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Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute & Society

Face in Chinese Culture and Sino-American Diplomacy

Peter Loewenberg, Ph.D. (Los Angeles)
Training and Supervising Analyst, New Center for Psychoanalysis


Discussants: Marcy Palmer Broder, L.M.S.W.
Associate Faculty, Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute
Rebecca Mair, Ph.D.
Associate Faculty, Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute

Saturday, October 22, 2011
2:00 - 4:00 PM

2 CME and CE Credit Hours

NOTE LOCATION: Depression Center Auditorium, Rachel Upjohn Building, 4250 Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor (1 mile east of US-23, on SE corner of Plymouth and Earhart Road, on U-M's E. Medical Campus. Enter via back or south door)

The West has much to learn from China in the important realms of tact and sensitivity in interpersonal relations. The concept of face is an ancient Chinese concept of protocol and behavior that is relevant for the understanding of Chinese perceptions of personal interactions and foreign relations. Face means the self as presented to, or revealed to, others. Chinese culture has a highly developed sensibility to preserving, not humiliating, the face of others. A concomitant is a heightened vulnerability to public humiliation and loss of face. This paper develops the Chinese emotional stance as compensating and undoing 150 years of humiliation and loss of face by many events (eg., arrogance of Western colonialism, gun boat diplomacy, the "Opium War", foreign "concessions," and extra territoriality). This history of defeat, contempt, and insult constituted multiple traumas and injuries to Chinese self-esteem. Face also has direct correlations to Kohutian self psychological understandings of self-esteem and narcissism. Feelings of humiliation can cause a hypersensitivity to perceived real or imagined slights and the need to turn a painful passive experience into a quest for achieving an active sense of mastery and superiority.

After attending this presentation, participants should be able to:
1. Illustrate how psychoanalytic concepts on the axis of narcissism/self-esteem and shame/humiliation enrich our operational perception of face.

2. Review how American interpersonal interactions and diplomacy can benefit from an understanding of the Chinese cultural concept of face.

About the presenter:
Peter Loewenberg is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Los Angeles [UCLA], and Chair of the International Psychoanalytical Association [IPA] China Committee. He is a Training and Supervising Analyst and former Dean of the New Center for Psychoanalysis, Los Angeles. He has received various awards for his professional contributions to the field of Political Psychology and is the author of many publications, including Decoding the Past: the Psychohistorical Approach (1996) and Fantasy and Reality in History (1995).