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FACE, what is it?


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#1 Liang Jieming

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Posted 02 May 2006 - 12:48 AM

FACE, what is it?
(Giving Face, Not Giving Face, Losing Face, Saving Face)

PART 1

Face is the desire to not appear weak or to look bad in the eyes of
others. Face is all about the other people viewing you and not about
the person. If you are the only person around, there is no need for
Face. This is different from Pride. With Pride, when you are alone
in the office, you will still sit straight, look proper and do your
best work. With Face, it is different. With Face, when you are alone
in the office, you will probably slouch, put your leg on the chair and
be lazy... but when another person walks into the room, Face kicks in
and immediately you sit straight and try to look like you have been
good all along.

Face is also a matter of degree. The position of the person viewing
you is important in Face. Not so much the person's status in society
but rather your own rating of the person's status. If you don't
believe that the person is very important to you (career-wise,
love-wise etc) then you don't bother with Face. But if you believe
the person is very important to you, you will "put your best face
forward" so to speak. The degree of Face put forward is directly
proportional to the degree in which the other person is assessed.
Naturally you'll see this in the difference between how a person
treats his boss/client/peer compared to how he treats his
housekeeper/maid.

Face can be lost when you appear weaker or less competent in front of
a person you respect or are in competition with. Conversely, face can
be gained when you are seen to be good and "superior" in what you are
doing and hence rise a notch in the eyes of the other.

So how do you save face? Saving face is a gift by others to you. If
you are about to lose face by appearing stupid of incapable in front
of someone you need to impress, I may (provided I am in a position to
help) help you save face by, taking the humiliation onto myself,
divert attention elsewhere, propose a compromise solution that isn't
as humiliating etc.

Of course like all things, Face can be taken to extremes. One might
go to great lengths just to avoid looking bad, or one might decide
that he/she must look good to just about everyone, or one might
develop a superior attitude towards everyone else and hence needs to
maintain his/her face all the time. But whatever it is, I believe
Face developed from the need to establish a social order. With a
large population there comes a need to determine your level in society
as well as a method of being cordial to one another. This is very
much in opposite to the concept of Individualism where I do what I do,
I believe what I believe and heck with what people think. This kind
of attitude might have existed once in China but it would have given
way to compromise solutions like Face when the population pressures
grew. (Actually you see a form of Face in India too.)

Face is complicated and this is just a brief overview of what I think
is Face. Face applies differently for different people. (see this
disclaimer is also about Face. I need it to save Face in case someone
proves me wrong). Face in it's best form is about doing things to the
best of your abilities... Face in it's worst is about pretending to be
better than you really are because of false pride.

---------------------------------
PART 2

Ok, two more concepts on Face.

Giving and Not Giving Face. Can Face be given or withheld? Of course
it can. Take for example my disclaimer above. I made a
disclaimer to Save Face for myself. However, it is still up to you
whether you wish to Give or Not Give Face. You can Give me Face by
politely agreeing even if you don't agree with what I said or Not Give
me Face by critically commenting on how wrong I am. Friends honor each
other by giving Face. For example, when invited to a dinner party, I
might Give Face to my friend and attend his party despite a prior
engagement because I value the friendship. The more difficult it is to
attend because of prior engagements, the more Face I give. If I had to
climb mountains, swim oceans and cross deserts to attend I would be
paying my friend the greatest of compliments.

This is the least understood part of Face I think. Often you see
subordinates helping their Bosses Save Face in front of others so that
others will not look down on their Bosses. This can take the form of
making the Boss look good or shielding the boss from criticism. Then
the guest would Give Face by taking one of the offered ways of Saving
Face and hence allow the Boss to be "Da BOSS".

So how do you Not Give Face? Basically if you really don't like the
person, or you intend to destroy the person's reputation, or sometimes
as a joke among friends (friendly ribbing), you can proceed to Not
Give Face to a person. This would be a blatant, sarcastic, blunt and
verbal open attack on the person's work, character etc. A common
phrase you will hear when this happens is when a 3rd person steps in
and says, "Eh, give him/her some face." This really means, "You've
gone a bit too far, let him/her retain what's left of his/her dignity
or reputation and stop your critism/attack." Not Giving Face can also be
a simple snub. Taking the same example of a dinner party invite, I could
snub the host and Not Give Face by declining. The snub is made worse
when the reasons for declining are small or non-existant.

