“We have to choose the best location, hire a French designer, a British butler wearing a wig stands within the building, and looking like a gentleman. When proprietors come, he will say to them “May I help you, Sir?”, no matter how busy he is! Speaking fluent. English with a pure London accent will give you much 面子(miànzi).”
These are classic lines of the famous Chinese movie Super Star, 《大腕》 in Chinese. They are funny, and also convey some psychological aspects of Chinese people, especially “面子(miànzi)”. For saving 面子(miànzi), some Chinese people may make a fool of themselves, lie to others, or even hurt others. So what does 面子(miànzi) really mean in Chinese culture?
Originally, 面子(miànzi) means the surface of some physical objects. For example, we can say 被面子(bèimiànzi) or “the surface of the quilt.” It can also mean powder. For example, we can say 药面子(yàomiànzi), powdered medicine . But with the development of psychological linguistics, 面子(miànzi) is endowed with more profound cultural meanings. I am sure you must have heard some Chinese people say “你太给面子了” on business occasions or during some other ceremonies. Here, 面子(miànzi) means face literally. It does not refer to our body part, but a kind of honor. So people always try their best to save their 面子(miànzi). In daily life, phrases like “爱面子(àimiànzi), be concerned about face-saving”, “要面子(yàomiànzi), be keen on face-saving ”, “给面子(gěimiànzi), save one’s face”, “没面子(méimiànzi), lose one’s face”, and “伤面子(shāngmiànzi), hurt one’s face” are often heard.
But why do Chinese people love their “面子(miànzi)” so much? Historically speaking, it is closely related with Confucianism. China has been greatly influenced by this philosophical thinking for thousands of years. Its core is that harmony matters most. So we would not embarrass others in public by any means.Even when someone tells lies, we would not call out their lie in front of them. This is a polite way to show our respect to other people. Gradually, we develop a habit of saving our own face and others’.
In addition, people love their 面子(miànzi) because of some psychological factors. First of all, some people have power and money. They enjoy a good reputation or a high status in some fields of society. To maintain their public image, they have to love their 面子(miànzi). When it cames to behaving in public, they will be very cautious about their words and deeds. When others speak highly of them, their vanity is greatly satisfied. Second, some people love their 面子(miànzi) because they feel self-abased due to different social and personal reasons, they may feel inferior to other people in their job, family, study, love, etc. They long for these things from the bottom of their heart, but they cannot have them now. So, they may do some things to improve their self-image. This mental activity results in their loving 面子(miànzi). For example, a man’s family is not perfect. He often quarrel with his wife, and his kid is not do well in school. Out of the aforementioned reasons, he won’t let others know these potentially embarrassing things. Therefore in an effort to hide the truth, he always tells other people that his wife is very beautiful and kind, that his kid behaves very well in school, and that his whole family is very harmonious to cover the truth. This is a very typical case in saving face.
Finally, some people love their 面子(miànzi) because they do not have proper judgment. After learning some kids in his’s son’s class are going abroad, he wants his son to go abroad too. In his eyes, following popular trends is a good way to save/boost his face.
There is nothing good or bad about the issue of 面子(miànzi), as long as you don’t do harm to others’ interests. It is just a reflection of Chinese culture in one aspect. Teachers won’t blame his or her students directly for saving their face; parents let their kids go to well-known universities like other kids do to gain 面子(miànzi) for themselves; stars and bosses donate to charities for face-saving reasons…Examples like this are too numerous to go on.
Do you have a basic knowledge of 面子(miànzi) in Chinese culture? As an old saying goes “men rest on their face just as trees rest on their bark”. 面子(miànzi) is vital to Chinese people. I am sure you must have done something in your life to save your own 面子(miànzi) or others’. Please feel free to share them with us.
1. 爱面子(àimiànzi) be concerned about face-saving
Zhāng xiānsheng shì gè hěn ài miànzi de rén.
张 先生 是 个 很 爱 面子 的 人。
Mr. Zhang is very concerned about his face.
2. 要面子(yàomiànzi) be keen on face-saving
Yìxiē zhōngguórén hěn yàomiànzi.
一些 中国人 很 要面子。
Some Chinese people are keen on face-saving.
3. 给面子(gěimiànzi) save one’s face
Tā tài gěi wǒ miànzi le.
他 太 给 我 面子 了。
He saves my face.
4. 伤面子(shāngmiànzi) hurt one’s face
Tā shuō de huà shǐ wǒ hěn shāngmiànzi.
他 说 的 话 使 我 很 伤面子。
What he said hurt my face very much.
5. 没面子(méimiànzi) lose one’s face
Lǎobǎn shuō de huà ràng tā juéde méi miànzi.
老板 说 的 话 让 她 觉得 没 面子。
What the boss said made her feel sort of losing face.
1. Which one of the following phrases is the superficial meaning of 面子(miànzi)?
2. Which one of the following body parts can be referred to 面子(miànzi) literally?
A. 脸(liǎn) face
B. 手(shǒu) hand
C. 眼睛(yǎnjing) eye