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A social constructionist perspective on the Chinese lian/mian (face?) practices

Wenshan Jia, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The Chinese face practices lie at the heart of Chinese culture. These practices constitute a systematic grammar of action and a unique way of life which are proving to be incapable of facing the challenges of the modern life of instrumental rationality unless they get transformed. How can such a system of cultural practices get transformed so that the living Chinese tradition and the modern Western culture get creatively and selectively merged? How can Chinese culture emerge as a new and rejuvenated, open and flexible culture both sustainable and adaptable? This dissertation is a search for the answers. This dissertation presents a social constructionist account for the Chinese face practices. It covers their various dimensions such as historical, emotional and consequential. It also offers a social constructionist critique of the generalist theories of face and ethnocultural studies of Chinese face practices. Using a social constructionist tool called Circular Questioning (CQ) together with the case study method, the study generates a tentative model of creative engagement with and grounded transformation of the Chinese face-centered social practices on the basis of the social constructionist critique of the revolutionary and individualistic models of transformation of the Chinese face practices. The study concludes that social constructionists in the Chinese contexts have a dual research agenda. On one hand, they have to curtail the excess of communalism which undermines the individual agency due to the face practices; on the other hand, they need to prevent the onslaught of unrestrained individual agency over community due to the complete abandonment of the face practices in the rush for the individual interests by means of capital, law and technology. It also examines the affordances and constraints of CQ in the Chinese contexts and identifies what the author thinks are the major similarities and differences between the Chinese version of social constructionism and the Western communication version of social construction ism. The examination, comparison and contrast reveal that the Western social constructionism, a constructive modification of the modern Western culture, is one big step closer to Chinese culture than the modern Western culture. The two cultures also have a lot to learn from each other. The study theoretically implies a promising future of intercultural relations between the East and the West which both social constructionists with a research agenda in the East and those in the West can jointly construct.

Subject Area

Communication|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Jia, Wenshan, "A social constructionist perspective on the Chinese lian/mian (face?) practices" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9960762.