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The 'Face' Effect

Popularity 7Viewed 37700 times 2016-11-27 11:04 |System category:Life

Giving 'face' is a Chinese expression for respect and civility. In everyday society, it is common to 'give face' to people, even those you don't like or respect – not exactly fawning, but courteous: frosty but polite, one could say. Face-giving is essential in business relationships, where a single act of disingenuousness can cost years of relationship-building effort.


When you break it down, giving face equals not saying what you really feel.


Recently, in America, a law was proclaimed that underscores the supposed importance of 'face'. In May, 2016, President Obama issued a decree outlawing the words 'Black' and 'Oriental', used to describe those of such origins. The law is ostensibly designed to prevent or eradicate ingrained racism toward such persuasions. 'African American' and 'Asian American' are now the correct terms. This move was heralded in China as an advance toward civility, one that other nations should adopt.


Civility is apparently no longer a social more but a matter of law? Go figure!


True enough: change the words, change the meaning, as in this example. “You have a face that would stop a clock!” - meaning: “You are so ugly clocks break when you look at them!”. Said another way: “When I see you, time stands still” alludes to the clock being stopped (by ugliness), but the sentiment is much less offensive. The logic follows that changing the name of certain races/ethnicities might have the same effect, right?


What has that new law done for America? Since November 9th, when Donald Trump was declared the winner in the presidential race, hate crimes against those of other races have flared: more than seven hundred instances in the past 2 weeks, laws regarding civility notwithstanding. People of racial/ethnic origins other than white are living in fear of attack. In the streets, in schools, on college campuses: no one is safe.


On a college campus in Michigan, a student wearing a hijab was threatened because of her religious garb: “You can't wear that here anymore. Take it off or I'll set you on fire” the accuser said, brandishing a lighter.

Read the full article here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/13/university-of-michigan-student-wearing-a-hijab-threatened-to-be-lit-on-fire-police-say/


That young man did not wake up, the day after the election, suddenly deciding to harm other individuals because of their beliefs. Such prejudice is ingrained! It takes years of conditioning to arrive at the conviction that one has the right (the duty?) to offend and threaten and harm others because their beliefs are divergent. To believe that one is absolutely in the right, simply because of their race or ethnicity.


Britain has also seen a spike of racially motivated crime since Brexit. Figures show a 41% surge of racist or religious abuse in the months after the UK voted to leave the European union.


Standing at a bus stop, a Brazilian-born man was speaking to his Mexican wife in Spanish when a woman approached them: “Do you speak English? Can you understand what I'm saying? This is our country. We are leaving the EU. We will stop having so many people like you over here.”

Read the full article here: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-37640982


How can mere words change so deep a prejudice? What law can be made to prevent such hate and disdain? How can anybody think that 'face' is going to stop people from hating and fearing what they do not understand?


And that is the danger of 'face'. Not just concealing your feelings from those you wish to direct them to, but the fact that those feelings and ideas are left to fester and grow like the very worst social cancer, eating civilization from the inside out, one person, one family, one generation at a time, and nobody sees it until it explodes onto society, virulent and rampant.


Bernie Noel, a man in Britain who runs prison gyms for the inmates, puts the fallacy of 'face' succinctly: “(... in the 1970s) you knew who the racists were – they were shouting their heads off. Now I look around and think, well some of you are still thinking those things but I don't know who you are anymore.”

Read the article here: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-37924448


And that is the sad truth of 'face'. 

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report BlondeAmber 2016-12-1 00:01
HailChina!: And about this giving different levels of respect to different aged family members - this is linked to piety and the main reason piety is promoted is  ...
i would like to hear a Chinese person explain the concept of 'face', but the only poster that responded seems reluctant to do so.

the 'you don't understand' or 'you are prejudiced' answer tries to be a conversation stopper that many living in China encounter, and is laughable, sad and frustrating at the same time.

I can only express my understanding in terms of what i have experienced and the small amount local friends have explained to me when discussing specific situations, hence what i would call blatant dishonesty when dealing with certain businesses.
Reply Report HailChina! 2016-12-1 13:36
BlondeAmber: i would like to hear a Chinese person explain the concept of 'face', but the only poster that responded seems reluctant to do so.

