APATHY AND INDIFFERENCE
I begin my discussion with something that might seem unrelated but which turns out, on further analysis, to be the other side of the coin needed for an understanding of Chinese face, and that is the intriguing phenomenon of Chinese apathy.
Take the Beijing subway. We see the grim parade passing through the cars, the able-bodied leading the blind or crippled, singing or lamenting through portable loudspeakers to cut through the noise, alone or in pairs one after another, spacing themselves throughout the length of the train. It’s all to elicit maximum pity for a display of human pathos so abject it attains to performance art: a legless person crawling on the floor or pushing himself along on a homemade dolly, a teenage girl with burns so disfiguring her eyes are melted shut, people with stubs for hands, horrific skin diseases, and the like. Much more startling, however, is the look on the faces of many of the subway riders.