Loss of Face?

It’s only one sentence in a long article about our favorite topic — relations between Japan, Taiwan and China — but it jumped out at me. The article, in Japan Today, deals with why China’s all bent out of shape over Taiwan President Lee Yeng-hui’s recent trip to Japan. It looks at possible reasons, such as Japan’s “friendly military relations” with Taiwan and the WWII grudges, and then it quotes Phoenix TV political commentator Lawrence Ho:

A more likely issue is loss of face, said Ho of Phoenix TV. He said Japan’s rejection of Chinese protests over the visa and the reminder of history leave China “no face.”

I think it’s pretty obvious that face is an enormous part of the problem, and part of the reason it may never be resolved. And the problem may be on all sides, not just China’s.

A strange and potent force, the “face” phenomenon, and something most Westerners (at least those I know here) can’t begin to grasp. Many see it as merely being embarrassed, without knowing how deep it actually goes. I learned about it myself at work in Beijing, and it was an unforgettable lesson.

Anyway, the article touches on many of the grievances this blog has been absorbed with the past few days, and all of you who are following this issue should certainly check it out.

The Discussion: 29 Comments

Ask any KMT members, there is no face lost in this issue.
The anger towards the controversial figure, Lee Teng Hui is because of his treasonous acts and behaviors discussed in the previous thread.

Lee was named the BIGGEST TRAITOR in the last 4000 years of Chinese history, and that didn’t come from a Chinese from Mainland China.

January 4, 2005 @ 7:09 pm | Comment

i find westerners have a certain “filters” to read china, in which only a small part of the truth can go through those “filters”.

i read an article about chinese crosstalks in danwei:

it’s pretty funny that the author attribute the dying traditional crosstalks mainly to CCP’s media control. yes, that’s one of the causes, but to every young chinese, it is so obvious that traditional chinese crosstalks belong to the older generations and you can hardly find a place to enjoy it. many old things are dying not because there is media control, it is just because they are old.

if one westerner learns the concept of “face-saving”, it seems s/he would like to use the concept everywhere related with china. this is somehow similar to a kid with a new sinker trying to beat everything looks like a nail.

china got anger with lee’s visit to japan because he went there to plot with his japanese rigte-wing friends to push the secession of taiwan. it’s nothing to do with “face-saving”.

January 4, 2005 @ 7:40 pm | Comment

the only thing that amazed me is that as the “taiwan president”, lee denghui claimed that Diaoyu island belongs to japan while this is still a dispution between taiwan and japan.

this is somewhat similar to japanese PM claims that the former japanese northern islands belong to russia.

some taiwanese criticized me for i am indicating that lee and his older brother served in japanese army and his father was a japanese police during japanese occupation of taiwan, don’t get me wrong, i am not saying that any taiwanese served for japanese during that period is guilty, my point is clear here, lee has a japanese heart.

January 4, 2005 @ 7:48 pm | Comment

Sorry, I don’t buy it. If China is so worried about loss of face, why does it keep escalating issues until someone has to lose/back down?

We’re talking about someone who now holds no official position in Taiwan going on holiday here! If China had ignored the whole thing, noone would have even noticed. Instead it announces in the loudest voice possible that it will not stand for Japan providing tourist visas to people it doesn’t like. Surely if China understood the concept of ‘face’ they wouldn’t have maneuvered themselves into a position where someone had to lose face … unless of course they wanted the confrontation.

Personally, I think you could have quoted a different passage from the article:
“Chinese President Hu Jintao may use the Lee flap to whip up public sentiment against Japan whenever politically convenient, Ho said.”

I don’t deny that ‘face’ can be an issue – but have Asian governments never heard of something called ‘diplomacy’ which allows all parties to come away with a face-saving solution?

January 4, 2005 @ 7:57 pm | Comment


I was in Taiwan in the 90s, there was an explosive news at the time. Have you ever heard of Lee Teng Hui’s theory of dividing up China into 7 different countries in the CCP media?
I think for some unknown reasons, the CCP did suppress the news on that.

January 4, 2005 @ 8:09 pm | Comment


China is pretty much ignoring this issue (And by “China” I mean the PRC government). Chinese media is almost completely silent on this.

January 4, 2005 @ 8:13 pm | Comment

“I was in Taiwan in the 90s, there was an explosive news at the time. Have you ever heard of Lee Teng Hui’s theory of dividing up China into 7 different countries in the CCP media?”

no, government didn’t suppress the news, every chinese knows it.

i read lee’s book on this at a small book store in hongkong airport, lee claims that smaller country is easier to management and less a threat to taiwan AND japan (!).

i agree that power should not be centrolized as before and it’s the regions that should mind their business, but for lee’s theory, i have to say that he has no idea what a a country china is, and i have a very very strong impression that lee has a japanese heart.

