Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Saving Face At The Beijing Olympics

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We might laugh up our sleeves at the gullibility of the Chinese Olympic managers for thinking that mime artist Lin Miaoke and CGI fireworks would ever lastingly provide a convincing face of innocent charm and dramatic excellence to an inquisitive and media savvy world audience.

However in doing this people in the West are considerably underestimating the power and cultural influence of impression management in the Chinese psyche.

The whole concept of Social Face is deeply embedded in the Chinese concepts of Mianzi and Lian such that all other things...including the feelings of little girls are subservient.

Perhaps the only thing that the Chinese are gullible over is the way in which they underestimated the lack of western understanding and acceptance of the so called 'polite lies'

I have first hand experience of getting this wrong the other way around. I was tutoring a class of masters Chinese students and the issue of in class presentations came up. I asked how many students 'feared' doing presentations and duly the whole class put up their hands. I then asked one student if they would like to come to the front of the class and explain what it was they feared and what they thought they were weak at, (thinking this would begin to overcome their worries and show the rest of the class that 'we all worry about the same things' BLUNDER!! The student graciously came to the front and then broke down in tears at having to publicly admit her fears and weak points. In the UK she would have got a round of applause!

I say be careful of criticising cultural norms that you don't understand.

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