Obviously Face is a compromise type of solution to a meeting of two
people. The English have something similar in their "Gentlemanly
Conduct". It allows for foes to meet in the middle ground. You can
compete with a person but you must be careful to maintain his Face.
If you damage his Face, you had better be prepared to go all the way
because you would have "pulled off the gloves" and he would have no
recourse but to attack you to Save Face in front of others. This
incidently is one reason why the Japanese Samurai perform Hara-kiri
when they lose in battle. They cannot stand the humiliation of
defeat, ie. they lose so much Face that they believe they can no
longer salvage their reputations and death becomes preferable.

Jieming
_______________

#2 Chen Chun

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Posted 02 May 2006 - 02:47 AM

Face is an evil word. I wish there wasn't such a thing. I would be much happier. I don't have to save face for my parents all the time. Yes, I would be a much happier black sheep.

#3 Liang Jieming

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Posted 02 May 2006 - 03:24 AM

Face forces us to deal with and interact with the people around us in as non-abrasive a manner as possible. It is what makes it possible for so close a social community to work without tearing apart. Part of the reason why the Chinese never felt as great a pressure to space themselves out all over the world into the more "empty" lands.

#4 fcharton

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Posted 02 May 2006 - 04:00 AM

Face forces us to deal with and interact with the people around us in as non-abrasive a manner as possible. It is what makes it possible for so close a social community to work without tearing apart. Part of the reason why the Chinese never felt as great a pressure to space themselves out all over the world into the more "empty" lands.


As you observe, I think a similar concept is present, although less developped, in European societies. In a conflictual situation, one is often supposed not to use all ends to achieve his means (which is why Machiavelli sounds so ... machiavelic, to us), but leave some room for the opponent to get out of the situation correctly. The idea of loyalty, which result from past "given face" is also present.

However, I had a question about face. The harshest and meanest fights I have witnessed often happened in China. For instance, in the US, which is often depicted as a "violent society", when two people fight, once one is down, the other has won and steps out of the fight. In China, I have often seen the contrary : finishing off someone who is down, sometimes quite cruelly. And this does not seem to be a modern phenomenon, histories are replete with extremely cruel stories (remember the handless, earless and eyeless concubine of Han Gaodi?)

Could this be a specific side effect of face (which might pertain to both china and japan, btw), that is, face prevents unnecessary fights from happening, but if it happens, then hell breaks loose, and no restraint is shown?

Francois

#5 Liang Jieming

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Posted 02 May 2006 - 04:28 AM

Could this be a specific side effect of face (which might pertain to both china and japan, btw), that is, face prevents unnecessary fights from happening, but if it happens, then hell breaks loose, and no restraint is shown?

Francois

Unfortunately, Yes.

#6 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 06 May 2006 - 05:12 AM

Face is indeed a typical chinese culture associated with the chinese people. In chinese, there are two terms associated with it.


The first is called "Mian Zi 面子" (literally translated as "facial side"). The chinese concept of Mianzi (face) has alot to do with one's reputation or dignity. A key characteristics is that Mianzi was 'given to' you from another person, for e.g. 他给我面子 Ta Gei Wo Mian Zi (He gives me face). "Mianzi" is thus not owned by you, but given to you by another person. If you have been disgraced by someone else, it's called "真是没有面子! Zhen Shi Mei You Mian Zi" (I have been disgraced).

The second term is called "Diou lian 丢脸" (literally means "throw away or lose face"). It means 'shameful'. Unlike Mianzi (face), 'Lian 脸' belongs to you, and when you do something shameful, it is equivalent to "Diou lian 丢脸" (lose face). Compared to Mianzi, 'Diou Lian' is much more disgraceful as it concerns your own dignity and reputation, in that you lose your inner-self (your own face).
Posted ImagePosted Image

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#7 Wujiang

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Posted 06 May 2006 - 05:23 AM

It's that thing on the front of your head.

