The concept of mianzi (reputation or “saving face”) has long been in the blood of Chinese people, but even so, there are different opinions about its value.
Rational or Irrational?
Some people say that mianzi is an irrational value with absurd elements, while others believe it is a critical part of the social fabric of Asia. Regardless of these differences of opinion, mianzi remains an important part of Chinese and East Asian culture.
One will find that in China, individuals, their friends, family, and social and professional networks defend mianzi fiercely. When an individual’s talents, skills or social position are unknown, he will be judged according to the “face” he has in front of others. People who have face are regarded as capable, which is why so many people in Asia are so focused on it. It is the Chinese foundation of social psychology and the unspoken rule behind social culture. To protect another’s face is to respect the person; to lose the face of another by your actions or comments is a severe violation of his or her dignity.
Form Over Fact
Face is never a question of fact, but always of form – to say something appropriate at the right time and to avoid inappropriate, degrading or embarrassing comments or actions. Chinese are ashamed of disappointing others, of being ignored and of being interrupted in front of others because these each are seen as a loss of face.
It is easy for Westerners to get into trouble when they forget the significance of Asian-style honor and dignity. Not rigid in definition or form, mianzi depends on local customs. Take the mediation of a neighborhood dispute, for example. The “peacemaker” is no less skilled than any European politician. He knows how to keep balance among the disputing parties and how to protect the face value of each. The predominant concern is not for justice, but rather for peaceably settling the matter while maintaining the dignity of all parties.