Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Getting started with Chinese business culture essentials
Getting started with Chinese business culture essentials

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

4 The importance of family

Although family is important in every society, it is particularly so in Chinese culture. The concept of family includes extended families, no matter how distant the relation is. If someone is a relative (亲戚 qīnqi) it means you can rely on this person for help far more than an outsider.

The complexity of Chinese kinship terms on the one hand reflects the different roles each person in the family is supposed to play, and on the other hand reinforces the importance of family. For example, the English word ‘cousin’ has eight Chinese equivalents depending on gender, age, and side of the family (paternal/maternal).

Look at Table 1, which sets out some of the Chinese words and phrases for family members.

Table 1 Chinese words and phrases for family members
Paternal side Maternal side
堂哥 táng gē

older, male, father’s brothers’ sons

表哥 biǎo gē

older, male, mother’s siblings’ sons or father’s sisters’ sons

堂弟 táng dì

younger, male, father’s brothers’ sons

表弟 biǎo dì

younger, male, mother’s siblings’ sons or father’s sisters’ sons

堂姐 táng jiě

older, female, father’s brothers’ daughters

表姐 biǎo jiě

older, female, mother’s siblings’ or father’s sisters’ daughters

堂妹 táng mèi

younger, female, father’s brothers’ daughters

表妹 biǎo mèi

younger, female, mother’s siblings’ or father’s sisters’ daughters

Note: Traditionally, children always take their father’s surname. So, the rule is that all the cousins who share the same family name have the ‘táng’ prefix, and those that have different family names have the ‘biǎo’ prefix.

Activity 4

Part 1

Study Table 1 then try to answer the following question.

  1. Who should the most important person (or people) be in the traditional Chinese family?
  2. Traditionally, if a Chinese person had eight cousins as described in the table above, who would be the most important one and why?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


  1. The traditional Chinese family structure gave ultimate power to the oldest male in the family, whilst children had no or little say in family matters, even important ones such as who they wanted to marry.
  2. If a Chinese person had eight cousins, the importance of them in the family would be: eldest male on the father’s side, followed by the younger male on the father’s side, then eldest male on the mother’s side. This is because of China’s ancestor worship, which is all about carrying on the family line.

Part 2

The family is the building block of Chinese society. This has a significant impact on the Chinese economy and therefore on doing business in China.

The success story of KFC in China can tell us a lot about this impact. Carry out an online search on the KFC case study to find out why KFC was successful in breaking into the Chinese market and how this success was related to the importance of family.


When breaking into the Chinese market, KFC was mindful of the different eating patterns between Chinese and US customers. The Chinese people studied tended to eat together in families or groups. The Americans, on the other hand, were often lone diners. KFC represented this cultural difference in the physical settings of the Chinese restaurants: larger tables, more floor space; the atmosphere better suited to families. Similarly, they provided giant tubs so that people could share large order options for multiple individuals, and made a special effort to welcome extended families and groups.