The concept of “Face” in China

Wiki says: The term face idiomatically refers to one’s own sense of dignity or prestige in social contexts. In the English-speaking world, the expression “to save face” describes the lengths that an individual may go to in order to preserve their established position in society, taking action to ensure that one is not thought badly of by his or her peers.

CBP-FACEThese words only explains only part of how important ” face” is in Chinese culture.  When I first came to China I had heard about this term but it really didn’t mean much until I got here.  I am now at the point that I also don’t want people to lose face or for me to lose face. I will try to explain the concept in detail and what you should and should not do … to keep face.

First of all, if you plan to come to China at any time in your life… you must learn to always save face or in layman’s terms… don’t make anyone look bad… could be detrimental to your job, your food in a restaurant, your hotel room…. etc.   Yeah, face is that important.

China spends a lot of time trying to “keep up with the jones” …. and this is mostly due to the social pressures here.  People here judge you by the car you drive, the clothes you wear, the job you have and even the person you marry.  People have been denied loans, jobs, and even seats based on what kind of car they drive or what kind of cell phone you have.Close-up of two businesswomen and a businessman wearing masks

Ways you can make people lose face is even more deep than that though.   An Example of making your boss lose face would be to …. argue with him .. in front of someone, or not do something he asked you to do. Thus Chinese workers don’t ask questions they just do what they are told and nothing more.   An example of making your co-work lose face would be pointing out they made a mistake to everyone in the office or laughing at them when they have done something wrong. This can cause that person to deeply hate you and do everything they can to get you back… you will never know that they are the ones.    You can make your husband lose face if you boss him around or yell at him in front of his friends or his family…. even in public.   Talking about his family in a negative way or even telling his business… can make not only him but his family also lose face.  Better to save your issues until you are back home and along…. then you can put your foot in his arse if need be.

You ask.. what happens when you make someone lose face? Well…. you could get all the crappy jobs, or even get fired. You could not get invited to parties or even shut out of office conversations.  You embarrass your husband and it could end the relationship…. ye,s it is that serious.

No one likes to be embarrassed in front of people… but in China it is 10x worse. People have committed suicide because they lost face in business.  It is even important to children, students have also killed themselves because they failed the college entrance exam and have caused their family to lose face…. I know…horrible.

China business and life is based on relationships. You need these relationships do accomplish anything in China…. and to get and keep these relationships… face is very important.  I have taught many high level government people or business men’s children for free to give them face and to form the relationship.  It is just that important. chinese-face-mianzi Giving people this kind of respect, can give you many advantages.  “you scratch my back, I scratch yours” kind of mentality is basically used here.

How to give face? Well, giving praises, and compliments help a lot….. “your car is so nice… wow”, “your company is so successful… you are an amazing boss” ….. yeah… where I come from is called “kissing arse” …. but that is only one way…. to win them over…. showing respect is the best way.   Let the boss sit first, Let your husband lead (in public), serve your husband when out in public….. applaud your co-worker for doing a good job in front of everyone… when you meet the person introduced to you… even if you can’t stand them…. these are several ways you can save face.

I know … many Americans will think this is not what you want to do… you are not going to respect people you don’t like…. or hide what you feel about someone…. I get it… but as I tell my friends here….you want to get ahead in China… you need to play the game….

People ask me … why are you so successful in China… how did you do it? …. Well… I learned how to play the game……..Here are some terms you should know….

Having face (有面子) [ Yǒu Miàn Zi ]
To have gained pride or prestige through some kind of achievement

Not having face (没面子) [ Méi Miàn Zi ]
To look bad or warrant embarrassment, caused by an act (sometimes by others)

Giving face (给面子) [ Gěi Miàn Zi ]
To praise or give deference to someone else to improve/uphold their reputation

[Liking to] Save face (爱面子) [ Ài Miàn Zi ]
A term describing someone who places high emphasis on preserving their own appearance of respect and dignity at all costs (**Use this with caution though, as it can have a slightly negative connotation with Chinese from regions outside of China.)

Losing face (丢脸) [ Diū Liǎn ]
To be humiliated or to suffer the loss of social standing

No face (不要脸) [ Bù Yào Liǎn ]
An insulting term to imply someone who is acting shamelessly without any scruples or principles


One thing about face… is when you are home and away from the public.. you can do whatever you want… and say whatever you want… but … as a foreigner in China… we already stand out…. so… best thing is to try to fit in by learning the culture and learning the game…. and as they Chinese say: “Keep all that other stuff…. in your heart”

until next time….



5 thoughts on “The concept of “Face” in China

  1. Aurolyn

    WOW, this was very interesting. I had no idea. Here in America I have heard of the term, but your explaining it being a resident of China has brought new light to it. Thank you.

  2. anonymous

    Thank yo for sharing!! I love this one. I thought I had the “save face” thing down but learned on my own that commenting on a mistake or bad service is also a way of not saving face. I had no idea!! I went to a nail salon which I love and a new girl did my nails. It didn’t come out well, but I said something like there’s another girl that works here and she usually does it a certain way. I like the way she does them and i am willing to wait for her to fix them (i said this after the new girl did the work). The owner came to her defense and tried to blame me and say I didn’t know how nails were supposed to be done. I apologized to make them feel better but that didn’t work. To be honest the nails looked HORRIBLE. The girl was new and I wasn’t rude or anything but I tried to say it in a way that wouldn’t offend her like it wasn’t just her I just liked a certain individual to do my nails . I went back and they sabatoged my nails and the other girl is never there now (she was the best). I love going there but how can I win them back? I left great reviews on their yelp in hopes they will see that I was sorry! . Anyway I understand saving face much better, but there are somethings about it I don’t agree on. How can one grow if they aren’t given feedback even if it’s not what you want to hear. Maybe I should’ve brought her to the side? I’m not sure but how the heck do they teach someone to be better if you can’t tell someone, hey you did a bad job and this is how you can be better??

    this happened at a Chinese restaurant as well. I said something to my husband like the rice was cold. The lady heard me and she was new straight from China and her attitude changed completely. We went there all the time and this lady was new I had never seen her before. She didn’t know English well. Anyway She was pissed the entire time she served us. After those two experiences it clicked and I was like OMG this is another goddann way of not saving face. So now I know not to say anything at all.

    Maybe I should send something anonymously? What if you are really trying to help a company business or friend? How do you approach situations like that?

    And also…. how do you come back from not saving face? Can you ever be forgiven or are you shunned for life? I know it’s like the worst thing ever but damn do they forgive and forget or accept apologies????
    Hoe can you redeem yourself (even if you wasn’t really in the wrong???)

    1. well… I hear your aggravation… but I will give you some tips… first you should talk to the girl alone and quietly about your nails… in a way that didn’t make it look like her fault…. I would have said… I don’t like this color… or I’m am so picky…the restaurant… I would blame it on the cook or the weather… and then to fix it… first .. the nail place… bring them a gift…. and praise them… like some fruit and say… you guys are the best nail shop on this block…. I love coming here… or something… the restaurant… I always ask for their boss and say… this waitress is so good at her job… but I think the rice cooker isn’t working very well… can I get a different bowl of rice….something like that… do not make them think they are getting blamed…. make them look good….

What do you think about this?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s