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Saving Face 
22nd-Jul-2005 05:48 pm
Kun Ok Kim, a professor at Chung-Ang University wrote an article entitled "What is Behind "Face-Saving"
in Cross-Cultural Communication?" This article focuses on face saving in the Korean culture. THe article can be found at www.trinity.edu/org/ics/ICS%20III_1993/ICS-III-1-%20Kim.pdf or by searching google with the words saving, face, Korea, and Kun Ok Kim. This article provides intellectual incite into the experience we had with the UBF Koreans saving face to protect Samuel Lee and other leaders.

Excerpt # 1

"The self-effacing characteristic of the Korean culture is counterbalanced with a distinct disclosure of deference, priority, and consideration for a person in a higher hierarchy. In other words, the highest person in a vertical structure is given primary attention and fidelity. Koreans employ face-saving tactics in a completely reversed order; the face-saving mechanism for the sake of others, but not for the individual, A Korean applies the defense tactics in order to maintain and enhance the other's self-esteem and to give others credit for merits."

Thus, Koreans expect natives to give them credit for coming to their country to teach the Bible and raise Bible teachers. The Koreans place themselves higher on the UBF hierarchy than Americans, which requires Americans to be thankful, obedient, and gracious to the UBF Koreans.

Excerpt #2

"In a society where self-interest is taken for selfish, unethical conduct, the practice of taking blame for other's troubles is considered one of the virtues of social morality. It is taken for granted that a Korean mother takes the whole blame for her son's poor school marks before his teacher or his family. The Minister of Home Affairs of Korea bears the blame for a brutal murder and hands in a letter of resignation: this is done to save the face of his superior, the President."

Excerpt #3

"In an attempt to save another's face, a Korean is willing to deny a reality which is advantageous to himself, and willing to become a scapegoat. In an attempt to save another's face, he is eager to go along with others, despite the negative consequences. In an attempt to have the other's face without his realization, he is willing to be a victim of mistrust, miscomprehension; and sometimes leads himself to self-depreciation and self-destruction."

UBF Koreans would do anything to save Samuel Lee's face. Bonn UBF members would lie in court to save Peter Chang's face. Close relatives and friends of victims would lie to protect Samuel Lee's face.

Instead of going to foreign countries to spend the gospel, the UBF Koreans go to foreign countries to spread their culture and impose it upon all who participate in UBF. It is convenient that the Koreans place themselves above the natives which requires the natives to take all of the abuse, blame, shame, and guilt to save the face of the Koreans, who considers themselves great servants of God who only have poor numbers because natives are selfish and proud. The UBF Koreans use impose the gospel upon their own culture to justify abusing people.
24th-Jul-2005 09:22 am (UTC)
Wow, great find. I read the whole article. From my experience with UBF Koreans, I can only confirm these statements. In summary, the behavior of Koreans is often dishonest and not frank, in order to save the face of their superiors (but I would add that they do this also to save their own face). They themselves would see this dishonesty not negative, but as "humble" and means to avoid trouble and distress.

No, one can claim, as some western UBF defenders do, that our criticism of UBF is based on a misunderstanding of the peculiarities of Korean culture and lack of comprehension of "face-saving" mechanisms. Looking back, yes, there were such misunderstandings, but I have to make one important point: The Koreans never explained to us these peculiarities. When we tried to "read their faces," we believed they were honest. When they spoke, we naively believed that they meant what they said. The problem is that the Koreans had no awareness of the fact that this behavior is a) incomprehensible in western culture, and b) sinful in Biblical terms. Quite to the contrary, they believe that lying is "humble" and thus Biblical.

However, much more than being humble, the Bible stresses that we shall be frank with each other and confesses our sins. In Ephesians 4, when Paul talks about the old and new nature, and gives advices for living the new life in Christ, his first exhortation is this: “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. … therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” And James 5 says: ”Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” I repeat these verses in the words of the Amplified Bible: Eph 4: “Therefore, rejecting all falsity and being done now with it, let everyone express the truth with his neighbor, …”> Jam 5: “Confess to one another therefore your faults (your slips, your false steps, your offenses, your sins) and pray [also] for one another, that you may be healed and restored [to a spiritual tone of mind and heart].” So, “face-saving” tactics are completely not in line with the Bible. In fact, we shall “put off the mask” not only before God, but also before others. We shall be frank and honest, even towards superiors (as Paul showed when he criticized Peter). The life of a born again Christian should be marked by this frankness and honesty. However, the UBF Koreans do not seem to be aware of this fact and do not make it an issue at all. Instead, one Korean missionary even tried to justify lying to me with Biblical arguments! They are not aware that their cultural imprinting is unchristian, but instead they even believe it is a superior Christianity towards westerners. That’s what I really accuse the UBF Koreans of. When an unbelieving Korean behaves like this, I can completely understand it. When a Korean believer behaves like this, but is aware that it is a problem and is struggling with it, I can also understand this. But when a Korean does not even recognize it is wrong, though he or she prays so much and reads the Bible every week, including the passages about the Pharisees (who were “acting” in a similar way), then I have not understanding for this and I even start to doubt whether they were ever born again, because if you are born again, the Holy Spirit usually opens your eyes for these things.
24th-Jul-2005 10:00 am (UTC)
Some examples from the UBF world:

