Learning to be Chinese
The Political Socialization of Children in Taiwan
The concept of “face” that has puzzled Westerners from the days of suicide pilots to televised public “confessions” is analyzed in this study of group life in Taiwan, with particular attention to the elementary educational system. The author asserts that “face” may be the driving force in creating and sustaining Chinese political systems. He examines the relationship of “face” to group loyalty, political hierarchy, and political stability and shows how this relationship affects the style of governance in Nationalist and Communist China.
The author theorizes that the emotional force of “face” derives from the way in which it is learned, largely by shaming techniques involving threats of denying love, which are begun at an early age. Such conditioning welds group unity: If one member of the family—or classroom or nation—loses face, then all do; hence there is a pressure to conform. If political leaders, who symbolize the ideals of the society, fail in their responsibility and so lose face, all do. Thus criticism of authority tends toward self-destruction.
The author discusses the built-in outlets for hostility in this society—a provision considered essential for political stability. The most obvious and useful, of course, is hatred for out-groups, from Communists to foreigners or critics of the government. But there is also covert expression of hostility at every level which poses a hidden threat to the system. Thus cheating in school and minor corruption in the marketplace have subtle political implications. Of course, although these traits are common to Western societies as well, the author focuses on the institutionalized form they have in Chinese societies.
Substantial appendixes add to the usefulness of this study, including detailed background on Taiwan educational policy and an analysis of the content and control of textbooks.