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The face value of Chinese New Year


From a western perspective to ‘take something on face value’ generally means that we consider what we see to be true. In China however, the value of giving or receiving ‘face’ has quite a different connotation, its about being given the opportunity, or creating an opportunity to look good in front of others. Chinese New Year is, as you will have read elsewhere in this issue, at time to gain face in front of one’s friends and family.

Returning to one’s home town means meeting those you may not have seen for a year, and you must look good, and visibly demonstrate success in your clothing, your ability to pay for dinners, and even the car you arrive in. If you look successful and talk as though you are, everyone will be impressed no matter what the reality of your situation is.

Business success in China is also an important face value, and particularly if you come from one city but own a successful business in another elsewhere in China it is regarded as more difficult to achieve than doing it in your own back yard. For this reason, many business owners live in the city in which their business is based and only return to their hometown during CNY to see their family and friends. When living where their business is based, they will have their luxury car and a nice apartment as might be expected, and in the past, they may well have had another luxury vehicle parked at their residence in their home town.

During January this year, a new service has evolved for business owners like this that may well become a trend. It appears that cost savings have been necessary and owning a car that is parked in the hometown but not used for much of the year is now less acceptable, and not cost effective. So there are now companies that will transport a businessman’s luxury car from his work location to his hometown just for the CNY period and then transport it back again.

Perhaps from a non-Chinese perspective this idea is illogical. The cost is approximately 4,000 to 7,000 RMB each way, and of course given the physical size of China, the time to transport a vehicle could be three to five days. On top of this, there is a return airfare during peak travel times, and a period when the car is not available to its owner. However, in the Chinese mind, the face value far outweighs the monetary cost.

To arrive to see my family and friends in a luxury car with out of town plates clearly demonstrates that my business elsewhere in the country is going well, and makes a personal statement about me. Western logic may well suggest renting a car for the week for a fraction of the cost of the shipment, but this would deliver a negative message to those who saw me driving it. ‘He can’t be doing well, look at the little car he’s driving’.

So perhaps we will see a growth in vehicle shipping companies in years to come as they satisfy the need for face value.


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