Forget "face" and grow up, Taiwan!

I’ll take the liberty of posting the entire Taipei Times article here, as it’s well worth the space. Thanks, Al Chambers, for putting it so bluntly, yet eloquently.

[quote]Chinese cultural traits and SARS

        By Al Chambers
 Monday, Jun 16, 2003,Page 8 

There has been endless editorial comment and other media attention given to the difficulty that China and Taiwan have had in dealing with the SARS outbreak with most ideas centering around institutional, political and scientific shortcomings of one sort or another leading to cover-ups, pointing the finger of blame, disorganization etc.

I would like to suggest that the pattern of difficulty we have seen is endemic to Chinese culture and is not attributable to anything more complicated or profound than the personalities and patterns of behavior within each individual person that is involved in the process – either as politician, patient, family member, health professional, member of the media or member of the public.

Within the fight against SARS in Taiwan there have been many examples of individual courage and generosity. I believe that Chinese people are gentle and loving, hard-working and often very playful, and no person here wants to hurt others or maliciously be the cause of others’ pain or loss.

                                                                                                          Rather, it is this lack of individual strength and decisiveness that is behind the difficulties of controlling SARS here in Taiwan.

                                                                                                           Individuals are not taking decisive action, people are blaming each other and covering up, some are greedy and sneaky with a myriad of ulterior motives and complicated intentions. Various people try to lie and hide and cheat the rules, the media does not respect privacy and then tries to sensationalize the stories  --  and face becomes more important than peoples' lives.

                                                                                                           At work here is an ingrained part of the personality that precludes clear, decisive and personally responsible actions that are for the greater good.

                                                                                                           The difficulty lies within the lack of individual autonomy, self confidence and personal strength that enables people to make decisions with conviction, take the necessary actions to implement them, deal with the consequences of what happens and face up to the whole process without trying to hide, blame others or placate. With the traits of individual autonomy and a strong sense of self, people will be able to stay decisively within any difficult process because they will not interpret that process with any sense of personal threat to who they are, to their identify, or their sense of self. 

                                                                                                          And they will be more caring and respectful of others.

                                                                                                           One expects to see most of the problems with personal responsibility and decisiveness surface where Western culture has had the least influence  --  and that is very much the case. Consider the difference with how governments and individuals in Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China reacted to SARS. 

                                                                                                          The most clear, decisive and responsible actions were in Singapore, next comes Hong Kong, then Taiwan and lastly of course China, where we see the strongest examples of traditional Chinese personal patterns operating  --  and where we see that the only viable response has been one of political power and control.

                                                                                                           These personal, individual characteristics are not picked up or learnt through the ancients or through being a Han Chinese, or any other such vague process. 

                                                                                                          Rather, such personality characteristics develop within the caregiving environment of every person growing up. 

                                                                                                          It is learnt within the family and through other strong cultural influences such as schools.

                                                                                                           Chinese child rearing, generally speaking, does not facilitate clear and strong autonomy and strength within each individual; instead the consequences of Chinese childrearing patterns are that a strong group consciousness and group identity are formed. 

                                                                                                          This is not a pre-planned decision on the part of the family, rather it is the result of traditional practices whereby Chinese children are alternately spoiled on one hand and tightly controlled on the other.

                                                                                                           This form of child rearing results in social interactions of harmony as the strongest personal trait, with consequences that are not always positive because any subsequent loss of harmony within a group will be devastating to the individual who has nothing else to fall back on. 

                                                                                                          Thus, strong individual decision-making and confident actions, which may disrupt harmony, are replaced by hiding, blaming, procrastination and lack of directness.

                                                                                                           It is easy to see that with such a process operating within the personalities of individuals, circumstances such as the present crisis will be difficult to resolve resolutely and quickly. This is not a system failure, or a political problem. 

                                                                                                          Another result of these Chinese child-rearing practices that result in a group identity and lack of personal awareness and strength is an inability to recognize the other as a separate and feeling individual. 

                                                                                                          Thus, empathy and a sense of social caring and looking out for the greater good will be forfeited to one's own desires, needs and insecurities. 

                                                                                                          This may seem like a contradiction whereby it should be with a strong group identity that we are the most caring, but actually this process works in just the reverse. 

                                                                                                          With a sense of others as separate from me I will have more understanding of their humanity that, although similar to my experience, will come with its own pain and struggles and joys in life.

                                                                                                           With autonomy and my own personal strength I can be very caring and I will not believe there is any threat to me if I help others, regardless of the outcome. 

                                                                                                          Without personal strength I will, on the surface anyway, keep the harmony, but underneath I will be constantly looking out for myself or my own small group at the expense of others.

                                                                                                           If I am strong and confident I will be more aware and caring of others, and I will also regard the whole idea of face as irrelevant and destructive. 

                                                                                                          Worrying about face not only inhibits strong action, it also distorts all of our personal relationships.

                                                                                                           If I do not worry about the artificial rules of face I will also be more decisive and clear, because I will not placate others, trying to make sure they are happy and shrinking in fear that some person may not like me or my actions.

