'Mianzi,' saving face vs. losing faceFor those who are interested in the Chinese philosophy of interpersonal relationships, 'Mianzi' may be a familiar concept to you.
P: Ni Hao. Welcome to "Ask Pingping and Jules", your bridge to Chinese culture. I'm Pingping.
J: Ni Hao. I'm Jules. Wo shi Zhu Li An. Today, we will talk about something a little abstract in Chinese culture.
P: Right. For those who are interested in the Chinese philosophy of interpersonal relationships, 'Mianzi' may be a familiar concept to you.
J: Yes. I know that the literal meaning of 'Mianzi' is 'face' or 'having face', and most people in other parts of the world are familiar with the Chinese concept of 'saving face' but what's its extended meaning?
P: It really refers to pride, reputation or prestige.
J: Why do Chinese people regard 'Mianzi' as such an important thing?
P: Influenced over a long period of time by Confucianism that advocates "harmony is precious" as the basic principle of people's inter-communications, having 'face' is an important way of keeping harmonious relationships with others.
J: Right. And I heard that there are also other concepts related to Mianzi. What are they?
P: Well, the related concepts include 'saving face', 'losing face' and so on.
J: Interesting. Could you explain them?
P: Of course. Let me start with 'losing face'. Losing face, also called no face and is when someone has made a mistake or done something wrong, and the error is attributed to that person in public, then that person 'loses face'.
J: So their reputation in the eyes of their peers has been reduced.
P: Right. Losing face is an experience no-one wishes to have.
J: Then what would people do if they 'lost face'?
P: People will go to great lengths to avoid the appearance of losing face even if the one losing face is clearly "wrong". That's what we will talk about next—'saving face'.
J: Oh, I know. 'Saving face' implies a situation where someone's reputation has already been diminished or lost, and they are seeking to restore it.
P: Yes. 'Saving face' is an action whereby one is able to prove that they were not wrong, or show that the degree of their wrongdoing was not such a big deal. And this restoration is usually done with the help of someone else who possesses 'good face' - usually by making some kind of announcement before one's peers.
J: I see. To save one's face not only shows your respect for him or her, but is also a lubricant to keep people's relationships running smoothly.
P: Exactly! Jules, do you think there is similar concept to 'Mianzi' in western culture?
J: Yeah, 'face' is a concept not hard to understand because, even as Westerners, everyone has face and everyone wants to maintain their social standing. When equated to Western values, face is very similar to the notion of reputation.
P: Yes, very close.