From Guanxi to Global Marketing: What I Learned in China

by Cheryl Carr on June 10, 2010

By Katie Essner

This is a two-part blog reflecting on a trip to Shanghai, Xi’an and Beijing, China, with St. Bonaventure’s integrated marketing communications and business administration graduate students.

International marketing is not a subject I am well educated in, so to get my first glimpse of it in China was a learning experience beyond anything I could have imagined. To be exposed to the Chinese world of business and marketing was an incredible experience, and one I will never forget. During my two-week visit with St. Bonaventure University, I learned the importance of respecting other cultures and understanding foreign business etiquette.

Moog in Shanghai

One of the most important lessons I took away from this trip was the value of listening, understanding and not judging others.  China is a country that is very easy to judge. Their lives and traditions are very different from ours, and it is so much easier to judge them as “weird” and “bizarre” instead of actually trying to understand them. This is a country with traditions and countless years of history that cannot be compared to the U.S. China is bold and stands firm in who they are and where they came from.

Another valuable lesson I learned while in China was the significance of relationships in business, referred to as guanxi (pronounced GUAN-SHEE), or the art of relationship development.  To the Chinese, relationships are very important.  Getting to know someone on a personal level first before conducting or talking about business is common. They see relationships as a way to build trust, and the longer a relationship, the more trust you have in an individual or business. To the Chinese, business deals should be mutually beneficial, so having a strong relationship will help this happen.

Before doing business in China or any other country, it’s important to understand their business etiquette. For example, to Americans, something as simple as handing over a business card is taken much more seriously in China.  When giving or accepting business cards or gifts, two hands must always be used. Even little things like this can cost someone a business deal. An individual who disrespects this tradition may even be told to never to come back to a business.

The Great Wall

Unlike our culture, the Chinese do not believe working 24/7 will bring prosperity to a company or individual.  Instead, China accepts that in business there are patterns and cycles that if followed can lead to more success.  John Chen from Prometric, a global provider of compressive testing and assessment services, summed up the business cycle by saying, “Sometimes you rest and sometimes you run.” This way of thinking flows very well with the Chinese culture and way of life, and is a philosophy I think could be very beneficial.

In my next blog I’ll talk about where I’ll talk about how China markets itself to the world.


josmosis6 June 10, 2010 at 3:39 pm

Great, great blog, Katie!

Your analysis and summary of China’s perspective on business mixed with tradition is spot-on and very insightful. Having lived in Beijing for five months myself, I’m glad you were able to take away so much in just two weeks. Thanks for sharing and let’s hope your experiences rub off on others who perceive such an amazing culture as simply bizarre or weird.

Looking forward to part two.

– Josh

Katie Essner June 11, 2010 at 9:08 am

Thanks for the comment Josh! I can’t imagine living in Beijing for five months. That must have been an amazing experience. Do you speak Mandarin?