Confucius, China"s greatest sage established a system of ethics, morals, hierarchy and behavior, setting the rules for people dealing with other people, and establishing each person"s proper place in society.
"Returning to the time of Confucius aids in understanding the culture and etiquette of modern China." from WomenAsia.com
Key Concepts in Understanding Chinese Culture
Guanxi: Throughout much of Chinese history, the fundamental glue that has held society together is the concept of guanxi, relationships between people. Today this means who you know and what these people believe their obligations are to you.
With a good network of contacts in China, almost anything can be accomplished. Guanxi is how things get done. The power of guanxi is one of the reasons given for why China does not have a reliable legal system.
Reciprocity: This refers to the exchanging of favors between individuals and groups. People will presume upon those with whom they have guanxi, and understand the need for returning favors.
Mianzi: Face - Losing face, saving face and giving face is very important and should be taken into consideration at all times. Loosing your temper, confronting someone, putting someone on the spot, arrogant behavior, or failing to accord proper respect can cause a loss of face
Lijie and surface harmony: Originally li meant to sacrifice, but today it is translated as the art of being polite and courteous. Proper etiquette preserves harmony and face. Therefore, the true emotions of a person do not matter as long as surface harmony is maintained.
For example, a public argument, or a boss reprimanding a staff member in front of others would disturb surface harmony and cause a loss of face. This is why the Chinese often use an intermediary to deliver bad news or unpleasant messages.
Keqi: Ke means guest and qi means behavior. It not only means considerate, polite, and well mannered, but also represents humbleness and modesty. It is impolite to be arrogant and brag about oneself or one"s inner circle. The expression is most often used in the negative, as in buyao keqi, meaning "you shouldn"t be so kind and polite to me," or "you"re welcome."
Inner and outer circles: The rules of behavior set forth by Confucius apply to one"s inner circle, i.e. family, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. They do not, as a rule, apply to people outside the circle, i.e. strangers. It is not considered rude to bump into someone without offering an apology.
The Western concept of being kind to strangers seems strange to the Chinese. This also explains why there is no strong concept of philanthropy in China.