, 1999, pp. 209-211).

3.2 Guanxi

Guanxi is another concept, which has a heavily influence in business life. To be more precise it is a system of relationships, personal connections, contacts and networks. It can be consid­ered as a form of “social capital”. You cannot acquire it by exchanging business cards or hav­ing a single meal together. It is rather formed over time and is based on trust and reciprocity. For instance, for a Chinese employee it is common to take his contacts with him, when he switches his job. This shows that the guanxi is with the individual and not the company. So trading competitive information among one’s guanxi network may, in some cases, also be considered and acceptable practice (Irwin, 20127p. 5)· Particularly in rural areas the individu­al defines itself through relations and not his individual character. In such areas many unoffi­cial networks can be found, which help their members concerning job and flat-hunting, health care and the search for goods or other contacts. Foreign companies should not forget about this concept, because guanxi is relevant for them concerning recruitment, sales and purchas­ing decisions and the handling of public authorities (Holtbriigge & Puck, 2008, p. 30).

3.3 Other practices - gifts

There are also other practices such as gift giving and token cash gifts (in red envelopes) at special occasions like the birth of a child. Also invitations to family events are still prevalent in today’s business environment. Exchanging little presents at the beginning of a business negotiation is quite common in China. Hereby it has to be kept in mind, that extremely expen­sive presents should not be given, because this can result into losing face, if the presentee cannot afford to give something of similar value back. This kind of practice serves the im- portant function of giving face or honouring a potential business partner. Companies, who have strict policies on gits and hospitality may find it difficult to uphold these presents (Irwin, 2012, p. 5). But I think, that they may need to take account of acceptable local practices, where they do not actually challenge any of their core business principles.

The Chinese etiquettes require that presents are committed with both hands. The gift is con­sidered as an extension of the person and handing it over with both hands is a sign of respect. Receiving a gift, should also be done with both hands. It ma also have to be offered multiple times, especially when it is an expensive present. Most Chinese do not expect and accept ex­pensive presents, due to the fact that those are generally connected with a purpose and oblige them to a counter performance. For example, a Chinese got from a friend of her, living in Germany, a flight ticket, so that she can spend her holidays in Germany. But she hesitated to accept the gift because she was afraid, that her friend might ask her in the future a big favour (Lin-Huber, 2006, p. 158).

At the beginning of a meeting and a ceremony it is expected that a single group gift from the organisation is given to the most senior member of the delegation. In China people want to create a friendly and warm-hearted atmosphere through gift giving. If multiple gifts are given then the value and hierarchy have to be considered, otherwise the Chinese business partners will be offended and in the worst case one of the delegates will lose face. As already men­tioned too expensive ones should be avoided as well as any connotations of bribery. Concern­ing the gift-wrapping the colours have to be considered. Red, pink and gold are okay but black, blue or white should never be used. Red is the color for life, good fortune wealth and China, gold means fortune and wealth, while black and blue stand for evil, disaster, bad for­tune and winter. White is also not a good colour to choose because it signifies mourning (Deacon, 2014).

If a greeting card or a gift tag is included writing in red ink should be avoided, because it sig­nifies death. So writing a Chinese person’s name in red ink is considered as bad luck. Also green hats should be avoided, because it refers to the Chinese phrase “Dai Lu Mao”, which means a man’s wife is cheating on him. Gifts in sets of four are something other which should be avoided because the number four sounds in Chinese like “Si” and means death. Knifes and Scissors are also not a good idea. They symbolize breaking a relationship. Contrary to the sets of 4, pairs of 8 can be given (eight sounds like wealth). Other nice gifts are engraved pens (recipient can use it time and time again) and local snacks (a food gift from the area is a per­fect first-time gift). Cigarettes and Alcohol are in China a popular and well-received gift by most businessmen. In case if they do not drink or smoke they have the possibility to re-gift it to someone who does (Seligman, 1999, pp. 172-174).

4 Hofestede’S cultural dimensions

Hofestede’s cultural dimensions provide a useful framework for understanding the character­istics of Chinese culture.

4.1 Individualism vs. Collecitivism

In contrast to the western world the individualism in China is relatively low. This means, Chinese show collectivistic tendencies within their group, but individual needs are subordi­nated to their group aims (Wenzhong, Grove, & Enping, 2010, p. 5). Applied to communica­tion, one would more refer to “We” instead of “I”, which would be the individual approach. Decisions would rarely be made alone but discussed in the group, which is expected in more individualistic countries (e. g. Germany, Austria). As decisions are not made alone, individu­als inside a group will not receive any recognition concerning their achievements. Because individual needs are subordinated, collectivism is a method of maintaining harmony, the key element of Confucianism. Being part of a group in China, means also that the group members take care of each other. But only in exchange for loyalty (Reisach et ah, 2006, p. 319). Hiring and promotions in the work place are often affected by in-group considerations. This means, that closer in-groups, like family or anyone to whom one has a guanxi-related obligation get preferential treatment. This leads to the consequence, that nepotism is a common and not sur­prising practice in this cultural environment (Holtbriigge & Puck, 2008, pp. 39-40).

4.1.1 Task and relationship orientation - avoidance of conflict

Due to Confucianism maintaining harmony is the main aim of communication. Therefore, communication is rather relationship oriented than task oriented. Unlike the western coun­tries, tending to be rather individualistic, the transfer of information is subordinated. The con­sequence is a conflict avoiding behaviour which is rarely encountered in individualistic cul­tures, where people are expected to cope with conflicts (Reisach et ah, 2006, p. 318). A very efficient approach in avoiding conflicts in Chinese culture is silence. The reason for this han­dling is that saying less will reduce sources of provocation and therefore disagreement. This behaviour is part of the Chinese good manners and can be found in several sayings (e. g. “A good child has ears and no mouth” or “Too much talking leads to frustration, too much food to problems with your digestion”). In contrast to that, people from the west tend to feel un­comfortable when they find themselves in silent situations. This is mainly due the low context culture, which needs more words to communicate (Lin-Huber, 2006, p. 45).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
816 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Liechtenstein, früher Hochschule Liechtenstein
Ying und Yang China Business Behaviour intercultural competence

Titel: The Meaning of Harmony in China and its Importance in Business Life