the 'you don't unde ...
Like I said, the majority of modern Chinese do not understand the concept of 'face'. I do.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-12-3 09:06
voice_cd: thanks for sharing here, we have highlighted your blog.
Thank you! Wish you a great weekend.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-12-3 09:08
Dracarys: I guess it can counted as a mutual respect .. you don't like a person doesn't mean you have to insult him/her ..
No, insulting people is not what I'm advocating, Dracarys. I am for a frank and open exchange of views. Hiding behind supposed civility - 'face' does nothing to advance society.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-12-3 09:14
BlondeAmber: i would say 'saving face' is an avoidance strategy dressed up as 'culture'.
People avoid giving bad news or taking responsibility for something and sa ...
One of my friends, who owns an international business is constantly confronted with this maddening social more. He instructs employees on what to do and how to do it. They nod and voice their understanding, and the task doesn't get done.
As you say, so I suspect: they nod and agree and allegedly understand, but all of that is designed to 'give face' to Gary: 'yes, you're a good teacher and boss'. I suspect they don't dare ask for clarification or voice any dissent for fear of termination.
I see the same thing in my classes: students nod their understanding and then display a startling lack of comprehension, come time to put what they said they understood to work. Have you seen it, too?
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-12-3 09:15
HailChina!: In my opinion China is very stupid to involve itself in such neoliberal nonsense. And who the hell even says 'oriental' anyway? And why is 'oriental'  ...
The law was made in America, driven by an Asian American. The Chinese merely applauded the move.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-12-3 09:21
Joey-k: Well, for starters, I don't.
And I see no point in explaining  as you seem to me are already so prejudiced against China and Chinese people.
You wil ...
That is a childish response to an honest question. Please help us understand what you apparently know so readily. Explain your concept of 'face', please.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2016-12-3 09:26
Joey-k: Well, for starters, I don't.
And I see no point in explaining  as you seem to me are already so prejudiced against China and Chinese people.
You wil ...
In Zhang Yimou's movie 活着 - To Live, Gong Li gives what I believe is the classic example of Chinese 'face': the man who murdered her son turns up on the family's doorstep. Rather than seething and clawing his eyes out in her grief and rage for him, she invites him into the room and offers him a drink.
'Face' is amply displayed in classic and modern Chinese films; in actions and comedies. And, for those who have lived within a Chinese community for any amount of time, it is easily recognizable.
So what is it about 'face' that this foreigner doesn't understand? And how is it different than 'face' in the west?
Reply Report HailChina! 2016-12-3 15:13
teamkrejados: The law was made in America, driven by an Asian American. The Chinese merely applauded the move.
What do you mean "merely"? And this law was driven by Asian-Americans was it? WHat proof is there of that and what proof is there that China has nothing to do with so-called Asian-Americans? Do you truly believe that China has nothing to do groups like the one that protested Jimmy Kimmel? And what does this have to do with African-Americans? It was a joint Chinese-American - African-American effort was it? Dont be ridiculous. China should be ashamed of itself. What would Conficius think? He is looking down shaking his head for sure. For shame!
Reply Report BlondeAmber 2016-12-3 15:50
teamkrejados: One of my friends, who owns an international business is constantly confronted with this maddening social more. He instructs employees on what to do a ...
yes, i have seen it.
I use questions to check for understanding before i leave someone to complete a task.

things like:
'what did i ask you to do?'
'when do you have to have the work completed?'
'how are you going to do the task?'

Although it can take time through such questioning, it helps with tasks completion.

When it comes to business, although i am aware of how business works, a Chinese business should learn non-Chinese work-practices too, especially if they want to continue doing business with non-Chinese.

We are asked to respect Chinese culture, but they show little respect for ours in return.
Reply Report BlondeAmber 2016-12-3 15:53
teamkrejados: That is a childish response to an honest question. Please help us understand what you apparently know so readily. Explain your concept of 'face', plea ...
to be honest, this is the sort of reply i expect from a lot of Chinese people, and it seems to be a common experience with many non-Chinese.

I have made comments on this topic before, and my blog on 'Do you get offended easily?' gives some of my experiences to date.
Reply Report Joey-k 2016-12-6 13:11
teamkrejados: In Zhang Yimou's movie 活着 - To Live, Gong Li gives what I believe is the classic example of Chinese 'face': the man who murdered her son turns up on ...
I didn't watch the movie, but from what you said, that's more like forgiveness and a kind of resignation to fate. It's not about saving your face, but about being alive or "活着”.
As to this foeigner, it's not about understanding. He or she might be right, and I don't think it is loss of face to admit that I'm wrong. I should have been more specific when making that comment to your blog. This is a lesson learned.
But he/she seems to me is like I've-been-cheated-by-Chinese-people-and-I-would-never-trust-them-and-I-would-advise-others-do-the-same. I don't like China in many ways, but I know there are good things and I'm willing to believe that many more are yet to happen. This is true to any country.
Reply Report BlondeAmber 2016-12-6 14:48
Joey-k: I didn't watch the movie, but from what you said, that's more like forgiveness and a kind of resignation to fate. It's not about saving your face, but ...
unfortunately many Chinese think it is 'clever' to behave dishonestly with non-Chinese.
It is called the 'foreigner tax' - the money added to the price of something because you are foreign.

The other poster MichaelM posted a couple of times about how he was cheated of a large sum of money by his landlord.

It is not uncommon for people to make others aware of scams that are practiced on visitors to a country - scams start the minute people arrive with the 'black taxi's' at airports.