“The word 'face' is one of the most frequently used words in idioms and idiomatic expressions. 'My face is wrinkled' means I am ashamed or discredited; ...”

He gave some examples of idiomatic expressions about “face,” but he forgot the one I heard most often: “His/her face is ‘bright’” or “His/her face is ‘dark’”. They never really explained what they meant with this.

“Wearing a foreign object, such as glasses, was forbidden before anyone of a higher rank. ... Wearing a foreign object on the face even includes a heavy mustache and beard. Thickly bearded Koreans are not likely to be spotted on the streets.”

That would be an explanation for UBF Koreans’ repudiation of beards. In the long run, every UBF shepherd at some point in time would shave off his beard. One atypical shepherd in my chapter started to get a full beard. He earned frowning looks from the Koreans, but he did not care (in this regard, he was atypical). Then he had to deliver a morning message at our conference. Still, he kept his beard. I somehow admired him for his self-will. But then, in the morning, he appeared at the pulpit without his beard. They must have treated him very hard in the night with message training and “beard guilt tripping” until he finally backed down. It’s so funny, if you think of it. They always tell you that you have to imitate Jesus, who most surely had a full beard, just as all the other Apostles.

“It is second nature for Koreans to cover the mouth when they smile or laugh. This is most frequently done by Korean females.”

True, I remember that from the UBF "missionaries."

“Some polite Koreans smile when they announce a beloved family member's death. They smile out of pity for others and out of guilt for causing distress as if their announcement will cause others great sadness and misery.”

I remember a similar behavior of one Korean UBF man. He spoke something about another missionary that was very disconcerting (I don’t remember what it was, but I remember it was something that would normally make you angry or sad), but he had such an ugly grin on his face. I remember I was completely bemused.

“The Minister of Home Affairs of Korea bears the blame for a brutal murder and hands in a letter of resignation: this is done to save the face of his superior, the President,”

We know many such examples were UBF Koreans took the blame for things that Samuel Lee had done. Two quotes from Rebecca Kim’s testimony:

“Later, one missionary came forward to say this decision came from him, not M. Samuel Lee, ‘I did it, and not M. Samuel Lee.’”

“When I came back to ask for an explanation of her action it was the time for her to say the truth or to lie for M. Samuel Lee. Inexperienced, a first time agent usually shows a puzzled expression in the face and eyes for a second. Then she or he says, “I did it.” But veteran agents with years of experience do not even blink an eye. They lie with a composed face and smile. They know their job requires a little lie.”
24th-Jul-2005 10:07 am (UTC)
Another experience that comes to my mind in this context is a conversation with a UBF “missionary” in my chapter. I asked why the other German UBF leaders don't do anything concerning Peter Chang's misbehavior. His amazing reply was not that Peter Chang was innocent. Implicitly, he even admitted that Chang was a terrible man. But his reply and justification was: “He is just too powerful (mighty)”. If somebody has gained some power, so they believe, there is no way to rebuke or criticize him or even disassociate from him any more. What a crazy belief.
3rd-Sep-2005 11:35 pm (UTC) - face saving by any means
My chapter director was not Korean, but he sure picked up the buisness of saving face. I think he perfected it! He would say whatever he needed to in order to clear himself of any advice or direction he had given that didn't work out. He did this even when it didn't matter or when it was blatantly obvious. I believe this has had a negative impact on the ministry- it did on me. He was too concerned with it, as if the ministry would fall apart if he lost face and actually had to apologies or sit down and work things out with us apart from some planned Bible study or message. He would put the problem back on us. It was if the ministry was held together half by Jesus and half by his untainted image. He was trying to remain as pristine as possible despite all that happened right under his nose.
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