The Lunar New Year is indisputably the most important 15 days of the calender for the Chinese and family members will travel from all across the globe to gather for a reunion dinner and meet up with loved ones.

Since being a kid, I’ve always looked forward to this day for it means that everyone is returning to our village with firecrackers, fireworks and sparklers all in abundance. (For a child growing up in a city where chewing gum is a sin, that’s certainly a feat!)

This year is the first time I’m celebrating CNY since I started work and the occasion has certainly taken on a different meaning. Especially significant to the overseas Chinese based in ASEAN is the Seventh Day of CNY – Ren Ri.


7th Day [Everyone’s Birthday]

Renri literally translates to “Everyone’s Birthday”, and is considered one of the most auspicious and joyful days. It is believed that all humans grow a year older on this day – so it is certainly something that is celebrated between friends or business partners. Renri just passed last weekend, and it was a mad hatter rush in preparing business dinners and running between restaurants.

Building business relationships among Chinese, or guan xi, takes in mind seven Confucian principles; Loyalty, Filial Piety, Humanity, Love, Courtesy, Righteousness,  Integrity, Sense of Shame. Modern Chinese seem to place a significant emphasis on sense of shame – and this is especially so when it comes to ordering food!


TIP: Never (and this especially applies in Mainland) clean off your plate when you dine with the Chinese – for it signifies your host is not providing you with an “abundance” of food, and a clean plate is actually an indirect insult!


The term guan xi has certainly been brought to a different level with the rise of China and thereby the widespread adoption/ recognition of Chinese culture. Despite being brought up through this system, I have to admit there’s still much left to learn about the way of conducting oneself – and understanding why profits and quality are not the sole deciding factors in securing a business deal in this part of the world, for instance.

Every year on Ren Ri, my dad embarks on a loongggggg lecture on Yin Shui Si Yuan (knowing your roots) – basically his grumble about us yellow-skinned children being so westernized they can barely write a string of Han characters.

So much for a Birthday present!  But as I take infant steps into the working society amid the century’s worst economic crisis, I begin to understand and appreciate these nagging sessions not to mention the  old war stories repeated every year by various uncles & aunties.

So, if there’s any substantial advice I can offer expats just starting out on their journey here, it will be this:

To reach out to the local Chinese audience, it will be helpful nonetheless to set aside an annual dinner on Ren Ri (or any other day of the lunar month) with a consistent group of friends or business associates.

Because building business relationships in Asia, is more about trust, sincerity and loyalty, and less about where you come from.