Thursday, November 17, 2011



The terms (liǎn)and (miàn), both literally mean physical face and also "name" or "reputation", representing the behavior expected from a person according to his social class. Improper behavior will cause a loss of respect and prestige, which is called in Chinese "losing face" (diū)(shī)(miàn)(kǒng)   . People are expected to behave according to the rules, not to bring ridicule or shame upon their families.

 The expression "to lose face" originates in the still prevalent Chinese approach, according to which the face reflects an individual's character. Many books have been written on this subject. Certain behaviors reveal the need for "saving face". For example, a Chinese person will say "maybe" or will agree to do something that he does not really intend to do, in order to avoid rejecting a request or offer, and thus to prevent the other person from "losing face". A person may "receive face" or "lose face", according to the rules of courtesy, which is why it is important to act according to the accepted customs. For example, one should always bring a present when invited somewhere, and a present given should always be accepted (bribes not included).

The term “face” is not uniquely Chinese. It resembles in sense the Spanish or Arabian term "honor", which can lead to over sensitivity to criticism. Being afraid to lose face, Chinese people are often afraid to make a mistake, including those that are understandable and forgivable, such as a child's fear of making a mistake in recitation.

Gaining face is achieved by receiving compliments, displaying generosity by buying expensive presents for weddings, holding magnificent long funerals with hired mourners, crowds of monks, cars, rickshaws, servants, etc. The social desire to maintain a perfect reputation hinders many a natural human response.  



Good name is better than wealth

In the Bible it is written:

טוב שם משמן טוב  (קהלת, ז', 1)

A good name is better than precious oil

Ecclesiastes, 7, 1.



Literally: When a person smells good, his fragrance reaches a distance of 1000 li (about 500 kilometer; 1 li is about 500 meters).

A good name spreads to far away places.

The same idea, referring to a bad name:


A bad name spreads to far away places

Man leaves his name everywhere he passes, [just as] a wild goose makes its sound everywhere it passes

A man leaves his good or bad reputation everywhere he passes; therefore, he should try to maintain a good name.

A similar idea is found in the idiom:


Literally: [Once] a tiger dies, [its] skin is left; [once] a person dies, [his] name is left.

When a person dies, all that is left is his reputation.



Meat that cannot be sold on the hottest days of the summer – stinky merchandise

Said of a person who has a bad reputation.

( READ FROM right to left)

An ant tries to wear glasses – it has no face (to wear them) (pun)

Said of a person who does not acquire a good name or appreciation.

(sān)(zhāng)(zhǐ)(huà)()(rén)(tóu) (hǎo)()(de)(miàn)(zi)
A portrait of a person on three pieces of paper – big face (pun)
Said of a person who enjoys a good reputation and much respect.

Literally: Money is like dirt, [but] face (good reputation) is worth a thousand pieces of gold.
[Even] jumping into the yellow river will not wash out [the stain]
There is nothing one can do to clean a stained name.
A similar idea is found in the idiom:
[When] a plain white fabric falls into a vase filled with indigo pigment, a thousand buckets of river water will not wash it clean
   When a bad name sticks to someone, it is very difficult to restore his good name.
Just as] a tree needs a bark [to survive], man needs face]
                            Man needs a good reputation in order to survive.
Literally: Does not want face.
Said of a person who has no sense of shame, is shameless.

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