January 4, 2005 @ 8:23 pm | Comment

bingfeng : You won’t get a lot of admirers here by using “japanese” as an insult. If I started saying “actually, richard here has *jewish* blood !”, it would say more about me than about richard.

I know racism is much more acceptable in asia, but you coud at least try to adapt your speech to the circumstances.

January 4, 2005 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

Hui Mao – Oh OK. I apologise for jumping to conclusions ๐Ÿ™‚ So is this just a case of one writer trying to blow up a non-existant situation?

January 4, 2005 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

“bingfeng : You won’t get a lot of admirers here by using “japanese” as an insult. ”

did i say that being a japanese is something wrong? NO.

don’t get me wrong. it’s clear that my point is as the “taiwan president”, lee has a japanese heart, and i back up my points with facts.

if any japanese PM says that the disputed Diaoyu island should belong to China, that also makes me shocked and i will comment that japanese has a chinese heart. saying a japanese has a chinese heart doesn’t mean i hate chinese.

January 4, 2005 @ 9:15 pm | Comment

To be fair, I re-read what Bingfeng wrote in the previous two posts. The way he used the word Japanese did not have any negative canotation.
If you think otherwise, please explain how.
I can give you an example of using a name in negative way.
Americans like to connect the word “French, France, oriental” with negative meanings. On the contrary, I don’t think the word Japanese is negative in China.

January 4, 2005 @ 9:24 pm | Comment

“i have a very very strong impression that lee has a japanese heart.”

Emile, why do you think this sentence reflects racism?

Lee received education in Japanese until early 20’s. His brother died for Japan in WWII war with US. It is natural he really loves Japan. I really can not see racism here.

Could you please explain?

January 4, 2005 @ 9:36 pm | Comment

I’m talkikng about the general feeling I get out of this and the other thread with the childish squabble over wether bellevue is japanese or not.

(I had actually written something like that last night for the other thread, but it got lost, so it may seem a bit more out of place here.)

It gives off the overall impression of denigrating someone just by associating him with japan.

Which is why I used the analogy “richard here has jewish blood” – I could defend myself that I never said there was anything wrong with that, and that I’m not an antisemite.

(OK, “he has a japanese heart” isn’t racist, it just makes me uneasy, combined with what was in the other thread)

January 4, 2005 @ 10:21 pm | Comment

Not long ago, it was political incorrect to use the word Jew to call a Jewish person, but not anymore according to my Jewish friends. Now the word Jew is very popular.

January 4, 2005 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

it’s not a big deal for any common taiwanese to love japan, but it’s bit weird for a “taiwan president” to love another country more than his own land, not mention to use his previleges and powers to love that foreign country.

do i need to give you another example to back up my point?

taiwan decided to introduce the high-speed train system from europe, but with the insistence from “taiwan president” lee denghui, taiwan turned to japan and introduced japan’s bullet train system.

January 4, 2005 @ 11:14 pm | Comment

‘it’s not a big deal for any common taiwanese to love japan, but it’s bit weird for a “taiwan president” to love another country more than his own land, not mention to use his previleges and powers to love that foreign country.”


I agree with that, and the worst part is Lee Teng Hui showed his true color only after he became the president.

He betrayed the KMT and single-handedly started the “two-nation” policy.

January 4, 2005 @ 11:25 pm | Comment

I concur whole heartedly with BingFeng. While the west makes much ado about the PRC’s irritation with Lee Teng Hui, many simply do not realize just how controvertial a figure he simply is. Quite frankly in the eyes of most Chinese both on the mainland and Taiwan. Lee is a quisling, a schismatic, and a political instigator. He has no loyalties save to his failed rightist masters in Tokyo, and certainly not to the Republic of China.

January 5, 2005 @ 2:05 am | Comment

JR said:
“He betrayed the KMT and single-handedly started the “two-nation” policy.”

To be accurate, in that notorious interview with German reporters, Lee advocated ‘One nation, two-state’ solution, not “two-nation” solution.

Maybe they seem the same to you, but very different to English speakers.

January 5, 2005 @ 4:12 am | Comment

To respond to bingfeng, I doubt most Taiwanese give a hoot about the Diaoyu Islands. Actually, the Diaoyus don’t belong to Taiwan but to the Republic of China. As Lee is a devout supporter of Taiwan independence, a few rocks where nobody lives are secondary. I have never heard any Taiwanese complaining about Japanese claims over the islands. But for the government, giving up the Diaoyu islands is a soft version of giving up the ROC ship.

Plus, to correct you, Lee is not president. He was president. As a private citizen, he has the right to express his own opinion. I doubt that as president, he would have made such a comment.

