Taiwan – the importance of “guanxi”
Taiwan is an island state in East Asia. Its formal name is the Republic of China and should not be confused with the People’s Republic of China, which is China proper. Taiwan is bordered by China, Japan and the Philippines. The seat of government is Taipei, and New Taipei City, which encompasses the metropolitan area surrounding Taipei, is the most populous city with around 3.9 million people. Mandarin is the official national language.
Taiwan’s former name of Formosa dates from 1544 when Portuguese sailors sighted the island and named it Ilha Formosa, which means “beautiful island”. It was still in common use until the middle of the 20th century.
Although still important as both an export earner and a domestic food source, agriculture is no longer as vital as it used to be in the Taiwan economy. High production costs and low return have driven much of the agricultural work force away to industry; betel nuts have become Taiwan’s second most valuable cash crop after rice.
The Chinese traditionally have 3 names: the surname or family name is first, followed by one or two personal names. Chinese women do not change their names when they marry other Chinese and the children’s last name will generally follow that of the father. Often their personal names have a poetic or otherwise significant meaning so asking about the meaning is a good way to break the ice.
Most Taiwanese business is conducted among friends, friends of friends, and family. Such connections, or “guanxi” (pronounced gwan-she) are developed with people at your own level or of a higher status in both business and social situations. “Guanxi” opens doors, smoothes out problems, and leads to even more connections.
Business cards are exchanged after the initial introductions. Have one side of your business card translated into Chinese using the traditional script, not the simplified script as used in China. Examine a business card carefully and treat it with respect – the way you handle someone’s card is indicative of the value you place on the relationship. Never write on someone’s card in their presence.
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