113 Chinese "Shame" Terms

How shame is deeply embedded among Asian cultures

Posted Jan 14, 2017

Pixabay free image
Source: Pixabay free image

The number of English words and associations for "shame" is no match when compared with the Chinese. In Mandarin, there are more than 100 different "shame" related terms and phrases found in one research article. While some of them have similar overlap with English versions of shame such as a sense of disgrace, humiliation, there were many others that help shed light on why and how shame is so pertinent among Asian cultures.

Within the Chinese, some of the shame-related terms referenced the following:

  • Family shame should not be made public (if you air your shame, you are shaming the entire family)
  • No filial piety for one's parents (i.e. if you bring shame to yourself, you lack respect for your parents)
  • Does not save others' faces (i.e. If you bring shame to self, you not only lose "face" but also those close to you)
  • Nation's humiliation/shame (i.e. bringing shame to yourself brings not only shame to your family, ancestors, and community but also your entire ethnic background and/or family's country of origin)

Some other shame-related phrases which were more colorful in nature while still highlighting the fixation on honor and avoiding shame at all costs:

  • So ashamed the ancestors of 8 generations will feel it (This is how deep the shame can feel to an Asian person...that they shamed their deceased relatives back many generations)
  • The old father-in-law carries the young daughter-in-law on his back to cross a river (i.e. in Chinese culture, it is considered inappropriate for a father-in-law to have physical contact with his daughter-in-law thus equating how taboo it is to be associated with shame)
  • A person lives by face as much as a tree lives by bark and as much as a light bulb is covered with glass (i.e. stressing the importance of maintaining a positive and good-standing public image)

  • Even a devil would be scared of one who doesn't want to maintain his or her face (i.e. showing the significance of how regarded the Chinese should have towards maintaining "face")

Keep in mind, shame is very much a part of collectivist cultures such as Asian and Middle Eastern societies where conformity to the group and respecting hierarchical relationships are prized over autonomy and egalitarianism. To encourage conformity, shame is built into child-rearing practices where studies show Asian children as young as two years old are shamed as a means of guiding social or moral behaviors.

In addition to collectivism, as religions and philosophies such as Buddhism and Confucianism spread to other East Asian countries, values such as filial piety, obedience to authority, ancestral worship (i.e. honoring dead ancestors), and loyalty to family and social harmony further cemented this shame dynamic among those from traditional Asian cultures. In other words, to let others down simply by deviating from social or family norms or in actions or behaviors that can be universally seen as "shameful" is much more negatively impactful to Asians than among non-Westerners operating within an individualistic cultural framework.

Related Links: