How the Thai concept of face is preventing a solution to the protests

The Thai concept of “face” is a very complex one that affects all aspects of their lives and culture, especially their decision making. Thais will always try to avoid embarrassment or losing face and do everything they can to raise their status or gain face.

Face is something which is abstract or physiological and can be likened to one’s reputation or perceived reputation. It is Chinese in origin but is an important part of the Asian culture. In Thai society there is a concerted effort to maintain a facade of wealth and perfection. A fancy phone, expensive jewellery and luxury cars are all examples of symbols that are used to gain face or status among their peers. If any flaw appears in that façade, the individual will quickly lose face or status. To a Thai who has lost face this is a very embarrassing situation and they have been known to resort to violence to try to gain some face back.

For anyone in a leadership role, this concept of face is doubly important as any loss of face can result in a loss of confidence in their leadership ability by their peers. For Prime Minister Vejjajiva and the leaders of the red movement, all decisions must be carefully analyzed to maximize the amount of face that they will gain while making sure they are not losing any face to their opponents. For a solution to be reached in the current political situation, not only do both sides have to appear to have won, but not have given anything to the other side in the process. The idea of a compromise is not one that is strong in the Thai culture. Once a private deal has been reached that allows both sides to claim victory, that agreement will be announced to the public. Until then we will continue to have this stalemate, the occasional violence and the silly games of changing shirt colours but in their strange and unique way this is how the Thais get things done.

I sat down with Mr. Sean Boonpracong who is the media spokesman for the UDD or the red shirt movement and asked him about the current stalemate and what both sides have to do to find a solution.

Photo: Jittagarn Kaewtinkoy

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6 Responses

  1. jo says:

    Hmmm – good reminder – have given the link to my staff to watch.
    We buy from Thai businesses and agents and I think your points on “face” are great for them to recall when we have our inevitable ups and downs… as happens when you “make stuff”.

    Was in Bangkok for a few days again over the April 10 weekend, by the way – your vids have become frequent viewing since – often enjoy your slant on things…. and they fed some interesting discussions with local residents/friends.

    Can’t wait to get back there – happy trails to you meantime.
    All crossed for a sooner rather than later calm and resolve.

  2. James says:

    Your interview with Sean B is really poor. You let him tell some outlandish lies without ever following up or challenging him. You just move on to the next canned question. You could have just let me read a press release.

    I believe you are overplaying the role of face in these negotiations. The red leaders want an amnesty. Having killed innocent people and overseen an armed insurgency, I can see why. The government is saying no, as well they should.

    It’s not about face. It’s about prison time for murder and treason.

  3. Bob says:

    I noticed that the interview was done with extreme reserve and caution, however you made the right choice to let Sean Boonpracong say what he wants to.

    As for the video about “face”, I would say that face is only one of the small portions of the issue at hand, not the larger issue as your video implies. It is at best a text-book explanation of the Red/Yellow/Gov’t scenario.

    • Tony Joh says:

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for noticing the caution in my interview. Some have criticized me for not using the opportunity to hard ball Mr. Boonpracong but they fail to see that as a non-journalist I this wasn’t my arena to do so.

      I agree with your comments about face. It may be a small issue in regard to the protests but it seems to play a large role in Thai society.

      • Bob says:

        Just as an important update, basically all of UDDThailand’s media outlets via the web — as well as TV and radio from what I’ve heard — are being blocked inside Thailand (and perhaps outside as well?). Right now, being in Thailand I have no way of hearing their point of view for the time being and the forseeable future — only main media outlets.

  4. Truth says:

    Hi Tony,
    Please can you help me get in touch with Mr. Shawn Boonprachong. , preferbably- an email address ,else phone number. We want to help and support him therefore need to contact him regarding how we can support the people.
    Thank you and kind regards,
    Truth