Face -面子 – miànzi is one of the most important concepts of China you should know about. Make always sure to follow the rules of giving and receiving face to avoid serious trouble.
In this blog post you will learn:
- The concept of face in China
- How to give face
- How to take face
- How to receive face
- Face in groups
Disclaimer: The concept of face is very versatile and this is an attempt of explanation. You could write several books about this topic and this post does not claim to cover it all. Please read several sources on this topic and talk to Chinese people to get a deeper understanding on this very important topic of Chinese culture.
The concept of face in China is all around. Whatever you do and or don’t do: you receive, give or lose face.
But what does face mean?
Face means reputation. It means the construct of yourself in front of others. It is your brand. Face is a personal brand. Face is an important currency in China and its value should never be underestimated.
When people see you driving in an expensive car, you represent wealth and power. It is seen as a proof of face. When you talk about your money, successes, businesses and drive around in a cheap car it doesn’t fit – people will not believe your words. That’s a reason why having expensive goods and driving an expensive car in China is not seen as bragging. It just represents your status and that is not a bad thing at all.
Do you know advertisements of for instance milk? They show happy cows on the field, a happy farmer and smiling faces everywhere. But is it the truth? Of course not. Cows are usually held in small cages for most of the day, the milking processing is fully automatic and the people in the bottling plant are usually paid minimum wage or just above. Marketing is everything!
And because you have to run advertisement campaigns to promote your product and brand, you also have to advertise your personal brand – your face. But marketing campaigns usually only promote their own product. In the concept of face you can also promote others and gain reputation for yourself.
How to give face
Whenever you act in kindness you give face to others and gain face at the same time.
- When someone tries to speak English, even he only knows few words, compliment him and encourage him to talk more. Cherish the good command of English and help where ever you can.
- When you are eating dinner with a business partner and your business partner splashes some foods on your tie he will lose face. In order to give him back his face you can re-splash something on his tie. This will restore his face and give you face, for pulling him out of his misery. And believe me: there is nothing better than restoring balance, when you did something embarrassing.
- Praise someone in front of superior, parents or others
Giving face increases harmony and the atmosphere in the whole group. In a group orientated society like the Chinese culture is one in contrast to the western world, where individualism prevails.
How to take or lose face
Taking face always leads to losing the face of the one who takes the face, and of course of losing face of the one that’s face is taken. To take someone’s face is one of the worst you can do to any Chinese. When the face is gone, people have nothing left to lose and it can lead to havoc. Sadly, losing face in extreme situations can even lead to suicide.
- When you call someone out – on a lie, on a misbehavior, on not fulfilling his duties…
- When you criticize in front of others
- When not deference to elderlies or superiors
- When you scream at someone in public
Always keep in mind: When you are rude to someone – justified or not – you will lose your face as well!
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Face in groups
When it comes to group behavior the concept of face transfers from every individual to the whole group. When a group member acts to losing his face – the whole group will lose face. That’s why the individual need in a group are subordinate. Every group has its defined leader. And the leader decides for the whole group. When someone doesn’t agree with the leader’s decision, he will not express his concerns but accept it and act like it. When the group separates everyone regains his personal face and individual need.
Conclusion: Always make sure to respect the concept of faith and make sure to study it prior going to China. Make sure to compliment good and ignore bad behavior. Never criticize someone while other people are around and even when you speak face to face in a private place make sure to express your wishes in a non-direct and friendly way.
Live in China is different, and so is our, as foreigners. You should never forget that.