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Liang Jieming

FACE, what is it?

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Liang Jieming

FACE, what is it?

(Giving Face, Not Giving Face, Losing Face, Saving Face)


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


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.



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.

Liang Jieming

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