Face: A Chinese concept in a global sociology

Xiaoying Qi, Hong Kong Baptist University


The concept of face, as it is developed by Goffman, has strong conceptual links with the notion of a ‘looking-glass’ self outlined by Adam Smith and developed sociologically by Cooley. It also has links with the Chinese concept of face, which relates to the transfer of social science concepts from one cultural setting to another. By discussing the specificity and universality of face the paper indicates the significance of the Chinese concept face in a global sociology. The paper goes on to examine aspects of the treatment of the Chinese concept face and in doing so presents a more comprehensive account of face. The paper then considers the relationship between face and emotions in indicating the mechanisms that underlie face. Finally, a distinction is made between face as an embedded social process and as an object of social contestation.