By making others aware of possible ways they can be cheated is considerate of others.

Good things happen in China too - i am not denying that and many good things have happened to me.
but there are many ways people are cheated in China, and raising awareness of them can prevent  others falling victim.

Would you not warn a friend before they travel?
Reply Report Joey-k 2016-12-6 17:51
BlondeAmber: This is my point.
Many Chinese people 'get upset' and refuse to explain their meaning more, which leads many people to conclude that they don't unders ...
You are right. I didn't think about it and jumped to conclusions. I will think about what you said and try to behave like a real adult next time.
Reply Report Joey-k 2016-12-6 17:56
BlondeAmber: unfortunately many Chinese think it is 'clever' to behave dishonestly with non-Chinese.
It is called the 'foreigner tax' - the money added to the pric ...
I would, but I woulld probably tell them what's good about this place before that in case  the negative things dampen their enthusiasm.
Reply Report BlondeAmber 2016-12-7 07:14
Joey-k: I would, but I woulld probably tell them what's good about this place before that in case  the negative things dampen their enthusiasm.
It is no different from advising someone to 'watch out for snakes' when visiting the countryside.

you want them to be aware of the dangers they might face.
Failing to advise someone of common problems would mean you don't care.
Reply Report Joey-k 2017-1-1 15:16
BlondeAmber: It is no different from advising someone to 'watch out for snakes' when visiting the countryside.

you want them to be aware of the dangers they might ...
If you say so
Reply Report Newtown 2017-2-10 14:02
HailChina!: And about this giving different levels of respect to different aged family members - this is linked to piety and the main reason piety is promoted is  ...
"this is linked to piety" I thought that piety was mainly about religion and one's adherence to religious principles. Unles you're into the pseudo religious territory of Confucianism was often - for Chinese people - mixes up rules for family, custom, traditions etc. in a type of religious garb.
Reply Report HailChina! 2017-2-11 20:23
Newtown: "this is linked to piety" I thought that piety was mainly about religion and one's adherence to religious principles. Unles you're into the  ...
In my opinion most take 'religion' too literally. Confucius was inspired by western Pagans that lived in a virtue based society before the west was christianized so in many ways Chinese society is more in line with the virtue based societies of our western ( Southern. Euro ) ancestors. Modern western society is rooted in the slave morality of Christianity. What is thw Christian God if not 'good'? Isn't saying that there is only one God the same as saying that there is only one good? That there is a universal truth? Confucius is basically saying the same thing right? So even though Confucianism is probably more in line with the thinking of our pre christian western ancestors there are also strong parallels between Confucianism and Catholicism an example is the similarities between Confusion Filial Piety and the Holy Trinity. The thinking is very similar. HolyGhost/Chinese State. Maybe the problem is that you are being too strict in relation to what can pass for 'religion' in your opinion. Football is a religion for many so I do not see why family and morality and harmony cant be religion.

Anyway, when I was a kid I used to like to visit my grandparents on my fathers side a lot because my favourite person used to be my dads youngest brother Uncle Sean. So I would go to my grandparents house as a young kid all excited to see my uncle Sean and not so much my grandparents and if you think about that it is very disrespectful to my grandfather and grandmother especially if I am obvious about it. A reasonable adult will excuse a disrespectful kid that doesnt know better but still. Any civilized western family should make sure that their children have respect for family/elders and order of a situation. It is not odd at all that Chinese encourage children to respect and acknowledge elders/family in the right order and it would have been less odd to our ancient ancestors that lived in a virtue based society rather than the modern slave morality Christian society. If you think about it of course there is an order to how you respect and acknowledge family during a visit unless you are out to disrespect your grandfather or something. Right? It is the same for all people. There really are universal truths and Jews are right that there is only one true God/good.
Reply Report Newtown 2017-2-12 10:44
HailChina!: In my opinion most take 'religion' too literally. Confucius was inspired by western Pagans that lived in a virtue based society before the west was ch ...
"There really are universal truths and Jews are right that there is only one true God/good."

I think that you'd find a few people to argue about this; go into any Buddhist temple in China or elsewhere and you will find a whole pantheon of assorted gods. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans had an array of gods who were kicking around about the same time as the tribes of Israel. As well, many of these ancient religions derived their beliefs from pre-existing pagan religions which worshipped and celebrated the seasons, things in the natural environment, and in the stars and other heavenly bodies. Indigenous Australians, for example, had their own Dreamtime beliefs thousands of years before Old Testament times.

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  • 2014-04-01 2017-9-24 17:21

    wonderful depiction

  • The 'Face' Effect 2017-8-17 16:51

    In the USA blacks demand all people of other races to call them "African American" Yet they call each other the"N" word everyday.Maybe they should folllow the law. Respect is earned and can not be foreced on you by any law.

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