                                                                                                           When it comes to decision- making, with autonomy and a personally strong sense of self I will act more on overriding principles and a general outlook for the long-term good of everyone. 

                                                                                                          On the other hand, if I act from a position of poor individuation, I will only consider good and bad in terms of following the rules to avoid getting caught and being punished. 

                                                                                                          So if I can get away with something, even at the expense of others, that will not bother my conscience.

                                                                                                           Importantly, if I am not autonomous and strong within myself I will take any feedback about me or my culture that I believe is negative as a personal insult and will react in anger or seek to blame others.

                                                                                                           The necessary response to the SARS tragedy, at the very least, is for the leadership to stand up and be strong  --  not to placate and fear dissent  --  and to expect the rest of the population to be equally mature, because although this basic pattern of living will not change quickly in this culture at least some of the educated and more sophisticated leaders here can begin to take responsibility for their decisions and be strong in their actions.

                                                                                                           If Taiwan wants to modernize, and mature politically and socially, it will need to eventually respond to the consequences of these cultural traits.


While I agree with most of his article Japan and Korea, two other examples of “face” cultures came to mind. These two countries reported virtually zero SARS cases. In my mind at least, given it is a rather small place, I would find that these two examples seriously undemine any explanatory value his theory might have. They to, after all, should have been subject to the same weaknesses that have plagued us here in Taiwan.

Perhaps an argument that focused on the abscence of any social responsibility outisde the family unit might have been more on the mark.

Of course we all know what a modern and westernized country Vietnam is, which explains how they managed to eradicate SARS. But what about the Mystery that is Toronto?

Hey Torontonians care about face BIGTIME. It’s all we talk about - who got face, who lost face, who has face. Never make someone from Toronto lose face - you’ll rue the day.

yawn, recycling the old arguments for a new issue. Taiwan with its unwestern attitudes seems to have done a pretty good job after all.

Also worth mentioning is the Japanese tradition whereby a sick person is actually expected to wear a face mask and keep their germs away from the rest of society. This is a regular practice for any sick person with a contagious diease like the common cold.

One could argue it is reverse, that the lack of group/collective consciousness in China and Taiwan, with people breaking quarantine and running around infecting others (etc) that has allowed SARS to spread as it has.

Noone wants to stir the pot. Noone wants to take responsibility.

An apparent absence of what my wife refers to as “gongdexin”.

hexuan you mean collective heart? If so completely missing here.

Yeah, I think it might translate as “public spiritedness”. But I think Hong Kong and Shanghai are just as bad.

I thought this article was very well-written and it gave me some insight into the hearts and minds of the little ones I teach. A useful article for teachers here, IMO, and I’m passing it on to the other foreign teachers at my school.

Having lived in Ho Chi Minh City for a year, I can back this up.
How they stopped the spread there, or if it was even a threat, deserves closer inspection.

…and speaking of cover-ups:

[quote]The Department of Health (DOH) said Monday it will speed up its inquiry into the true causes of the death of 331 people whose bodies were cremated between late April and early May over severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) concerns.
DOH Deputy Minister Lee Lung-teng made the remarks at a daily briefing on the nation’s SARS situation.
To dispel allegations that Taiwan might have underreported its SARS death toll, Lee said the DOH is coordinating with the Ministry of the Interior in checking how the 331 people died.
[/quote] – wire report

Hey Torontonians care about face BIGTIME. It’s all we talk about - who got face, who lost face, who has face. Never make someone from Toronto lose face - you’ll rue the day.[/quote]

So maybe we should have a competition…call it a “face-off”…oh…that’s right…Toronto can’t win a face-off… :laughing:

A buddy of mine in Burnaby (BC) said that one reason Taiwanese like living in Canada is because Canadians are so much like Taiwanese. :laughing:

:unamused: Couldn’t have anything to do with Canada’s being one of the most beautiful places to live in and easiest to immigrate to, could it? (Or with Burnaby being a rather undesirable but quite economical place to live?)

Naaaaah. :smiley:

Naaaaah. :smiley:[/quote]

Hey Yanks…remember this?

and this?


[quote=“Toe Save”]
Hey Yanks…remember this?

and this?


A boss says to an underling: “I’m off to Canada for the weekend.”

“Canada?” asks the employee, incredulous. “But, boss, there’s nothing but whores and hockey players in Canada.”

“My wife is from Canada.”

“Oh. What position does she play?”

Hehehehehehe! :laughing:

[quote=“blueface666”][quote=“Toe Save”]
Hey Yanks…remember this?

and this?


A boss says to an underling: “I’m off to Canada for the weekend.”

“Canada?” asks the employee, incredulous. “But, boss, there’s nothing but whores and hockey players in Canada.”

“My wife is from Canada.”

“Oh. What position does she play?”

Hehehehehehe! :laughing:[/quote]

The way I heard that;

There’s nothing in Texas but steers and queers and you don’t look like no longhorn!!!


“We hate you, we hate you, we hate you. Why don’t you pay us more attention?” - Will Ferguson (on Canada’s relationship with America)