What Sincerity Means in China

In China, as in everywhere else in the world, a relationship personal or business depends in part on sincerity: without it, trust, in another person or business, can be misplaced or abused with serious consequences.

Problems can arise in cross-cultural relationships even when both parties are aware of the importance of their sincerity. Friction and frustration between parties could occur for the simple reason that each culture’s understanding of sincerity differs in fundamental ways.

The Chinese expression, budan xin (pronounced: buu-dahn sheen)  means: “sincerity” which includes the desire to have “budan xin” in their relations with foreign business contacts.

And, who wouldn’t want that feeling of trust; that what was said was honest, and well-intentioned. In China, however, when the person is sincere it means something in addition to how we understand it. Here it is.

The words, “budan xin” is understood to mean “sincerity plus understanding.” In other words, the Chinese expect foreigners to also understand their particular circumstances or positions as they are right now and to accept it.

For example, if a certain task was to be finished by a certain date and isn’t, the reason given could be that an unexpected event just came up. The Chinese would expect that you understand this completely and without question.

When doing business in China, westerners need to keep this in mind and be prepared to show some degree of flexibility with expectations and behaviours. This puts an entirely different spin on the idea of sincerity as we know it.