As regards 'tradition', 'lineage' and 'respect' - these are aboth fundamental Chinese cultural aspects which were brought suddenly into the modern world in 1911 (the ‘Nationalist’ Revolution) and 1949 (the ‘Socialist’ Revolution). In Japan, this process began with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. This all evolves around the concept of 'face' (面子 - Mian Zi) - or the ability to walk through the public spaces with one's dignity fully intact and face on display. To traverse the public spaces used to demand a stern adherence to the teachings of 'Confucius' as defined by various philosophers and politicians, etc. Indeed, Confucianism regulated not only the society of China for over two-thousand years, but also many other countries including Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Okinawa (including large areas of South-East Asia). Furthermore, wherever Chinese people have migrated - Confucianism has followed. Confucianism still defines Chinese society, but the way this happens has evolved over the centuries and can still seem baffling to the uninitiated. Regardless of this, understanding ‘Confucianism’ is the only way ‘in’ and ‘out’ of a Chinese cultural grouping.
In the old days, breaking these rules led to the breaking of one's body - a simple correlation between spiritual morality and physical punishment. The individual body used to be the property of one's parents and belonged to the State (that is to the 'Emperor'). The body of a child used to represent the continuation of a family's ancestral 'Qi' energy and the lasting of the Clan Surname. Judicial execution often involved public beheading (the 'loss' of face through the loss of the head) – a punitive process which usually including the killing of all members of the same family (depending upon the severity of the offense). Social execution involved the 'exclusion' of an individual and a family (Clan) - from all meaningful social interaction. It is interesting to note that despite the differences in political and economic view that exist between Beijing and Taipei, for instance, Chinese people living in Taiwan and Mainland China would agree (both implicitly and explicitly) about what 'face' is, and about what 'losing' and 'saving' face actually entails - so important is this central aspect of Chinese culture.
Today, the forces of modernity have radically redefined this tradition - but occasionally murders and beatings do still occur throughout Chinese society - usually involving disputes regarding love affairs, relationship betrayals and intimate deviations, etc. Of course, if an individual is known to have behaved in a terrible fashion for whatever reason, social ostracization tends to follow. Remember, China is comprised of 56 ethnicities which enlarged through the Chinese diaspora as it intermixes with different people throughout the world. This means that 'saving face' and 'losing face' tends to vary in interpretation. For instance, my modern academic colleagues in China tend not to give 'face' much consideration - but the older members of our Chinese family still live their lives by this concept! Okinawa, for instance, is still being punished by the Mainland Japanese for being historically ‘Chinese’ – and this has involved the post-1945 US Military Bases being lodged of the Island. This US neo-imperialist presence has been compounded by an assault on Ryukyu culture that has been intended to eradicate all obvious ‘Chinese’ cultural tendencies and replace these with a blend of Americana and Nipponisation. Yet the robustness of the Okinawan way of life stands inherently strong – with an older version of ‘Confucian’ ideology lurking firmly in the background and regulating the martial arts, leisure and business communities.
Indeed, the Chinese concept of 'face' (面子 - Mian Zi) literally translates as 'Face Child' or 'Face Master'. The second ideogram '子' (zi3) means 'a child that is born already old and wise' - and is associated with 'Laozi' (老子) - one of the founders of Daoism. Perhaps 'Saving Face' would be better redefined as 'Preserving Face'. In England we talk of proudly holding our heads-up high in public.. Of course, in the strict Confucian model, the onus is on the individual rather than the social collective. Today, the social collective is just as responsible as the individual - so that the entirety of society works together to preserve the status quo. Now, it is as if the collective society has its own 'face' that has to be preserved in the 'face' of individual behaviour. It is a two-way street. Individual responsibility is now balanced with collective responsibility - creating a preserving 'tension' of positive interaction. An individual's 'face' is considered secondary and is only saved when the 'face' of orderly society is acknowledged and preserved. Having explained all this, there still exist pockets of Chinese culture spread throughout the world that uphold older versions of ‘Confucian’ ideology and expect all incomers to understand and respect this reality.
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.