January 5, 2005 @ 4:45 am | Comment

Sorry. Forgot the name on my last post.

January 5, 2005 @ 4:46 am | Comment


Are you Taiwanese? How do you know what all Taiwanese people think?

January 5, 2005 @ 4:52 am | Comment

taiwanese are the most vehement advocators of the “defend Tiaoyu island movement”


ok, as the former “taiwan president”, lee denghui said that “diaoyu islands belong to japan”. sure, the former “taiwan president” certainly has the freedom to show that he loves japan more than taiwan.

you win!

January 5, 2005 @ 5:32 am | Comment

Just to play the devil’s advocate Bingfeng, the situation with Diaoyutai is in dispute and it could be that Lee Teng Hui rationally believes that Japan has the stronger claim to the islands.

Though considering who the man is, that scenario is unlikely and the more readily believable claim is the man is simply flirting with treason.

January 5, 2005 @ 7:03 am | Comment

What’s the population of the diaoyu islands? It must be pretty huge to generate the emotional defenses of them in this thread …

January 5, 2005 @ 8:42 am | Comment

I have not said I know what they ALL think. I said I have never heard of any complaining.

I also said “I doubt” most of them give a hoot, and I believe fully my doubt.

And quite honestly, I never have heard any complaining. Not to me or to others. If is such a big issue, where is the outrage in Taiwan over what Lee said? In a country where the most mundane of papers is sensationalist, why no big uproar from the PFP, or KMT, or DPP, or TSU? Do you mean that this burning, treasonous comment by Lee in a country that strongly defends its possession of a few rocks with a population of 0 (that, to be fair might be on some gas reserves that Taiwan could not defend from either Japan or China if they wanted to put their foot down) has not made one big headline in the big Taiwan papers? Unlike in China, the news media here is free to report on all international news.

There wasn’t even much of an uproar when a proposed draft for the new constitution gave Kinmen and Matsu the right of self determination: between Taiwan and China or independence. And I know plenty of people who care about those. But never a one has mentioned their supposed anger over the Diaoyus. And I talk to a lot of peeps…believe me.

January 6, 2005 @ 4:32 am | Comment

Google search on “Lee Teng Hui Diaoyu Traitor” only brings up a few articles which even mention it. Surprise surprise! They are all from mainland and HK sources. Of course, the People’s Daily does make reference to a “Taiwan media report” without citing it. The HK article is from a small group of protestors who generally protest Japanese aggression. The number of those articles doesn’t even surpass one Google page.

Just to make sure, I asked one or two friends…ones who don’t like Lee in the first place. Their response…”I don’t care. It’s not a big deal. No, nobody I have spoken to is angry.”

In short…his comment is a non issue.

As for his Japanese inclinations…well few people I have met under 40 dislike Japan at all…again, no outrage over that. In short…nobody outside of the mainland seems to care.

January 6, 2005 @ 5:07 am | Comment

you are wrong, a group of taiwanese followed lee after he made that saying, and lee was burned in effigy everytime he goes back to home, in order to avoid the embarrassment, lee had to choose another road to go back home

as i can recall, a few taiwanese (in earlier years) and a hongkonger (a few years ago) died in the protest towards japanese in Diaoyu islands

again, i am not saying loving japan is wrong, but trading national interests to satisfy personal love is a behavior that was far beyond the pale

January 6, 2005 @ 5:32 am | Comment

lee’s comment was not a big issue, but it shows what kind of a person he is, and why taiwan separatists mushroomed during that period, and why mainland got angry with lee’s visit to his japanese right-wing friends

January 6, 2005 @ 5:39 am | Comment

Haha…if you recall, my point was simply that Lee’s comment is not a big deal in Taiwan. I am not wrong. In the past, it might have caused a stir. Had I been talking about it this way 10 years ago, then, you would be right. Now, nobody cares. Societies change…and Taiwan is changing very quickly. Since Lee made his comment the first time, relations have only gotten better with Japan while stagnating with China.

Also my point has nothing to do with the mainland. It has been my opinion (I emphasize “my opinion”) from the start that his “visit to his japanese right-wing friends” is none of their business.

A personal note: I see the fondness for Japan in the little things…like the fact that one in five TVs in my gym are constantly focused on Japanese programming (none on American or European), such as the number of Japan goods stores throughout Taipei, such as comments here and there by varied peeps about liking Japanese this and that. Japan is more and more “hip” in Taiwan. China is less and less so. This is more of an independent point that is only half related to what I said above. Despite a continued dislike of Japan throughout China, Taiwan seems very Japan friendly these days.

Anyways…I have beaten this one dead.

January 6, 2005 @ 10:02 am | Comment

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