We’ve talked before about the Chinese concept of family, and how it looks at times to foreigners. Today I’d like to talk a little bit about fighting in Chinese families, which has broad implications throughout China’s hierarchical structures (family, work, government…).
For example this weekend I was traveling with my Chinese friend and his family. His parents insisted on taking a “short-cut” on the way home that would potentially save thirty minutes on an hour and a half trip. The only problem was that nobody knew exactly how to take the short-cut. My friend thought it would be much easier to take the route he already knew, but his parents insisted we use his GPS to find this way.
After countless u-turns and losing everyone that was supposed to be following us, we finally found the short-cut, which turned out to be a partially constructed freeway, and 3 hours later we arrived. My friend knew that his parents would be blaming him for getting them lost, even though it wasn’t his idea to try the new route.
We had a rough idea of what would be said. They would criticize him for not being able to follow the GPS’s directions (which were truly awful), that he didn’t wait for the other cars (even though they passed him), and that it caused everyone to waste a lot of time (which wouldn’t have happened if we’d taken the original route). In the parentheses you see all of the excuses I would have tried making with my parents if we were having this argument. I know though that my friend made none of these. Instead he hung his head in shame and accepted their criticism; after all he is a very good Chinese son.
And really this is his only option. To not accept the blame would imply that it was his parents fault.
This can be one of the hardest aspects of “face” to accept, you can give “face” to your parents/boss/gov’t official by taking the blame for their mistakes. The general rule is that anyone higher up than you is always right, even if that means your company is making the wrong decision, or your car is headed in the wrong direction.
Accepting blame when something isn’t your fault is very tough for me, and it probably is for most of you too. So if you are getting ready to work in China, be ready, there will be times when you’ll have to swallow your pride and accept the fact that you can either help your boss save face, or potentially ruin that relationship.
Just the other day one of my co-workers was telling me that she thought the hospital was spending too much money on saving face, then explained that the government was also far too concerned with this issue. So perhaps this concept is slowly starting to break down as China’s market opens up to more Western business ideas, but the concept is so deeply rooted in the culture that I expect foreigners to be making similar complaints 50 years from now.