Guanxi & Face: How to Have A Successful Internship In Shanghai

by Brian Brinkman
Friends at dinner in China

Building cross-cultural bonds through socializing.

Chances are, since you’ve sought out an international internship in Shanghai, you are well aware that you’re about to spend a significant amount of time in a completely different culture. This is, in large part, probably why you have pursued this life-changing event. What you may not be aware of, however, are the two concepts within Chinese business-culture that will ultimately determine your success or failure in your internship in Shanghai: guanxi and face. 

Guanxi

Pronounced as “gwan-shee”, is a critical aspect of Chinese business, and essentially boils down to the relationship of partners and companies working towards their own individual and shared goals. Similar in many ways to the idea of networking in the West, Guanxi focuses more on lasting relationships developed both inside and outside of the office. 

In Shanghai, dinners, drinks, and tea sessions are viewed as not simply a perk of working with clients, but a critical tool to business success. Developed out of necessity because of the historical lack of support for independent business by the Chinese government, Guanxi reflects the Chinese business-world’s desire to help each other, knowing these lasting relationships will ultimately help their own businesses in return. 

Guanxi is initiated by organizational leaders and are relationships are fostered over time.  Similar to friendships, Guanxi trickles down throughout a business to be observed and respected during any interaction.

Friends at a party in Korea

In Korea, building Jeong is similar to establishing Guanxi in China.

For interns, Guanxi is a concept to be understood rather than overtly acted upon. Seeing as most internships in China last for only a short amount of time, Guanxi will most likely not directly impact your internship in Shanghai. However, it is important to understand its implication in Chinese business culture, and to respect it while you are interning in Shanghai. For interns hoping to turn their internship into a more permanent job, the concept of Guanxi should be studied so they may be successful throughout their career in China. 

Face

Related to Guanxi is a similar concept called “face.” Saving face, maintaining face, and presenting your best face is one that resonates all across East Asia. To best understand this idea, think of face as your reputation and the proof that you are worth doing business with regularly. Face, like Guanxi, must be developed over time. 

Once attained, however, the benefits are seen in the ease with which businesses who share Guanxi do regular business together, and even lend each other money. More important perhaps, is the fact that businesses that share Guanxi do not take advantage of each other. If they do, they risk losing their face and risk their network of Guanxi discovering their faux pas and abandoning them.
 
If lost, face and Guanxi are incredibly difficult to reestablish. 

As someone who has spent a number of years living and working in East Asia, these concepts of business and relationship building ring true. For me, the only way to secure trust with my co-workers and superiors was to adapt to the cultural norms of the environment around me.

In South Korea, the concept of Jeong is similar in many ways to China’s Guanxi. There, a shared personal connection can lead to business success, while a lack of understanding can lead to a fractured relationship.









Global Experiences International Interns in Shanghai, China

Global Experiences' Interns in Shanghai.

Without an understanding of these core concepts to the Chinese business culture, an outsider will forever remain outside.

Any prospective international intern can use Guanxi to his or her advantage in Shanghai by respecting cultural norms and seeking out lasting relationships in your company. Trust, friendship, listening, and learning are critical to business success in Shanghai, and all throughout China. By maintaining face and working to build Guanxi with your employers and co-workers, an internship in Shanghai will grant far more than just skills that boost your resume. Who knows, maybe by adapting to these cultural norms, this internship abroad in Shanghai could be the launch pad to a substantial career in China.