Qian Ren Qing and Social Obligation

Chinese relationships can get very complicated, especially when they teeter on who owes who?  Accepting help, favors, gifts, and even compliments can mean that you qiàn rénqíng  ( 欠 人 清 ) “owe someone something (e.g. a favor).”   Asking for favors can put you in debt to someone, and sooner or later you may be expected to reciprocate.  Fulfilling your “social obligations” is important. It maintains “your face.” Doing favors, giving gifts, or even paying compliments, on the other hand, can in debt someone to you. In business, it similar to “building goodwill.”

You can avoid owing too much to others by restricting your requests for help, reciprocating with gifts of equal value, and deflecting compliments using na3 li3 “where” or other humble, self-depreciating, or compliment-passing techniques.  However, be careful.  If someone truly does owe you a big favor or wants to put on a big show, then it might cause him to “lose face” if you refuse help or refuse a gift. A gift is always pondered very carefully–”how much it is worth, what is it expressing, what are they re-paying me for, is it an appropriate gift considering my relationship with them, and even what do they want in return?”  It may sound very shallow to you, but it is, in fact, easier to handle because keeping a list is easier than trying to ascertain how deep allegiances and friendships are.

Therefore, this giving and receiving helps maintain “face” and “validates friendships.”

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