The Hollow Thing Men Live by: Concept of Face in Sino-Finnish Business Relations

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School of Business | Master's thesis
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Degree programme
Management and International Business (MIB)
Objectives This explorative study reconciles current Sino-Finnish business relations with the elusive concept of face, identifying how the concept and its dynamics – such as losing, saving and giving face – are perceived by Finnish and Chinese businesspersons. It first gauges current perspectives on Sino-Finnish business relations and then elaborates on the meaning and relevance of the concept of face in that context. The study identifies various dynamics of face and how to prioritize between them. This data is used to compile managerial implications to aid primarily Finnish businesspersons in dealing with an innately Chinese concept. Methodology and Theoretical Framework The cultural approach of this study first weighs etic and emic perspectives. Choosing to favor an emic approach, it sets out to interpret the concept and dynamics of face in Sino-Finnish business relations based on insider accounts, using Chinese terminology and theory. The data is based on ten thematic, qualitative, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews of Chinese and Finnish businessper-sons in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Helsinki. The theoretical framework synthesizes Vihakara’s (2006) model for comparing Finnish and Chinese managers, Worm’s (1997) categorization of Nor-dic and Chinese cultures along multiple dimensions, and Bond & Hwang’s (1986) model of face be-havior with six popular face practices. Main Findings This study has corroborated the selected prior theories, re-categorizing face practices and adding a dimension of prioritization. It has further reconfirmed that Finns have a strong starting point for doing business in China based on national and cultural characteristics, and that investing in rela-tionships, promoting harmony, and being humble and flexible are essential to success in China. The Chinese perceive face as a positive attribute of respect, recognition and integrity that is most relevant in front of one’s inner circles, while Finns are rather negatively worried about breaking it. The study shows that face is inextricably linked to doing business and the ability to deal with the intricacies of face can be a source of competitive advantage. Confucian harmony is important, thus placing prior-ity on shielding others from loss of face, even to the extent of sacrificing one’s own face instead. Giving face to others is usually cost-effective and can even lead to gaining some for oneself. Trying to recover lost face by giving or gaining face, however, is a long and arduous undertaking. Sociody-namic changes are modifying the relevance of face, which is diminishing as younger, more urban and international generations take over.
Thesis advisor
Vuorenmaa, Hertta
face, Mianzi, cross-cultural management, international business, emic, China, Finland, lian
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