It includes (normally) the following incredient

forehead x 1
eyes x 2
eyebrow x 2
nose x 1
cheeks x 2
upper lip x 1
lower lip x 1
chin x 1
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#8 yongzheng freak

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Posted 07 May 2006 - 09:31 AM

Erm...respect given by others? Therefore more valuable and priced by the one who is given it....Well, at least, that's how i see it.
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#9 Elisha

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Posted 07 May 2006 - 12:17 PM

I think face is another word of tact and is reciprocal in nature.

Perhaps more prevalent in Asian and European countries - more like the niceties of society. It is more a outward behaviour determined by possible perceived reception(from the other party) rather than an expression of one's true thoughts. They can be the same; but often, they vary in slight degrees. Of course, if they become totally opposite then it's called 'hypocritical'.

I think it takes a close relationship to be very upfront and honest and to the point.

In terms of friends and acquaintences, it depends on the personalities of the other person and one's own as well. It also depends on how well one reads people. For example, if the other person is the 'sensitive' kind - give lots of face.

But like I said, giving face is important and makes sense when there's a difference of opinion (or there'll be nothing to give face for). A rebuke/criticism can be done in various manners in the light of "giving face". One is implied in the language used (can be ironic or analogous - not exactly direct but direct enough to get the point) Another way is to have a witty 'observation' - one that can sting, but taken note of, and laughed off at the same time.

Eg. (I'm still in residual Singapore elections fever) Quoting the Mr Low Thia Khiang, "SM Goh said he has earmarked $100 million for Hougang. I'm now asking him to allocate that $100 million to upgrade the flats in Hougang, and the lifts to stop on every floor. Yes, Hougang is ageing, we need the upgrading. And I tell SM Goh, if he doesn't keep his promise, I will ask him for the money every time I see him and remind him of his broken promise to the residents of Hougang." :D

Edited by Elisha, 07 May 2006 - 12:19 PM.


#10 Liang Jieming

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Posted 22 May 2006 - 02:26 AM

Could this be a specific side effect of face (which might pertain to both china and japan, btw), that is, face prevents unnecessary fights from happening, but if it happens, then hell breaks loose, and no restraint is shown?

Francois

Also explains why asians don't have a "lawsuit" culture. Resorting to lawsuits is going all the way and by airing greviences out in the open you're not giving the other party face so it usually escalates into a no-holds bar free-for-all fight. Simply put, without "face" to interceed once the limit is exceeded, we have no social norms in place to stop it from spiralling out of control.

This is also part of the reason why some arguments here on CHF can spiral out of control from a simple "harmless" jest.

#11 Chen Chun

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Posted 23 May 2006 - 01:16 PM

As you observe, I think a similar concept is present, although less developped, in European societies. In a conflictual situation, one is often supposed not to use all ends to achieve his means (which is why Machiavelli sounds so ... machiavelic, to us), but leave some room for the opponent to get out of the situation correctly. The idea of loyalty, which result from past "given face" is also present.

However, I had a question about face. The harshest and meanest fights I have witnessed often happened in China. For instance, in the US, which is often depicted as a "violent society", when two people fight, once one is down, the other has won and steps out of the fight. In China, I have often seen the contrary : finishing off someone who is down, sometimes quite cruelly. And this does not seem to be a modern phenomenon, histories are replete with extremely cruel stories (remember the handless, earless and eyeless concubine of Han Gaodi?)

Could this be a specific side effect of face (which might pertain to both china and japan, btw), that is, face prevents unnecessary fights from happening, but if it happens, then hell breaks loose, and no restraint is shown?

Francois


Francois, where can I get more information about the handless, earless and eyeless concubine?

#12 fcharton

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Posted 23 May 2006 - 03:47 PM

Francois, where can I get more information about the handless, earless and eyeless concubine?


The story comes from Sima Qian (I think it is repeated in Ban Gu's Han Shu), at the beginning of chapter 9, the reign of Empress Lü.

Dame Qi of Dingtao was the favourite of Han Gaozu, she had a son named Ruyi, whom Gaozu preferred to the older son of his first wife, Empress Lü, Xiaohui. Yet, Empress Lü managed to have her son remain crown prince, and Ruyi was named king of Zhao.

