Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

The Meaning of ‘Face’ in China

Posted by w_thames_the_d on August 21, 2013


The term ‘face’ is equated with China for better or worse. It implies some type of respect or boundary that must not be breached, less we offend our Chinese ‘friends’. Interestingly enough, the Chinese are keen on face, rather on receiving than on giving it.

Most if not all books on China delve into the notion of face and its importance. Usually the narrative goes something like this. ‘Face is a form of respect or a boundary that is of utmost importance to the Chinese. It must be given in order to cement a relationship and make your Chinese counterpart feel accepted. It is an integral part of the Chinese society and must be considered at all times’.

The idea is that if we do not give face to the Chinese, they will melt into a puddle of pig shit and seep between the cracks of their ill constructed houses. In the absence of face, the Chinese assume a value equal to that of pond scum, at least in the eyes of their peers.

What most China hands, aka those of us doomed to live here know, however, is that as important as face is, why do they give it to us in such small quantities? As a matter of fact, more than one foreigner has quipped that ‘face’ is nothing more than a veiled threat the Chinese hold over our heads in business.

Didn’t get the price they wanted, ‘you cost them face’
Too high a price ‘they lost face’

As a result of your cultural ignorance, vis a vis face, you are barred from the center kingdom or demonized.

The reality is that ‘face’ as the Chinese use it is little more than a child ‘holding his breath till he gets his way’. Its an awkward attempt at making us feel bad for something we did in ignorance or was really not a big deal. It is manipulative, crude and morally repugnant, at least how the Chinese use it.

The reason is that face is demanded but hardly given. Take, for example the case of the Chinese pianist who played for Obama and one of China’s commie thug leaders. The Chinese guy sat in the White House and played a tune which glorified the killing of US troops during the Korean war, to make matters worse, that Chinese guy is now a US citizen. If face were of paramount importance, then why don’t the Chinese extend it to us?

Why do they poke fun at foreigners as they walk along the street?

Why is chicom TV constantly bashing civilized countries, 24x 7?

I could go on, but you get my point. The reality is that if and when you deal with the Chinese treat them with no more respect than they treat you and do not worry about face. The truth is that most of my Chinese cannot define the face better than we can, so why worry about it?

I would even go so far as to say that due to the self hate gene which many Chinese have, you are better off erring on the side of being aloof/cold. Most of my friends who have success here probably dislike the Chinese more than many of you. The reason for their success is that in the less than logical mind warp that is China, they think if you like them, that you must be a loser just as they are. I am not kidding, I have seen this quite a bit.

The upshot is that if you do business with the Chinese you must remember that above all else, corruption is king…. How is that for a diggressive ending..l

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
%d bloggers like this: