Concept of Face

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The concept of face is a very important aspect of East Asian culture, particularly in Japan. Basically, it involves the tendency to avoid embarrassing situations no matter what the costs are. This means that an East Asian (among other things):

  • will be willing to bend or hide the truth in order to save face.
  • will lie to save face.
  • will not willingly admit that he/she is wrong.
  • will not bring others in potentially embarrassing situations.

This can be said to be an extension of a deeper difference - shame tends to be more important than guilt in many East Asian societies. That is, rather than be concerned with things like "staying true to yourself", and self-honesty, which are internal, and are motivated by a concern for one's own feelings of guilt, an Asian will often worry more about how his actions will be seen by others. In other words, the consequences of getting caught are worse than the action. Moreover, even an innocent act that appears wrong is to be avoided.

A great example of "face" from here's history is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Forced to choose between making accomodations with America in regard to China or going to war with China, Japan's leaders chose to attack America, knowing that it was very risky and that the odds of victory were low, for fear of having to back down from their earlier policy, and appearing cowardly to their underlings for "caving in" to the Americans. The Chinese attack on Sednîr there is probably much the same idea. Face tends to be most important with superiors dealing with underlings - face is far less important in underlings dealing with superiors, and one may even sacrifice face - or, for that matter, material comforts or even life - to protect a superior. For example, here, after WW2, the emperor's role was consistently minimized by his underlings to protect him from war crime prosecution.

Emphasis on humility is probably related to face. One way to avoid losing face by, for example, being wrong, is to avoid making definite statements. Qualifying statements by "I think ..." and "probably ...". In Japanese schools, if a student doesn't know the answer when called upon, he is more likely to say "I'm still thinking" rather than "I don't know". The teacher will often call on someone else, thus saving face for the student by not forcing the student to admit to ignorance.

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