The Definition of "Saving Face"

August 12th, 2008 | 0 comments | Posted by Jen

We’ve all read reports about China putting its best foot forward for the Olympics, whether it’s cleaning up the polluted skies blanketing Beijing or sweeping Tibet and Darfur protesters right out of the country. With all eyes on China for the coming weeks, its government naturally wants to project an improved image. The most striking example of that is the opening ceremony switcheroo that took place between 9 year-old Lin Miaoke and 7 year-old Yang Peiyi.

Lin is the adorable, pig-tailed sprite who appeared in a red dress to sing China’s national anthem, “Ode to the Motherland,” during the opening ceremony. Or so we thought. In fact, Lin–a veteran of TV commercials–was lip-synching. And not to her own voice, Ashlee Simpson-style, but to the voice of Yang Peiyi, who was supposed to sing it on international television until a Chinese official decided at the last minute that she wasn’t cute enough to go before the cameras. One report cited Yang’s “chubby face and crooked baby teeth” for the switch, while another blamed the 7 year-old’s “buck teeth.” Clearly, Yang’s teeth were an issue, which, you know, seems apt considering most people in China don’t have dental care.

Yang’s replacement, Lin, meanwhile, is missing a few baby teeth but her smile is, nevertheless, infectious. And her cuteness is undeniable. She looks like a cross between an anime schoolgirl and Dawn Weiner’s perfect little sister from Welcome to the Dollhouse. She looks like she’ll grow up to be a beautiful woman whom you’d love to hate except you can’t find anything wrong with her.

And that is precisely the point. You can fix buck teeth or crooked baby teeth and eventually lose your baby fat. But that takes time–as does cleaning up air pollution or reconciling a totalitarian government with its increasingly more open society. And China presenting itself as a work-in-progress? As a nation that is still growing and, consequently, suffering through some ugly growing pains? How would that look to the rest of the world–in HD, no less? That would be embarrassing, right? So, to save face, in this case, it’s better to replace the imperfect face you’ve got with a happy, pretty one–that no one in the world could deny is pleasing.


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