After Gaozu died, the empress tried to eliminate the king of Zhao and his mother, and was countered several times by her own son. She finally managed to have Ruyi killed. Then... (no, you will not be spared the original text...)

太 后 遂 斷 戚 夫 人 手 足, 去 眼 , 煇 耳 , 飲 瘖 藥 , 使 居 廁 中 , 命 曰 「 人 彘 」 。 居 數 日 , 迺 召 孝 惠 帝 觀 人 彘 。 孝 惠 見 , 問 , 迺 知 其 戚 夫 人, 迺 大 哭 , 因 病 , 歲 餘 不 能 起 。 使 人 請 太 后 曰 : 「 此 非人 所 為 。 臣 為 太 后 子 , 終 不 能 治 天 下 。 」 孝 惠 以 此 日 飲 為 淫 樂 , 不 聽 政 , 故 有 病 也 。

..., the empress had the hands and feet of Dame Qi cut off, her eyes dug out and her ears burnt. She had her drink a drug which made her mute, and threw her in the toilets, and ordered everyone to call her : "the human sow". A few days later, she summoned Emperor Xiaohui, and presented him with the human sow. Xiaohui saw her, asked who she was, and was told she was dame Qi. He then burst into tears and fell so ill that for more than a year, he could not stand. He sent someone admonish the empress, saying: "Your conduct is unworthy of a human being. Being your son, I will never be able to rule the empire." After that, Xiaohui spent his days drinking, in music and debauchery. He did not care about the government, and because of this fell ill.


So much for the submissive asian girl stereotype, I suppose...

François

Edited by fcharton, 23 May 2006 - 04:14 PM.


#13 Master Ghost Valley

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Posted 06 March 2007 - 11:19 PM

Face is the desire to not appear weak or to look bad in the eyes of
others. Face is all about the other people viewing you and not about
the person.

This is the least understood part of Face I think. Often you see
subordinates helping their Bosses Save Face in front of others so that
others will not look down on them

Jieming
_______________
[/quote]
Hi Jieming
Other cultures also place great importance on face. My parents came to America from Northern Italy and we were always reminded about saving the face of the family and our own face. The two quotes t above are similar to our feelings except we view face as being almost as the preservation of dignity, of pride, the keeping up of appearances of not bringing shame or ridicule or disrespect on one of us.

This is to me a very interesting subject and even if we do not call the concept face it is still a potent factor in our society .
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Niccolo Machiavelli

#14 Jake Holman

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Posted 27 November 2007 - 12:43 PM

Let me add a little story to indicate the importance of understanding "face" in China:

A few years ago, I was teaching English at a small private college in Nanchang. After one class had concluded, several of the students wanted to talk with me about "human rights". I told them that it wasn't a good idea; it is after all, a sensitive subject in China. Unfortunately, just at that moment, when one student had written both "human rights" as well as (人权), its Chinese equivalent, on the blackboard, the school monitor, a particular nasty specimen of humanity, walked in (I was the only foreign teacher at the school, and he was always watching me, hoping I would "slip up" so he could report me to his superiors). When he saw the blackboard, he placed his hands behind his back and harrumphed, "Why are you talking about this?" I replied with some nonsense to the effect that I was informing the students that in western societies, people's thinking is too "confused and disordered" (luan ), while in China, people understand the importance of orderly thought and proper behavior, or some such thing.

Even though he knew I was lying, I knew that he knew I was lying, and he knew that I knew that he knew I was lying, it didn't matter. He was immensely pleased, and didn't report me for what was a serious breach of acceptable conduct at this (or any) school in China, especially for a foreigner....I had given him face.

#15 fireball

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Posted 27 November 2007 - 04:44 PM

Even though he knew I was lying, I knew that he knew I was lying, and he knew that I knew that he knew I was lying, it didn't matter. He was immensely pleased, and didn't report me for what was a serious breach of acceptable conduct at this (or any) school in China, especially for a foreigner....I had given him face.


That was a great story! You sure got the essence of the "face" and were able to utilize this knowledge. In my mind, you are now an honorary Chinese! :D




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