Face (social custom)Face refers to two separate but related concepts in Chinese social relations. One is mianzi (面子 in pinyin: mian4 zi0). The other is lianzi (臉子 lian3 zi0).
Lian is the confidence of society in a person's moral character, while mianzi represents social perceptions of a person's prestige. For a person to maintain face is important with Chinese social relations because face translates into power and influence. A loss of lian would result in a loss of trust within a social network, while a loss of mianzi would likely result in a loss of authority. To illustrate the difference, gossipping about someone stealing from a cash register would cause a loss of lian but not mianzi. Repeatingly interrupting one's boss as he is trying to speak may cause a loss of mianzi but not lian.
When trying to avoid conflict, Chinese in general will avoid causing another person to lose mianzi by bringing up embarrassing facts in public. Conversely, when challenging authority and another person's standing within a community, Chinese will often attempt to cause a loss of lian or mianzi. A very public example of this occurred during the Tiananmen protests of 1989 when Wu'er Kaixi scolded Premier Li Peng for being late to a meeting with the demonstrators.