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Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon – The Concept of Saving Face In Asian Culture

Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon – The Concept of Saving Face In Asian Culture


‘Face’ is a strong Asian cultural ethos and social image that individuals apply to preserve themselves from hurt and harm. What can we learn from the concept of saving face in Asian culture?


The self in the Chinese context is defined through an intricate web of social and personal relationships. Westernised culture may find itself confused or perplexed when it fails to grasp “face” or “ke qi” in relating to the Chinese people at work or at home.

Unfortunately, many interpret this to mean not showing their true colours, nor sharing their true intents or expressing their real needs in conflict.

Understanding Saving Face In Asian Culture

For Asians, especially the Chinese, ‘face’ is a person’s social connections. A person is not an ‘individual’ in the Western sense of being defined by personality and character, but rather a locus within a social context.

Based on Smiling Tiger and Hidden Dragon by John Ng, and her own experiences while working in Japan, this interactive talk and role-play explores the concept of ke qi often translated as ‘politeness’. It refers more to the stance of being deferent and controlled even in intense situations. It will offer a practical guide to recognize and react appropriately when relating to communication and conflict resolution when dealing in social environments with Chinese Asians and Singaporeans in the local context.

Key Learnings 

  • Identify the Different Kinds of Conflict
  • Observe the What, Why, and How of Conflict
  • Appreciate Hidden Motives in Conflict
  • De-escalate Conflict
  • Intervene and Recover from Conflict

Karen Hoisington is Singapore’s pioneer branding designer who has branded airlines to zoos. Her motto “Making Others a Success” motivates her to serve the learning community through her rich experiences working on both corporate and government accounts.

Karen is also an appointed UK travel ambassador for business women to Singapore and created a social foodie community called The Stylish Gourmand. Karen’s book, “Brand! Desire”outlines her 39 tips based on her successful branding principles.

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Karen Hoisington

Karen Hoisington is Singapore’s pioneer branding designer who has branded airlines to zoos. Her motto “Making Others a Success” motivates her to serve the learning community through her rich experiences working on both corporate and government accounts. Karen is also an appointed UK travel ambassador for business women to Singapore and created a social foodie community called The Stylish Gourmand. Karen’s book, “Brand! Desire” outlines her 39 tips based on her successful branding principles.

Karen, a Eurasian of mixed heritage (Anglo-Indian father And Chinese mother) grew up in England with all the manners and decorum expected of an Englishwoman, returned to Singapore after 20 years to encounter the Chinese Asian concept of saving face in conflict management. From experience, it has been a painful journey for her getting most of the signals and non-verbal cues wrong but Karen has learned to appreciate this cultural ethos among the Chinese in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan where she was lecturing recently. She hopes to share with others so that they do not make the same mistakes and appreciate the Chinese. Incidentally, Karen is married to a Chinese Singaporean and continues to learn their nuanced culture and traditions.

Edited by: Amber Valencia, Image credit: Pixaabay

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