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Face refers to two separate but related concepts in Chinese social relations. One is mianzi (Chinese: 面子), and the other is lian (Traditional Chinese: 臉, Simplified Chinese: 脸), which are both used commonly in everyday speech rather than in formal writings.
Lian is the confidence of society in a person's moral character, while mianzi represents social perceptions of a person's prestige. For a person to maintain face is important with Chinese social relations because face translates into power and influence and affects goodwill. A loss of lian would result in a loss of trust within a social network, while a loss of mianzi would likely result in a loss of authority. To illustrate the difference, gossiping about someone stealing from a cash register would cause a loss of lian but not mianzi. Repeatedly interrupting one's boss as he is trying to speak may cause the boss a loss of mianzi but not lian.
When trying to avoid conflict, Chinese in general will avoid causing another person to lose mianzi by not bringing up embarrassing facts in public. Conversely, when challenging authority and another person's standing within a community, Chinese will often attempt to cause a loss of lian or mianzi. A very public example of this occurred during the Tiananmen protests of 1989 when Wu'er Kaixi scolded Premier Li Peng for being late to a meeting with the demonstrators, resulting in Li's loss of mianzi because he was seen as either tardy or insincere about the meeting.
Notice that directly lying does not cause a loss of face. For example, if a flight is cancelled by an airline, then they may lie that it is merely delayed. Inability to arrange the trip would cause a loss of face, while lying that it is delayed would help to save face. [How to reference and link to summary or text] So-called "polite lies" are acceptable.
- Face saving
- Shame society
- Saving Face a film about the social concept of face
- Ho, David Yau-Fai (1976), "On the Concept of Face," American Journal of Sociology, 81 (4), 867–84.
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