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It's About Face!

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It's about a Face [and Guanxi]--Building Connections and Gaining International Perspectives in Taiwan and East Asia (Part 2)

By   Kevin Stoda, Beigan Island, Taiwan

As noted last week, I have been perusing Amy C. Liu's, TAWAIN A TO Z: The Essential Cultural Guide , and last time I wrote about the concept of Guanxi (relationships).   Ms. Liu states, "Every business transaction is a dealing of guanxi ( ----ä " ) and every guanxi is intricately connected and maintained." Liu also says that the concept of guanxi is fairly related "face".

Liu defines face as "[o]ne's social image and prestige".

Many westerners have observed that Asians--as a whole--are very very concerned about   "mianzi" [ - å ] or face. However, it is too rarely ever explained what sort of totality lies behind the concept of face. Liu notes, " Everything you do is about "face' here in Taiwan! How you give and save it for yourself and for others is extremely important, both professionally and socially."


Liu explains, "The Taiwanese concept of "face' is similar to the Western sense of "being embarrassed' or one's "reputation' but it's much more serious than that for any Taiwanese. Face goes far beyond the self to embrace the entire family, ancestors, and everybody that is part of their 'group'. If anybody does something bad, they haven't just harmed their own reputation, but have also brought shame upon many people (to all those in the "group')."

One   influential expert on Chinese culture, Lin Yutang, in the 1930s, refers to three concepts of face: "liu mianzi ç" - å "grant face; give (someone) a chance to regain lost honor', shi mianzi å - å "lose face', zheng mianzi çˆ - å "fight for face; keeping up with the Joneses', and gei mianzi ç - å "give face; show respect (for someone's feelings).'"


Amy Liu goes further, "The term mianzi ( - å ), literally means "face', but it refers to the whole of a Taiwanese person's identity. Mianzi is the perception of prestige, one's projected social image, social self-respect and social self-esteem. It influences how people see each other, and how they relate to (and are expected to speak to) others." In other words, "[a] person's self-concept is connected closely with one's "face'. Taiwanese who are in prestigious positions are often perceived to have "face', and consequently their respect, pride and self-worth are enhanced greatly."



One of the most important points that I've ever learned about East Asian "face" has now come from Amy Liu's book.  

Liu explains, "Face can only be lost in public; it is external only if someone finds out about it. Once face is lost, it is hard to regain or to recover. It's not only a loss of trust, influence, and power, but it also affects one's connections in the social network and one's ability to function effectively in business."

For me, as I read these sentences--i.e."face can only be lost in public; it is external only if someone finds out about it"--I had one of those Ah-Hah moments here in Taiwan.   Until now, I hadn't thought of "private face" as being significantly less or more than public face.  

Instead,   I had thought only about the manifestations of public "tatemai" and "honne"--which I had learned about and experienced in Japan--when I lived there in the 1990s. "Tatemai"   might be referred to as the appearance (in German: "Schein"), and Honne would be contrasted as the real or true meaning behind a public act or image (in German: "Sein").

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