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Chinese Civilization Essay

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Chinese Civilization Essay

Please use Chinese people’s daily behaviors to illustrate Chinese concept of face.
These behaviors include negotiation behaviors in conducting business contract, behaviors in maintaining guanxi connections (relationship, connection, obligation, and dependency), behaviors of teachers and students in school settings, and modest behaviors in daily communication.

Please elaborate why the concept of face is primarily important in Chinese society. Please connect your answers with the three fundamental values in Chinese culture. Please also put your answers within the Chinese historical and social background. In other words, please provide historical and social reasons when you explain the importance of face.

Please give foreigners, who have no experience of communicating with Chinese, suggestions of maintaining each other’s face.


China is a nation that enjoys a rich culture spanning over five thousand years of history and civilization. One interesting aspect of Chinese culture is Chinese concept of “face”, which is primarily important in Chinese society.  For those who wish to understand Chinese culture, particularly Westerners, it is necessary to grasp the concept of face in China among other things. This essay will discuss Chinese concept of face, its manifestation in daily behaviors of Chinese people in different settings and offer some suggestions for foreigners on maintaining each other’s face.

  Face is an important cultural concept in China that has penetrated into almost every aspect of Chinese life. However, it will be unfair to say that the concept of face is only popular in China. The concept of face has, to varying degrees, been an integral part of any civilization, even in the Western society, but it plays a more crucial role in Asian culture, including China. Face used in this concept doesn’t literally mean one’s physical appearance but should be understood as one’s dignity or prestige. According to Hu, Grove and Zhuang, “in all societies, each person presents him or herself as a certain type of human beings to relatives, friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and even to strangers” (117-118).  In other words, each one of us has our own sense of presence, of how we perceive others and how we are perceived by others.  Broadly speaking, face is not a concept strictly applied to individuals but can be extended to collective entities such as groups, families, clans and organizations, etc. Hu, Grove and Zhuang also wrote in their study on the concept of face that in every social interaction, “everyone is putting forward a certain face. As long as each person accepts every other person’s face, the social situation can proceed relatively smoothly in a sense that personal relationships can develop and business can be transacted” (118). So why is the concept of face essentially important in Chinese society? The concept of face is indeed important because it is closely linked to three fundamental values of Chinese culture: collectivism, large power distance and intra-group harmony.  And concern for face has such high importance in Chinese society because of two principal reasons. First, restricted geographical mobility in Chinese society limits one to move away from one’s circle of family members, relatives and friends. One usually spends the rest of his or her life living in the same locality, therefore, it is important to maintain harmonious relationships within the group. As a result, face-saving behaviors become monumental in order to maintain harmony. Second, according to Confucius, most human relationships are not equal in nature.  Social harmony is maintained when one acts according to one’s place in the hierarchical order. Accepting and respecting each other’s need to maintain his or her own face is one important way to preserve social harmony (Hu, Grove and Zhuang, 122-123).

Chinese concern for face can be seen in almost every aspect of life in China. As a collectivist society, Chinese people tend to act according to group interest rather than individual’s wishes. In Chinese society where collectivism is dominant, face is collective and not necessarily individual, thus one needs to mind his or her own behaviors to be within the socially-accepted norms so that one does not make others lose “face” or make the whole group lose “face”. For example, Chinese people never make their family disputes or quarrels public, because it will ruin the family’s image and thus result in the family members losing face. There is a Chinese saying to illustrate this: Jia chou bu ke wai yang (家丑不可外扬)which means “family’s ugliness should not be publicly aired”. Likewise, an employee’s error can ruin a company’s reputation and make that company lose face while an individual’s achievement brings honor not only to him/herself but also to his/her school/community or even country.

Large power distance in Chinese society also influences Chinese concept of face. As mentioned above, Confucius – one of China’s most influential teachers/philosophers, emphasized social harmony, stability and hierarchy. According to Confucius, all relationships were not equal, and that one should act according to one’s place in the hierarchical order to maintain group harmony. For example, in the Chinese school setting, students assume the role of the inferior while teachers assume the role of the superior. In such cases, Chinese students as the inferior are supposed to pay respect to the teacher as their superior. Students are encouraged to listen and do what the teacher tells them to do and NOT question or challenge the teacher with their own opinions. Because when they make comments or contribute something that is different from the teacher, they risk challenging the teacher’s authority and make him/her lose face in front of his/her students. Likewise, children, as inferiors, hardly ever confront their parents who are their superiors in public in fear of making them lose face, which can ruin the harmony among family members.



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